• September 1, 1996

“Anti-terror police check on ETA” – Headlines like this (from the English “Guardian”) appeared in many UK papers after a tribute appeared in a pro-separatist Basque newspaper to the young unarmed Irishmen Diarmuid O’Neill killed by police in London on 23 September.

The “ETA Link” and O’Neill’s friendship with a girl from the Basque country exercised the feverish imagination of some British journalists and in the process neatly moved the discussion of the circumstances of O’Neill’s death from centre stage.

The next few months will undoubtedly see a spate of stories allegedly links, plots etc. between militant separatist groups. Behind the headlines, the truth is even more substantial than the “conspiracy theory journalists” believe.

Links between campaigning groups striving to protect their cultures and assert their rights to self determination have existed throughout this century. The collection of minority groups that cluster on the Atlantic Arc of western Europe enjoy close ties. Their ability to provide practical support and assistance to each other when tested has proved sound.

After World War 2, many Bretons who had used the German occupation to advance the Bretons’ fight within the occupied and impotent French State, were forced to flee the liberation. With Welsh support, some fled and gained sanctuary in Ireland, some moved to Spain and the Basque country. The link between Bretons and Basques still remains strong. Many Basques fleeing recent repression in their home country have found safety in Brittany much to the chagrin on the French authorities who in turn have harassed Breton separatists providing this humanitarian support.

When the Celtic League, itself an umbrella group for the Celtic countries with branches in each one and also the United Sates, met in Brittany in August, a resolution was adopted condemning this recent repression. It went on to reiterate the principle of solidarity not just between the Celtic people but also other minorities such as the Basques on the “Atlantic Arc”. The resolution was moved by the Welsh delegates and supported by the Irish – even via something as mundane as a conference resolution, the complex web binding several peoples (Bretons, Basques, Irish and Welsh) was demonstrated

The level and nature of commitment to this solidarity can vary from the purely cultural, as espoused by bodies like the conservative Celtic Congress organisation, to that of the more political, though legitimate, programme of politico-cultural campaigning pursued vigorously by the Celtic League. Parallelling the efforts of the inter Celtic groups are the individual links between National language organisations. The Dublin based European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages and also the Barcelona based contact group, established to promote the recently adopted Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights, serve to develope bonds and forge links between these aspirant groups many of which have a political as well as a cultural agenda. Both these bodies of course function strictly legitimately within the law of the host State and both recieve EU funding.

The National Parties in each country also pursue distinct agendas and these can oscillate with the swings and changes in mood of the policy and leadership of the particular Party. Most Celtic Nationalist Political Organisations stimulate contact with National minorities elsewhere.

In the late 1970s, under the direction of Richard Behal the Director of its Foreign Affairs Bureau, Sinn Féin promoted vigorously the concept of solidarity between those peoples whose aspiration, like that of their own, was national self-determination.

Althoughthe emphasis today is less strident, both An Phoblacht and Saoirse still find space to promote the cause of others in struggle like the Basques, Corsicans, Galicians etc.

Many believed with the advent of the European Union the dominance of the old Nation States would become less oppressive to groups such as those on the Celtic fringe and the Galicians and Basques.

To a certain extent this optimism has been rewarded and the work of the Bureau (of Lesser Used Languages) in promoting National languages is helping to retrieve the cultures of these minority groups; cultures which have been extremely vulnerable for most of this century.

Some States, particularly Spain, have embraced the principle of greater political autonomy though the concessions advanced to groups such as the Catalans have not proved sufficiently attractive to seduce others on the Iberian peninsula (such as ETA) away from the road of violent struggle. France, less spontaneously, has indicated substantial concessions may be imminent to settle its long running separatist “emergency” in Corsica.

The high profile Irish situation and the failure of the British and Irish government to persuade the militant political groups like the IRA and others to “dump arms” is still the most visible manifestation of the historical failure to integrate nations within the borders of the old political States of Europe.

It is, however, not the only example and as long as the EU preoccupies itself with the mundane matters of agricultural policy or the single currency and fails to address the hot spots within this “Europe of 100 Flags”, problems will persist.

Links between National Independence movements and cultural groups on the “Atlantic Arc” are a fact – they will continue until the “old” States recognise the aspirations of indigenous nations within their present frontiers.

J.B. Moffatt. pp. Celtic League

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