Spain: Basque supporters face political trial

Spain’s largest ever trial began Nov. 21, as 56 people accused of links with the Basque armed separatist group ETA appeared in court in Madrid. It is the culmination of an investigation begun in 1997 by Baltasar Garzón, Spain’s leading anti-terrorism judge, aimed at cutting off what prosecutors call the “stomach, the heart and the head of ETA.”

The 56 are accused of belonging to groups that provided logistical support for ETA. Named organizations include the former political party KAS, its successor, EKIN, and the newspaper Egin, which was closed by order of Garzón.

More than 300 witnesses will take the stand in a trial expected to last up to eight months. Prosecutors have called for sentences totalling more than 900 years. (The Scotsman, Nov. 22)

The first defendant, Vicente Askasibar, who faces a 15 year term, announced that he would not be answering any of the prosecutors’ questions because of the political nature of the trial. Nevertheless, prosecutor Enrique Molina read out a list of 94 questions relating to the KAS organisation. In response to questions from the defense team, Askasibar denied being, or having ever been, a member of ETA, and explained that KAS was a “political organisation.”

All the accused wore matching sweatshirts with the words “For civil and political rights” and their case number “18/98.” Also present was a large contingent of supporters, who had travelled down from the Basque country. These included Batasuna party spokesman and former Basque regional MP, Joseba Permach; and Martxelo Otamendi, former director of the Egunkaria newspaper, also closed down in February 2003 by order of Garzón. (Think Spain, Nov. 22)

The day before the trial opened, two small bombs exploded outside a car showroom in Vitoria, and a larger device damaged the city’s Bialsa bicycle factory. A spokesman for the Basque regional police, the Ertzaintza, said that remains of ETA propaganda were found at the scene of the Bialsa blast. The same source indicated that the attacks may be warnings to those businessmen unwilling to pay ETA’s so-called “revolutionary taxes.” (Think Spain, Nov. 21)

Meanwhile, a pending measure that would grant greater autonomy to Catalonia is also generating controversy. This news account will give history buffs an ominous sense of deja vu:

MADRID, Nov 19 (Reuters) – Left and right-wing protesters marched through Madrid on Saturday on the eve of the 30th anniversary of dictator Francisco Franco’s death, showing old rivalries from Spain’s civil war are still deeply felt.

Skinheads joined ranks with smartly dressed old ladies at a rightist march in Madrid at midday, chanting Francoist slogans in a protest at a Catalan regional initiative they say threatens Spanish unity as upheld under Franco.

Separately, a mass in remembrance of the generalisimo and victims of the 1936-39 civil war brought thousands of rightists to the Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen), in the mountains 50 km (30 miles) north of Madrid, the site of an imposing mausoleum where Franco is buried.

The monument, crowned by a towering stone cross, was built by Republican prisoners during Franco’s almost 40-year rule.

Attending the mass were Franco’s daughter, Carmen, and the perpetrator of a failed 1981 coup, Colonel Antonio Tejero, who was granted conditional release from jail in 1996.

Outside the church far rightists, many draped in the Spanish flag, punched the air with fascist salutes shouting “National unity!” and other slogans associated with the dictator who held Spain in a vice grip until 1975.


Later about 2,000 leftists held an anti-fascist rally in the capital, shouting “They shall not pass,” a slogan of the defeated Republicans during the civil war.

“In Spain what they call the transition to democracy has hardly existed, fascism has always been there under the surface and thanks to (right-wing former Prime Minister Jose Maria) Aznar, it’s come out again,” said Tiziana Rossi, a 53-year-old translator attending the anti-fascism march.


Aznar’s Popular Party was ousted by the Socialists in elections last year, since when entrenched rivalries appear to have resurfaced amid the government’s attempts to wrest power from the Catholic church, which supported Franco.

The Catalan statute defines Catalonia as a nation within the nation of Spain, and has raised hackles across the political spectrum because some see it as evoking the divisions which caused the war which brought Franco to power.

Spain’s parliament is to debate the Catalan plan, which is expected to be severely amended.

The Falange, a far right grouping that supported Franco, and which organised the Madrid protest, says the new Catalan statute will split Spain into pieces.

“(Spain’s main political parties) have created a monster that Francoism had stamped out,” a Falange leaflet said.

A Sigma Dos poll of 800 people published in right-leaning daily El Mundo on Saturday found that nearly 54 percent believed that little remained of the Franco era, while 24 percent believed much remains.

As regards the current government, 41 percent of those polled believed the policies of Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero have reopened the wounds of the past, while around 26 percent thought the government was fostering reconciliation.

The Falange is marching in the streets, and 54% believe “little remains” of the Franco era? Huh?

See our last posts on Spain and the Basque struggle.

See also our last post on the legacy of the Spanish Civil War.

  1. Spain
    Hi Bill, I have read some of your articles here and my conclusion is that misinformation is the word that better matches your style. This was a great example. To mix Falange and Franco with national politics in Spain the way you do only can be excused by your ignorance of the country.

    You should make an effort to know better before you write about realities you obviously know little about.

    1. What salient facts do you perceive I am missing?
      In what sense does the Falange marching in Madrid on the anniversary of Franco’s death against greater local autonomy for Catalonia not constitute “mixing Falange and Franco with national politics”? I eagerly await your clarification. This should be very interesting…

      1. I will answer that
        Although I’m not the original poster, I will answer your reply with something that should be apparent to any knowledgeable observer, and you deliberately fall to acknowledge. Support for Franco in Spain is comparable support for Hitler in Germany: politically negligible. A foreign reader that trusts you will take home the point of view that opposing Catalonian (or Basque, for that matter) nationalism means supporting the current equivalent of Francoism. Although this is obviously plain wrong, that is what has been demagogically utilized by nationalists to undermine political support of their opponents. It is my opinion that this current is unfair, and ultimately dangerous for everyone in Spain.