Fifth International Conference on War Tax Resistance and Peace Tax Campaigns - Hondarribia, Spain 1994! (A personal review of our situation)

It can be very difficult to prepare a short review of our situation in a way which everyone would accept, so I have wrote my own vision. I hope it would be interesting for you.


1992 was a great year for Spain not only because this year we accepted the task of preparing the Vth International Conference of War Tax Resistance and Peace Tax Campaigns but because this year two big events took place in Spain showing to all the world the modern face of the country as well. Spain had the opportunity with the Olympic Games and the Expo of breaking down the idea of a not very developed country that seems to be widely spread abroad. Both events were successful (so we hope for the Conference) and in the Olympic Games we won several medals. Was this Spain?

A fast view of our recent history

1936 was the year in which a part of the regular army raised against the Republic and after a three years (un)civil war, rebels won the war with the help of Hitler and Mussolini's forces. Their leader, Franco, rested in power until 1975 when he died. During his dictatorship, all the democratic rights were erased from the Spanish life: no political parties, no trade unions, no freedom of conscience, no freedom of expression existed, any kind of dissidence were prosecuted. A lot of people had to take the way to exile and in Spain, prisons were full of political prisoners.

One of the principal purposes of Franco's policy was the extermination of any kind of nationalism. In order to reach that, the expressions of the different cultures of Spain were forbidden. The use of other languages than Spanish (castellano) was reduced to the family and to rural areas.

After the World War, the allies let Franco still on power. They denied at first the presence of Spain in UN, but USA's president Eisenhower visited him in Madrid in order to reach the use of several military basis, finishing the diplomatic isolation.

During the sixties there was an economic development, but the two principal industries were the tourism and the Spanish workers in western Europe. This economical development didn't bring any political change. The only answer for any kind of social movement was repression. The social movement were more important in labour areas than in political ones. The movements in exile had hard problems to keep in contact with the reality of the country. In the Basque Country a new group appeared: Tired for the lack of results in the traditional way of social work, some young people active in a nationalist party opted for the military fight against the regime. This option gave them a quick protagonism. ETA was born. In 1969 some of its activists were judged by a military court in Burgos and six of them were condemned to death. The international pressure reached the change of this penalty for long term prison. At this time, Franco disposed the state of exception for the whole of Spain that some tome after were limited just to the four Basque provinces. The few rights there were disappeared.

During the seventies, labour movement went on, and behind the censorship, some magazines appeared bringing new and different points of view. Many of these were closed several times. Prisons still full of syndicalists, politics and any kind of dissidents.

In September 1975, after several fast military trials, nine activists of ETA and FRAP (another military group) were condemned to death. The international pressure was bigger than in 1969, but in this case five of them were executed by the Guardia Civil. There were great demonstrations in all the world and inside Spain too (these ones not so big, of course, but it happened in a general way for the first time). Three weeks later, Franco fell ill and in November 20 he died.

The transition to democracy

After Franco's death, the successor he decided became Chief of the State. After a dictator that defeated the Republic, the big son of the last king became the new king.

At this moment, an after the sensitization reached because the executions of September, the Spanish people moved asking for democracy. The demonstrations spread on all the country. The first government of the king was unable to affront it, many demonstrators were killed by the police forces. In June 1976 the king forced the resignation of the prime minister and he named a new one, Suárez, the young chief of the franquist party (the only one admitted). Suárez promised in his first speech as president that he would make normal in legal sense what was already normal in the streets. Some months after, one of his ministers explained that it was necessary to change everything in order to preserve everything. The Spanish transition to democracy started. Suárez met with the opposition. A first timid amnesty was promulgated. Few months later, the political parties were accepted, except the Communist party. Next Easter, when most of the people including the principal military chiefs were in holidays, this one became legal too.

The first elections were done in June 1977. UCD, the party founded by Suárez, won. A general amnesty for all the political actions, including blood actions, done until a recent date was decided in one of the first sessions of the new Parliament. This Parliament assumed the task of writing a Constitution and after big discussions they proposed one to be voted in referendum. It was accepted, but in the Basque Country the abstention promoted by all the nationalist parties won.

The transition to democracy was not finished. There was the need of preparing many laws, including all the statues of autonomy for the different nationalities and region. Military people didn't looked well at this concession to the nationalism and in the army either in the police and in the courts there were many members wanting to go back to the dictatorship. ETA and other groups still actives, injuring and killing police and military people specially but civilians as well. UCD, the governmental party, came in a deep process of dissolution and in 1981 Suárez presented his resignation.

While the Parliament was voting to accept the new president, a small military force came in and kidnapped all the MPs including the whole government. In Valencia the tanks took the city. There was not any popular reaction against this and the people rested at home hearing the news in the radio. Fortunately, the biggest part of the army still loyal not to the constitution, neither to the Spanish people or the government, but to the king and this one ordered them to keep quiet and to obey the civil power. 18 hours later the militaries took off the parliament and the transition went on, but something changed. Within a year Spain took a place in the NATO.

