Dery man Mickey McCrossan was part of an Irish delegation that visited the Basque Country last month.
Mickey is a member of Sinn Fein Republican Youth in Derry and is from the Waterside.
As part of a group from all over Ireland he spent a week in and around Bilbao in the Basque region where he took part in an exchange of viewpoints from the Irish peace process and the ongoing peace process in the Basque Country.
“The visit came about when Sinn Fein Republican Youth launched the initiative to strengthen our connections with the Basque Country.
“We organised the delegation to show solidarity with our comrades who are currently involved in a peace process and show our support for youth activism in politics in bringing about the independence for the Basque Country,” Mickey told the Sunday Journal.
Mickey and the rest of the Irish delegation travelled from Dublin to Bilbao on October 17. The group of 30 young Irish republicans spent a full week immersing themselves in the history of the Basque Country and strived to see what Ireland could learn from the Basques in moving forward.
“The purpose of our visit was not simply to show our respect and solidarity with their people although that was a large part of it.
“We were there also to learn how we can benefit from each other’s peace process and factors that we can incorporate into our own politics at home. It was to help educate the Basques about our struggle and learning from theirs.
“It was very educational to see the similarities in the Basque and Irish struggles for equality and freedom,” he said.
Mickey and the rest of the delegation had a busy schedule of meetings.
He said he was amazed at the respect the Basque political activists have for Irish republicans.
“While in the Basque Country we had the great honour and privilege of meeting many movements and organisations.
“We met with the Euskal Preso Politikoen Kolektiboa (EPPK), the Basque Political Prisoners Collective, which fundraises for prisoners families and raises awareness of the situation in which over 700 POWs currently find themselves in Spanish and French jails.
“A man who spent 20 years in Spanish jails hosted this talk and was a former hunger striker - he spent 54 days on hunger strike.
“On our final night of the delegation we met with five young people who were being sent to Madrid the next day to face trial and charges of being members of political activists in their youth movement of Ernai.
“All these groups had great respect for Irish revolutionaries with several of our speakers quoting and making reference to Bobby Sands.”
The similarities between the Basque region and the Irish peace process are remarkable, according to Mickey. Like here in Ireland, there has been a campaign to raise awareness of the Basque language but the thing that shocked him the most was the news that the Spanish and French governments are continuing to arrest people who are fighting for independence for the region politically.
“The similarities I thought were quite apparent in how it is a fight for equality of the classes and for the heritage of the country - aims which the Basques and the Irish share.
“The importance of learning the Basque language has increased in the country as has Irish in Ireland with new projects such as Liofa. The only differences I saw when I was there was how the Spanish and French governments continue to arrest people for being politically active, despite the fact that there is a peace process in place.
“I couldn’t understand this. How men and women in jails were having their sentences increased by a new law brought in 2003 which could see a sentence of 20 years increase to 30 years.
“I didn’t realise the oppression in the Basque Country was still so severe. It left me very angry to see such oppression in this day and age.
“Our relationships will grow and strengthen. It was a massive eye-opener for me as a young person involved in politics and as a student,” he said.