“We are one people, on the march”
Bayonne, August 17.
Day 23 of the March on Brussels. From Irún, 38 km.
Today was the longest day. Up until now at least. We arrived at the border around eight o’ clock, it was a bridge over a small river. On the other side there were French indignados and French press to welcome us. We sang our slogans and we danced. Slowly we start to integrate French slogans as well. ‘Nous sommes un peuple, un peuple en marche.’
We cross the bridge. And soon I realise that this must indeed be France: the roads are named after general De Gaulle, and the people walk around with a baguette under their arm.
After the border we walk and we walk and we walk. Along steep cliffs and small surfers’ beaches up to St. Jean de Luz and further along the national road to Biarritz. For some people though, we haven’t crossed any border yet. This is still the Basque country. And actually every sign seems to indicate that it is. They invite you to the Basque coast, to the Basque kitchen, to the traditional Basque sports and games, and to buy lots of Basque souvenirs. It gives the impression that the ‘Basqueness’ of this region is more of a French tourism exploit than a genuine cultural thing.
‘Euskal Herria’, the Basque country in a large sense, includes the entire Spanish region of Navarra and three French départements on the other side of the Pyrennees. It runs along the coast up to and including Bayonne. So if Euskadi ever gains its independence, I’ll bet you ten to one that the problem still won’t be solved. There will always be people who won’t be satisfied until all these territories are incorporated into one Great Basque Country.
This is not going to happen. Nationalism is not the way. I’m reminded by that every time I see a monument to the fallen in the Great War 1914-1918. You find them in every town and village in France and Italy. They carry the names of entire families, mostly ignorant farmers. In the smallest villages there are more names on the monument than people still living there. The dedication invariably says that this generation died ‘for the fatherland’. It makes me sad to see it, and it makes me angry as well.
We stop next to the war monument in Biarritz, high up on the boulevard. Below us there are fashionable beaches between the rocks, and behind us there is the styleful town with the tourists sitting on the terraces. Rain is menacing.
We receive news from Bayonne. The police has prevented our logistics team from deploying the ‘riot kitchen’. They won’t allow us to camp. So we hold an emergency assembly. We have to bear in mind that this is a foreign country and that the movement hasn’t rooted as much as it has in Spain. But on the other hand, this is the first day. If we cede now, it wouldn’t be an encouraging precedent. We will show that we’re dead serious to go to Brussels as we planned, and we decide to march on Bayonne anyway.
Time is a factor, so I walk off with two other comrades towards Bayonne to be able to be there at seven, when we will have coverage from the local press. The others take the national road, I take the provincial road. When I arrive in Bayonne I don’t know where to go, so I just ask a police officer for the ‘Place des Indignées’. He immediately knows what I mean, and he sends me in the right direction. There are already some people of the vanguard who came by car, some indignados from Bayonne and a couple of cameras. From a distance, police are observing us suspiciously. “Where is the rest of the group?” someone asks me.
“I don’t know. When I left they were still discussing the proposal to depart immediately. It’s not unlikely that they haven’t reached a consensus yet.”
It’s one of the big disadvantages of assemblyism. The capacity to improvise. But as it turned out, the march got under way pretty soon. Because in less than half an hour, there they are, walking along the river and over the bridge to Indignado Square, passing the police cars with their hands up, singing that there are no borders.
The police in Bayonne have received the order to be hostile and provocative. They are present in uniform, and in ‘civilian’ outfit looking like football hooligans. They won’t let us unload any kitchen equipment, but they let us have our assembly with the people from Bayonne. We can sleep there too, because a French law prohibits police to molest people sleeping between 10pm and 6am, but we can’t put up our tents. Fortunately, it doesn’t rain. We are under surveillance all night long. On a personal level polisce are not unfriendly, but in the city hall, someone must be pretty nervous about this march.