American in Spain

Basque Signature Extortion

March 10, 2009

A couple days ago, in the Basque valley town of Mondragón, where my in-laws live, some notices were posted on the entrances to all residential buildings. It read more or less the following:

Over the next two months, we will be going house by house collecting signatures for a petition to the mayor's office to release prisoners that are either gravely ill or that have already served their time.

Seems like a good cause, doesn't it? Well... What everyone that read this notice understood was written between the lines: that these prisoners are from the Basque terrorist group ETA. And the citizens of Mondragón have all too fresh in their memories how ETA deals with its enemies.

Until recently, I was blissfully and naively unaware that all the local businesses in Mondragón regularly pay protection money to ETA. I knew that occasionally ETA would set fire to a local business, but I never knew why. Duh. You don't have to graduate from the University of Sicily to figure out the easiest way to raise funds once you've rationalized harming innocents; every schoolyard bully knows that.

Set in this context, the seemingly harmless notice posted recently takes on another meaning, doesn't it? It's pretty terrifying and another damn good reason not to live in the Basque Country. What would you do if an organization infamous for holding deadly grudges knocked on your door to ask for your signature for their cause? It's an ancient human moral dilemma. It's not illegal to go door to door asking for signatures, but it sure feels an awful lot like extortion.

While I am definitely against trial-less imprisonment like Guantanamo and prisoners being held unfairly past their sentence, I've heard so many cries of "Wolf!" out of the Basque Separatist propaganda machine that I find it really hard to believe that their buddies are being held illegally. And grave illness should entitle prisoners to medical care, not freedom.

My blogrollmate, Sharon, the only angloblogger I know of in Mondragón, has covered this recent turn of events on her blog. I highly recommend that you check that out.