Red or Death: A Basque Dream of Independence
How young Basques use football to affirm their identity and politics by fighting with the fans of opposing teams.
Editor’s note: This film is not available to view online.
Basque Country, straddling the border between northern Spain and southwest France, is a region with its own language, culture and very strong antipathy for Spain.
For more than four decades, the political movement and armed separatist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), or Basque Homeland and Liberty, have been pitted against Spanish authorities. Founded in resistance to Francisco Franco’s fascist dictatorship in the late 1950s, ETA’s fight for Basque independence was most violent during the 1980s and 90s and resulted in hundreds killed and thousands wounded.
While the fighting has stopped and ETA disbanded in 2018, young left-wing Basques continue to dream of an independent country. ETA prisoners still in Spanish prisons to this date also fuel the anger of a youth in revolt.
almost all my youth. That toughens you up. All that youth lost.”]
“Palestine’s resistance has always been an example to us,” chant a crowd of protesters in the Basque capital of Bilbao. “Terrorism is carried out by states, not by people. We are fighting for an identity that was stolen from us.”
One of the ways the Basques continue to organise and resist is through support for their football team, Athletic de Bilbao. Hidden within the guise of fandom, Herri Norte Taldea (HNT) is a 200-member-strong anti-fascist group who support Athletic but are also involved in numerous violent confrontations with fans of ‘right-wing ultras’ such as Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.
Esteban Ibarra, president of the Movement Against Intolerance, pins the fervour of HNT, and their wing of younger members, the Katxorros, to sporting fanaticism in the 1980s and 90s. “In the Basque Country, they [extremist football groups] were linked to Basque independence.”
“In Madrid, it was closely linked to the far right where violence and ideology were always connected. The very strong identity becomes the stimulus for hostility towards the other person, the other group. One’s identity asserted through the cancelling out the other’s identity. And if colours are linked to an identity of country, with an ideological identity, then … there you have it,” Ibarra says.
Josebita, the bassist for Basque punk band Vomiting Scraps, says not only are ETA and Herri Norte misunderstood, but that the authorities revel in the groups’ demise.
“I have always considered myself beaten by politics, by the police,” says Josebita. “It’s obvious. Some beat us and others steal from us. And beaten by capitalism. Everything is linked. From being a young leftist from the neighbourhood, I suddenly found myself in a situation where all of us were said to be ETA.”
“My mother, who is my support, was taken from me. They put her in jail saying she belonged to ETA. That was in 2006 and she was released in 2015. [That’s] almost all my youth. That toughens you up. All that youth lost.”
Earlier this year, a fight erupted between supporters of Athletic Bilbao and Spartak Moscow, leading to the death of a Basque police officer during the confrontation. Herri Norte was blamed for the death, the group outlawed and its symbols banned from all football matches.
Yet the majority of Basques maintain that all they are asking for is independence from Spain.