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Repression increases in State of Spain: all insumisos to be released


--This year will be the last. Starting next year, the Prisoners for Peace Honour Roll will not include those hundreds of Spanish names which, since 1989, have reminded us of the total resisters in jail. As laid down in the new penal code-approved on 8 November-after next May no one will be sent to prison for insumisión (total resistance to military and alternative service) in the state of Spain.

It looked as though the thousands of denunciations, international protests, and letters arriving from all over the world had produced a kind of "Mandela effect" as regards insumisión, compelling the government to give in.

But nothing could be further from the truth. Instead of going to prison, the insumisos are to face "disqualification" for anything from eight to fourteen years. Even though the situation appears to be improving, those concerned describe the new legislation as the most repressive since the end of the dictatorship-for two basic reasons.

For one thing, the punishment is itself severe: "disqualification" means deprivation of the right to receive aid from public funds. And this just when young people most need financial help, for example for housing, to study, establish a business, participate in development projects, or cope with unemployment. Moreover, they will not be allowed to get jobs that are in any way connected to public administration, whether in the education, health, social, transport, or research sectors, to name but a few. Faced with such prospect an insumiso would surely prefer to be sent to prison, for at present the length of sentence and type of prison regime can vary according to a judge's decision. [Under the third category regime-tercer grado-the prisoner only needs to sleep in the prison.]

The personal cost of this repression, while important, is nevertheless not the only cause for concern. More important, in the insumisos' opinion, is the political use which can be made of the government's repression depending on the type of punishment. It might be wise to consider the conclusions reached at the WRI Triennial in Brazil by the working group on conscientious objection: that our struggle should not concentrate exclusively on ending the repression of war resisters, but should, above all, ensure that their gesture has some political bearing on the demilitarisation of society as a whole.

This is why conscientious objectors in the State of Spain

opted for insumisión, which of course led to repression. And they knew it would. But this was precisely what they were trying to achieve: punishment which they knew would not get popular support. For they believed that any such attempted repression would cause so much scandal that, not only would the repression be very difficult to implement, but also it would have a vitally important effect: that the represssion of COs would lose its legitimacy, inevitably leading to the de-legitimisation of the law which had been broken.

It is essential to know about the strategic use that has been made of the repression total resisters can face, if one is to understand their behaviour and the reasons why the government has changed the law. Using a classical political defence, the insumisos were intent on placing militarism itself in the dock at their own trials. This led the government to rapidly transfer the cases from the military to the civil courts. Sensitivity to the rules of democracy? No, mere political expediency-an attempt to prevent the army's image being tarnished by having to judge pacifists in military tribunals.

The insumisos may have managed to create a social solidarity network which has helped to alleviate the personal impact of imprisonment, but the government is now determined that society itself take on the role of the state and reject those who commit civil disobedience, by hindering them from working and denying them any kind of help: "If you don't cooperate with the state, you can't expect the state to cooperate with you."

In short, as the insumisos had managed to present the imprisoned war resister as a symbol of the struggle for peace, the government now needed to devise a form of repression which would deter, but would not be visible, and would not have the symbolic and emotional impact of imprisonment.

This is the situation which the peace movement now faces in the State of Spain

. Fresh approaches are being considered, such as objecting after already being recruited into the armed forces, which would mean imprisonment under military law. Most of the public sector trade unions have already indicated their willingness to help reduce the severity of "disqualification" as much as possible. Moreover there is nothing to suggest that the duration of the "disqualification" will not continue to vary depending on the court concerned.

Paradoxically, there is no reason to be pleased about the release of the insumisos. Or is there? For what has persuaded the government to change the law has actually been insumisión's ability to use repression to promote the demilitarisation of society. The forms of the repression may have changed; but our shared objective remains immutable.

KEM-MOC, Iturribide 12-1 D, E-48006 Bilbao, Euskal Herria, state of Spain (+34 4 415 3772; fax 412 9222)

English text: Agatha Haun and Pat Arrowsmith