Non-violent activisim in the Basque Country

Ziztadak / Tábanos tells stories that are not usually told. It takes a look at certain historical events that have been referential to non-violent movements in the Basque Country and recovers an amalgam of non-violent, disobedient, pacific and imaginative actions forming part of our collective memory. There are boycotts, refusals to collaborate, others of civil disobedience; those that offer alternatives and open roads, those that would like to close them... But what they have in common is action and the use of non-violent methods, breaking away from the narrow and unidirectional view of our history only seen from violent confrontation.

All of these cases, and many others not shown here, demonstrate that there is more than one History, that there are in fact several histories. The point is not only that fresh air exists beyond the stifling armed, partisan or easy chair frameworks, but that whatever fresh air there is, is less contaminated.

Our history isn’t only reduced to what we’re told by those in power and uniform. Not everything depends on the dynamics of civilian, military or religious parties and institutions. Not everything is ETA, not everything has to be either for or against it. No. As Howard Zinn says on the subject “we can find not only war but resistance to war, not only injustice but rebellion against injustice, not only selfishness but self-sacrifice, not only silence in the fact of tyranny but defiance, not only callousness but compassion.” These other stories are the ones we tell here.

Many other activities carried out in the long and varied history of Basque civil and social resistance have been left out. It’s impossible to include them all. It’s also probable that, after watching Ziztadak / Tábanos, discrepancies will arise on whether we should have included this or that activity in the documentary. We think it’s better to provoke a (never-ending) debate on the limits of what are considered to be non-violent and peaceful methods: violence or not against machines; at what point pressure becomes aggression; whether some initiatives could be misinterpreted as complementary to not strictly non-violent strategies; whether the showiness of an action is an indispensable requirement or whether it diverts attention from the objective... It’s better to prompt these debates than to erase the memory of what happened and deny our generation and those coming after us the necessary information to make their own decisions and rethink forms of political and social action.

It’s true that pending issues remain. The debate will continue, but non-violent action already has its own road and continues to make its way along it. This is a process open from below, advancing one foot in front of the other. There are too many obstacles to be overcome by active non-violence for us to be able to say, humbly, based on experience and the road covered to date, that there is enough historical perspective and collective memory here to know that violent confrontation brings nothing but new suffering, makes us insensitive to the pain of others, imposes the idea of friend or foe, dehumanises political adversaries, ends up militarising rebelliousness, closes doors, destroys bridges that have to be built again, diverts objectives, conditions the practice of dissidence as a whole, facilitates State violence, creates obstacles to social participation and leads the majority to do absolutely nothing... Explosive devices have no eyes, non-violence can open them.

Non-violence doesn’t mean passiveness. Quite the opposite, non-violence has to be active; it is the complete opposite to passiveness. The very action of non-violence embodies the objectives it strives to achieve. Unfortunately, as John Paul Lederach says, we normally find a strong lack of balance between our aims and the way we work to obtain them: “We don’t connect what we want to achieve to the way we go about achieving it. The only way to correct this imbalance is to intimately link our aims and ideals to the way we go about achieving them. (…) We must connect the means to the ends.” And practice it time and again, we add.

That’s how we understand non-violence (in a single word), as a way of being in life, as a positive alternative to addressing conflicts and trying to bring about change, not only as a manner of achieving a formal absence of violence but of overcoming the injustices that generate these conflicts and of reacting to the passivity and apathy they bring in their wake. That’s why Hannah Arendt says that civil disobedience will be politically relevant when an important number of consciences come together to form public opinion, since the strength of an opinion does not depend on conscience, but on the number of people who share that conscience.

Continuing the argument, Mariano Ferrer wrote that “the socialisation of civil disobedience calls for winning the battle of public opinion, which implies making the effort to have a shareable reason and put it forward in such a way that it implores the majority, a carefully made selection of objectives – better attainable intermediates than unattainable finalists, focussed on the immediate, on symbolic confrontation rather than direct clashes, but aware that it is necessary to go beyond the simple gesture, a preparation taking account of the context, available forces, the type of organisation required, constancy.”

Further, the effectiveness of non-violence must not only be measured in the end results, but also in what we learn from and the sediment left by each action carried out, in the humanisation of the conflict it implies and in the construction of critical, participatory and active citizens fostered in the process.

What Bidea Helburu would like to see is a shift from isolated actions of non-violence (written separately) to a strategy of non-violence (written together), something we believe to be more effective and necessary in humanising and lending coherence to the dissidence and rebelliousness existing in this people, a strategy helping to stimulate the imagination and advance with the process of socially transforming the society in which we live.

Bidea Helburu

Film: Ziztadak / Tábanos

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  • San Sebastián Donostia 2016
  • Donostiako Udala. Ayuntamiento de San Sebastián
  • San Sebastián: ciudad de la cultura
  • AIETE: Casa de la Paz y los Derechos Humanos