In October 1982 the socialist party (PSOE) won the elections. Its promises of ‘cambio’ (change) convinced most of the Spanish people. Its young chief González, a very good speaker, was elected prime minister. González used to take part in demonstrations against the NATO some months before, but after his election he went to Berlin and he said he understood the NATO's double decision. The change started changing. He tried to forget the promises he did about a referendum for taking us out of the NATO, but popular pressure, coordinated in the CEOP (a coordinating committee of pacifist organizations) forced González to make it. At this moment, the governmental proposal was not to move out of the NATO but to stay there. Pacifist movement made a great effort but it was not enough. We couldn't win the influence of the ‘public’ TV (the only one at this moment), in hands of the government. It was not fair play. In Catalunya, Canary Islands and Basque Country the vote against the NATO was majority, but not in the whole of Spain. Spain lost a great opportunity of promoting a different way on international relationships, different from those proposed by the military blocks.

During these years a big effort of modernising has been done. Health system has been universalised, education system is involved in a deep process of change, industrial changes have been carried on, road net has been improved. But among all the departments, the one that has profited the most has been Defence Department: since 1982 there is a law that assures a high level of economic inversion in the army. No other department has reached this. And we still have some undemocratic lacks: antimilitarist conscientious objectors are in prison and every year Spain appears in Amnesty International reports because of the cases of tortures in police quarters. In these cases, some young judges try to make a trial to the police officers but the government doesn't help them. The worst case was the GAL: two policemen were condemned to prison for taking part in a group who killed and kidnapped several members of ETA refugees in France. It has been impossible to find who ordered these two policemen to do it, but it is easy to believe that there is someone over them. Even in the sentence this someone appears called as Mr. X. When the court tried to know something more about it, the only answer of the government was that all the subject is reserved matter.

The day after

After the Olympic Games but before the end of the Expo, government made and advise: we were in crisis. The crisis is real: near the 25% of active population is unemployed. In some parts of Andalusia and Extremadura whole villages depend of the financial help of the government. Young people have very difficult the way to economic independence. In 1982 they talked to us about a change based on ethics, but soon the culture of easy money spread on the circles of the PSOE. Nowadays, the principal purpose of its economical policy is the competitivity, that is, nothing different that we had before. Corruption has developed in such a way that several politicians are involved in scandals. The most expressive cases have been those of the chief of the Guardia Civil and the president of the National Bank, but there are quite more. González has suffered several general strikes against his policy. The last one was in January caused by the changes in employment legislation and the reduction of social expenses. He maintained them and now the government says that employment level is improving due to these changes. That's true, but it's not all the truth: in the new cases of employment the workers loose a big part of their rights.

In 1993 there was elections in Spain and PSOE won again, but by the first time since 1982 it didn't reach the absolute majority, so it was forced to make an alliance with centre-right nationalist parties from Catalunya (CIU) and Basque Country (PNV). Last June, at the European elections, the winner was the Popular Party PP), right wing party, and it seems that in the next elections they will have a real chance to reach the power. I think it will be worst.

Euskalerria: the Basque Country

Our conference takes place in Hondarribia and Urnieta. They are in the Basque Country without any doubt. I live in Pamplona-Iruñea: it is a part of the Basque Country too, but there is a doubt on it.

Euskalerria comprises seven provinces. Three of them are in France, included in the Department des Pirinées Atlantiques, and the other four are in Spain. Belong these four, three, including Gipuzkoa, the province where Urnieta and Hondarribia are, form the Basque Autonomous Community ant the fourth one, Navarra, where Pamplona-Iruñea is, forms by itself another autonomous community. So in a official political sense we can see that there are several divisions inside the Basque Country, but political reasons can't hide that there is a close relationship between these seven provinces. It's possible to change a political situation, but it's impossible to change the history and the culture.

I don't really mind too much about this subject. For example you are reading here the word Spain and not the expression State of Spain, that is quite usual in some ambient. Some of my friends would never use the word Spain. I would like that you'll remember this conference as the one that took place on the Basque Country, and if you want to add Spain I wouldn't worry for it, but I have to say that there are a lot of people, specially in the four south provinces, that would like to decide on their own about the relationship between the Basque Country and the State of Spain (and, later, the State of France). This subject has not been proposed to be decide by the inhabitants of these four provinces and this was one of the reasons, probably the principal one, that moved the nationalist parties for no voting the Constitution in the referendum. The result of it and the results of any other voting that has been done in the South Basque Country shows that this option has a really big support, at least in a hypothetical way. Obviously, there are big differences between the nationalist parties and between the non-nationalists too, so it has been a very hypothetical sentence.

