(Sent via email to Tides of Flame)
I am sorry for not writing you sooner, but I have thought of you very much. I remember you asking for books on the Basque struggle when you went into prison. At the time, I was only making 300 dollars a month and my rent was 250. Pretty common these days to be so poor. But since I was unable to get your books, I have composed this letter, written in while I am in Euskaria.
I came to a little town called Santurtzi, just down the river from Bilbao. It is nearly the same size as Olympia, roughly 50,000. It used to be a small fishing village until the dictatorship. As you know, the Basques were the only Catholics to fight against the fascists, and for this they were labelled traitors and suffered intense repression for the next decades. As part of their punishment, Franco started a process of industrialization along the river. Now, the town is host to a super port and an oil refinery.
Of course you know how a refinery increases the cancer rates of those living nearby, and I am sure you know of all the capital that moves in an out of all major ports. The mere existence of a super port causes the immediate area to fill with industry and bleakness. This is all very sad, but there is light hidden within the small proletarian city.
12 of the ETA prisoners are from Santurtzi. From every other balcony hang banners with the map of Euskaria and calls for independence and amnesty for the prisoners. Every year, the riot police are called in to tear down pictures of the 12 prisoners. It is illegal under Spanish law to display pictures of the prisoners and it is considered aiding terrorism. Nevertheless, I saw graffiti calling for the freedom of individual prisoners.
One of these pieces of graffiti was next to the squatted social center in the Bullon neighborhood. Its an old three story schoolhouse that was abandoned by the city. Inside there is a bar, a stage, a kitchen, a free store, a library, a video center, and a small gymnasium for dance classes and martial arts training. Next to the bar is a giant map. The Basque territory is drawn in black on a green background. Within the black map are little white pieces of paper, taped to the wall, signifying a social center where Euskara is spoken. There are over 100 such places in Euskaria.
I learned of something quite confusing while I was there. I dont know the exact translation, but there exists a specifically Basque anarchist current that aims to destroy the state and preserve the matriarchal village life of the indigenous residents. Apparently they are all over the map. It makes sense they would exist, given that the mainstream Basque political parties have sold their populations into capitalist hell.
There are beautiful green hills hanging over the town, the river, and the port. They wanted to build a highspeed train tunnel through once of these hills but then the crisis hit and the money evaporated. Some of the anarchists said it was sad that it was not the people but capitalism that stopped the train.
The Bullon neighborhood is the furthest inland. Its outer limit rests at the foot of the hills where there are still single houses and small plots of farmland. The freeway cuts through the hills above the neighborhood, bringing countless trucks to and from the port. I sat in one of these pastures and watched the containers being driven away before eventually falling asleep under the sun. Half an hour later, a cow woke me up. Imagine that.
There are horses and cows and goats up in those hills. Old grandmothers ans grandfathers wake up early every morning and live nearly the same lives they lived 80 years ago. Down the hill, the farmland and houses slowly give way to the 6-9 story apartment buildings that dominate the town and most of Bullon. The words Belial and Devil are spray painted all over the neighborhood. You obviously know who the devil is. Belial was a demon that the pre-christian Jews feared. He was the prince of darkness, a rebel against god. In Hebrew, his name means Worthless People. That is probably what the author meant when tagging this phrase. Bullon is a neighborhood of people considered worthless by their rulers. Or maybe they just think demons are cool. Regardless, this is what John Milton said about Belial:
And when night darkens the streets,
then wander forth the sons of BELIAL,
flown with insolence and wine.
On the edge of the hill, at the bottom of a long staircase, is the Bullon Bar. It is run by a husband who works the bar and his wife who works in the kitchen. They have pickles, olives, cheese, and bread for everyone who comes there. At noon, the bar is packed with people drinking and smoking through their breaks at work. Immigrants come there to sell movies and music. At this bar, you can see the absolutely proletariat and anti-fascist character of the neighborhood, especially when the Athletic Cub (the Basque football team) is playing on TV. Their logo is very funny.
That is where I leave you, at the bar. Time to get a drink. I hope this has provided a glimpse of what is happening in Euskaria. This is my way of thanking you for being so strong. I hope you are living your life as fully as you can, despite the looming threat. There are people who want to cut us down and make us betray each other. They fear our friendships and think we are worthless people but you and I know we are not. In the coming days, never regret anything and do not listen to those who did not believe in you or your strength. In this little town, like your little town, the community is the most important thing. Always keep it safe.
Say hello to Matt. Hope to see you in the future.
–An old comrade