SUNDAY, DECEMBER 13,1970
Shock Waves From the Trial of Basques
MADRID There have been political kidnappings elsewhere, and possibly more serious titán the seizing by Basque activists of Eugen Beihl, honorary West Germán Vice Cónsul in San Sebastian. There have been protest demonstrations elsewhere — certaínly far larger and mora violent than the half-dozen daily tussles with the pólice taking place around Spain these days.
Why is it, then, that the incidents in Spain have caused not just a problem but a crisis for a regime that has weathered its problems, if not solved them, and that has known few real crises for the past 30 years?
"A curious thing about Spain is that the cult of order for order´s sake sometimes rebounds on its authors," a columnist wrote in the conservative but relatively broad - mided newspaper Ya. "In Britain and the United States, electricity and railroad strikes cause plenty of headaches. But nothing essential is Involved for the two governments.
They try to clear up the matter as quickly as possible, but they risk nothing fundamental." Challenge to Order In Spain, however, a small dissent could be read as a challenge to the whole regime of "order" and "unity," and thus bring down the whole machínery of the regime to repress it.
It was this logic that was behind the latest trouble with the Basques — that racially distinct community inhabiting four provinces of northeast Spain whose agitation for the autonomy it enjoyed until the Civl War has always been a problem to the Franco regime.
At the court-martial of 15 Basque activists in Burgos last week, Eduardo Uriarte — one of the six defendants who face a possible death penalty on charges of implication in the murder of an inspector of the political pólice — was asked how he first became a dissenter.
It started some years ago, he said, in a village. He and some friends were on a visit there, and they were playing xistus, or Basque flutes. The local civil guard told them to leave town, saying that xistus were illegal.
Flutes, Basque language schools, the wearing of the Basque colore — these and other things have, in years past, been treated by the central Government´s pólice in the Basque country as treasonous and a threat to national unity. This early repression turned a group of young Basque romantics from folk-singing to dynamiting.
The activities brought them to courtmartial. The courtmartial — and the death sentences asked — brought the simmering in important segments of Spanish society to a boil. That triggered the kidnapping of the West Germán diplomat and a general strike in the Basque country.
The black áreas on the map indícate the main concentratíons of the separatist Basques, whose conflict with the Spanish Government is intensifying again.
And the rigid political structures of the regime seemed threatened with disruption.
To the Basques, the courtmartial procedure for persons whose separatism undoubtedly reflects a majority view in the Basque región — even if their leftist ideology and their methods go beyond — was one more instance of centralist oppression.
The strikes — nearly 100,000 workers were involved — the shopkeepers´ boycotts, the fights with the pólice, were the result.
To the country´s intellectuals and professionals and to a surprising number of Government officials, the use of the courtmartial and the penalties asked seemed barbarie, or, as one said, "worse than barbarie — stupid."
The result was sit-ins, petitions, an unusual number of official leaks, and a surprisingly complete treatment of the whole subject in the press.
To the clandestine workers groups and the students, the court-martial was an issue on which the Government was particularly vulnerable. There have been demonstrations and token strikes in the main cities of Spain, although not of great magnitude.
To the church, which has been slipping from its traditional support of the regime, the courtmartial was an intolerable offense. A joint pastoral letter by the bishops of Bilbao and San Sebastian was, to the Government´s shock, endorsed in effect by a majority of the conference of Spanish bishops.
Time to Change
To a whole core of right-winmembers of the regime — falangists, army veterans, syndicate and Government buread crats — who feel that rival factions (notably the so-called Opus Dei group) have stolen their power — the disorders and discussions are evidence that it is time to return to the hard line of earlier years.
Finally, in the army, there ís pronounced dissatisfaction over having to handle a court-martial that has proven such a hornet´s nest.
A number of progressiveminded officers have been uneasy for some time about the failure of the regime to establish stronger popular bases for itself. Now they are joined by hard-liners in the army who are scandalized by the disorders.
Members of both groups are reported to feel that the Cabinet —led, under General Franco, by Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco— has botched things by being alternately too hard and too soft, and there are rumors that they are pressing for changes.