I have to say that the expression non-nationalist party is not at all accurate: many times we can find on them another kind of nationalism, the Spanish nationalism, and it can be as irrational as the Basque nationalism can. And nationalisms can be good too. At least, I do like them if they are a way of defending the different cultures, no one against the others but looking for the possibility of developing all of them.

During Franco's dictatorship, Basque culture and the proper idea of Basque Country suffered permanent attacks, but they didn't die. The idea of independence or self-determination was opened and the Spanish Constitution didn't finished with the discussion about it, not at all! There is a theoretic way inside the Constitution for reaching the secession of a part of Spain, but it is so complicate that it's not real. There are real possibilities for the statutes of autonomy. By these high level laws the nationalities and regions can reach a great degree of self organization. In the case of the Basque Autonomic Community its statute was adopted in referendum by a big majority of the Basque people (but without giving any opportunity to the people of Navarra to take part on it) in 1979. According with it, there is a Basque government and Parliament with the responsibility of different departments: education, health system, roads, income tax,... and it has its own police and its own TV. Other matters rest in central administration hands: foreign affairs, defence (army), official bank, borders, harbours and airports, ... The process of trespassing all this subjects has not finished and it is a common matter of very hard discussions between politicians. All the recent opinions show that the principal problems for the Basque society are those related with the economical crisis, specially deep n some parts of the Basque Country, and all the social problems that it carries on with it.

A real problem that we have is the problem of violence. ETA still is active. In its bulletins we can see a constant reference to the five points of the KAS alternative that should be discussed in a political negotiation between the Spanish army and ETA in order to give pass to the independence of the Basque Country. Supporting KAS there are another groups as political parties (Herri Batasuna, HB), youth organisations (Jarrai). trade unions and other ones. These five points were proposed in the early years of the transition and they still being the same since then: Right to self-determination, legalisation of all the political parties, dissolution of repressive police forces, general amnesty and another one that I can not remember. I have already talked about self-determination, HB is itself a legal party (with MPs in the Parliaments of the Basque Country, Navarra, Madrid and Strasbourg, municipal council members and municipal majors), the Spanish police is giving place to the Basque police and a general amnesty was done in 1977. But the five points of KAS alternative still on and ETA too. Do you understand? I don't.

Not everything is right, of course. In this subject of the violence the persistence of torture cases in police quarters not always investigated by the government can be added to the no answering of many questions about the GAL that, fortunately, disappeared years ago. Another serious problem is the existence of more than 500 members of ETA in prison and several more in exile, and the real support that ETA's actions have as we can see in the results got by HB in any election. It is going down, but it goes on. HB received in the last elections for the central Parliament 206.876 votes (9'38% of Alava, 12'52% of Bizkaia, 20'21% of Gipuzkoa and 10'37% of Navarra). Not everyone who votes to HB supports ETA, but there is not any other way of measure and it is absolutely clear that HB's politicians are not critical about ETA if they don't support it publicly. This support of so many Basque people shows that the solution to this problem can not come only by police actions and that political decisions are needed too. There have been some contacts between the government and ETA, but they have been not successful.

About the prisoners, there is an open way of social reinsertion. It's not a way to another general amnesty, but the members of ETA that are in prison have the way to reach individual solutions in a quite more wider way that any other prisoner. They must renounce to violent actions, but government doesn't ask them any kind of denounce. This way, called as reinsertion, has not been used in so a generous way as the nationalist democratic parties would like, but in a quite more generous way than Popular Party and, I'm sure of this, most part of the Spanish people want. ETA doesn't like it either: eight years ago it killed Yoyes, a woman former high member of the gang who decided to give up the violence and who was trying to develop a normal life in the Basque Country.

Some popular movements against the violence in the Basque Country have appeared last years. Silencio por la Paz (Silence for Peace) was the first one. It was founded by the daughter of a man killed by ETA and its principal action is a silent meeting in different places of the Basque Country after every death caused by this kind of violence (may be someone killed by ETA, maybe someone killed by a police's action). After it some other groups have appeared with and from different points of view and one of them, Elkarri, comes from groups near to HB's positions. The last two years there have been several contacts between these groups and they can be a symbol that something is moving in our society.

It's tiring to talk about ETA. I do believe that at this moment we live in a political situation that allows us to work for any political purpose with different methods than the force of weapons. But the one who takes a gun takes a protagonism too. I wouldn't like to finish this personal, very personal review of our political situation without mentioning the insumisos. They are fighting hard against the militarism and they are doing it in a radical non-violent way. They are reaching results: with their resistance to obey military orders and laws they have put as a matter of discussion the military service and, with it, the military expenses, the way of understanding defence,.. And it is just in the Basque Country where the insumisos are most popular. Here there is a group asking for taking the arms and its influence is going down. At he same time, a idea proposed from the non-violence is growing up. That is not a good end for this review of our situation, it is a good start for our future.

September 10, 1994

Pedro Otaduy

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