20 years have elapsed since the Spanish Civil Guard wielding their guns shut down the daily Euskaldunon Egunkaria, that way crushing the only daily written in Basque. Besides closing the newspaper, 10 staff members were subject to detention, torture and charged with ‘terrorism’.
The Basque Country was home to different kinds of violence during the period. ETA staged one such violence in response to the Spanish occupation. The Spanish state carried out violence in a dimension that could only be expected in colonial situations, i.e. persecution of Basque language activism, outlawing of political parties, the closure of media outlets, demonstrations banned, arrest and imprisonment of political leaders, etc. The whole scope of Basque culture came under suspicion, with the Spanish state committing a variety of abuses under the fanciful banner of “Everything is ETA” that paved the grounds to the violent attack on Euskaldunon Egunkaria.
Several years on after the closure of the media outlet, in 2010, the very Spanish Justice and Administration decided that the detentions of 10 paper staff were actually groundless, determining this time that they held no ties with ETA. In 2012, the European Court of Human Rights condemned Spain for failing to launch a probe on the newspaper’s director Martxelo Otamendi’s torture allegations.
The daughter of one of the 10 arrested workers of the Basque newspaper wrote an emotional article 5 years ago (on the 15th anniversary of those sad events) for the Basque nationalist group "Naziogintza". With the express authorization of Naziogintza (www.naziogintza.eus) we reproduce that article.
NOT MY STORY, BUT TOO MANY PEOPLE’S
Irati Oleaga (Xabier Oleaga’s daughter)
I was thirteen 15 years ago today. My sister was nine.
We were woken up at 1am by the Spanish Civil Guard (the Spanish military police force). Like many other Basques. They were heavily armed; some wearing bulletproof vests, some others wearing balaclavas. We were wearing our pyjamas. Like many other Basques.
They came to arrest my father. Like many other Basques.
He was a journalist. He used to work in the only newspaper in the world that was written entirely in Basque language: Euskaldunon Egunkaria. He was accused of ETA membership. Like many other Basques.
They kept us (me, my wee sis and my mother) locked in the kitchen for four hours, while they searched the tiny house we were living in at the time with my father. What they were looking for, I don’t know. What is what you look for when you accuse somebody of terrorism because of his/her job as a journalist?
They took him after four hours anyway. Like many other Basques. We didn’t know where to, we didn’t know why, or for how long. Like many other Basques.
We were still wearing our pyjamas. We were still in our house, but it didn’t feel like our home anymore. It was a mess; our mattresses turned around, the smell of (the grease of) their guns… That smell stayed in the house for days, while we still didn’t know where and how my father was. I can still smell it to this day. Like many other Basques.
Nine other people were arrested that day. And the newspaper closed down. The Spanish National Criminal Court (a special and exceptional Francoist high court) ordered the Civil Guard to close down the Basque-language daily newspaper Euskaldunon Egunkaria. 15 years ago today.
Five days went by, and we heard the news. The judge was sending some of the detainees to prison. My father was one of them. My mother was in Madrid at the time; she went there to pick him up because everybody thought they would all be released after going before the judge. The case didn’t make any sense; they had to release them. But they didn’t.
I was with the rest of the family (my sister, my cousin…) at my granny’s. We were watching the news. They were talking about the decision of the court, and the camera caught the ones being released from prison at that exact moment. We saw it live. My father wasn’t amongst them. Like many other Basques.
The reporter interviewed one of the ‘lucky’ ones. He said he had been tortured. Like many other Basques. For five days. They all had been tortured. Like many other Basques. He couldn’t hold back the tears.
I think many homes went silent for a few seconds after that broadcast in the Basque Country. My granny’s house did anyway, but it didn’t last much. The phone rang, and I was the only one who managed to get up and go back to reality.
I picked it up… It was my father. From prison. He could make a phone call. Only one. In Spanish. No talking in Basque. That was the first time he ever talked to me in Spanish, the first time in our life, and it felt weird, it felt violent, painful, humiliating, cold… It felt unnatural. It was unnatural. It is.
That’s why 15 years ago today, the Spanish State sent hundreds of armed men and women to the Basque Country; to violently undo the natural.
As someone once said ‘the Basque language is our only free territory’. I’ll always be free there, I’ll always stand up for it. Like many other Basques.