An article from Do or Die Issue 7. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 85-87.
Trekking up to reach Sasé, one follows a meandering trail of hard stony earth, tracing its way through clusters of trees as it twists up the side of the sheer valley. The spindly dry stone walls that occasionally still deign to accompany this fickle path anticipate the rugged but impressive beauty of the village itself, whose robust buildings conceal intricate interiors laced with ancient wooden beams. Though the rubble of some of the less enduring buildings dusts the ground around those that remain, and the haunting taste of desertion lingers where wildflowers usurp the pathways, the village as a whole stands on in the face of years of neglect. And now chickens scurry and cluck around the base of the high church tower, which points up to the stoic mountains whose vast peaks overlook the settlement.
Sasé was just one of hundreds of abandoned villages in the Aragonese Pyrenees till it was occupied two years ago by the 'Colours Collective'. The villages were abandoned in the '50s and '60s due to the lure of the city and the pressure of cattlemen and right-wing landlords. Now it's owned by the local government Diputacion de Aragon (DGA). Sasé is mostly in ruins after 30 years of abandonment. It has extensive terracing closely planted, along with most of the mountains, with a monoculture of small red pines. It also has lots of fruit trees, village gardens of rich dark earth, a river, huge oak woods, etc.
The Colours Collective, who specialise in artisan products, traditional music, circus acts and organic agriculture, had experience of living in Primout, an occupied village in Leon, and then in various camps, before occupying Sasé, with their children and animals in 1995, with a project of reconstruction in harmony with the environment. Sasé is a steep 6km climb from the nearest road, or a 15km drive by landrover up a forest track open only in summer. The village is 1300 metres above sea level.
With most of the villages deserted (many for reservoir schemes) this part of the Pyrenees is dominated by tourism, cattlemen, barracks of military police and a big centre of Opus Dei. The DGA never seriously negotiated. In 1996 the Sasé villagers were lured down to a pathetic temporary camp, with the promise of a legalised village, but the unofficial suggestions of the DGA were totally impossible (no water, already full etc) and Sasé, never totally abandoned, was re-occupied.
In the summer of 1997, Sasé received a new order and date for eviction, but by this time they had found friends, notably from the resistance network set up by the Zapatista Rebellion of the indigenous people of Chiapas in Mexico. Hundreds of people visited Sasé, eager to help the families there, and much progress was made, rehabilitating the bakery, school and extending the organic gardens. Living in Sasé is hard work, there is no electricity, gas or shops, but the forty inhabitants were happy there. All decisions were made in Assembly (as in all the Spanish squat movement), and the village economy collectivised. Sasé is one big family.
In July 1997 the unexpected support made eviction impractical, but on Thursday 13 October, 50 Guardia Civil arrived by surprise to evict the village, terrifying the children, throwing a 9 month pregnant woman on the ground, etc. Villagers climbed on the dangerous roofs, up trees and on top of the church tower. The police arrested five people and bricked up houses, but at 6pm, with night falling they left the village for the long and difficult drive down. The houses were re-occupied and people went to phone for help.
On Friday 24 October a huge force of 32 vanloads, armed to the teeth with riot gear, launched an all-out attack on Sasé. However, the forest track had been sabotaged during the night, the convoy took three hours to arrive and meanwhile about fifty supporters had climbed up on foot. There was little that they could do, and the police savagely beat up the inhabitants, firing rubber bullets to force down people on roofs and in trees, and arrested thirty-two people. The rest escaped into the forest and came down at night to re-occupy the village. The press were excluded during the attack.
On Saturday and Sunday lesser forces of police and workers continued bricking up the village, emptying all the contents of the houses, seizing all possessions. The chickens, goats and the horse (Blues) were also lost on the mountain.
Meanwhile the action shifted to the courthouse in the town of Boltaña, where the 37 people who had by then been arrested were held in terrible conditions, with a hundred people camped in the street outside, in sub-zero night temperature without food or adequate clothing.
Thirteen people immediately began a hunger strike, calling for the immediate release of the prisoners and the dropping of all charges, the return of Sasé to the villagers, and recognising us as living there and respecting our human rights which will now have been violated brutally and systematically.
On Sunday 26th in the evening, all but two of the prisoners were finally released (conditional on not going to Sasé), charged with occupation, serious disobedience and resistance to authority. However, two people - one woman, Cuna, and the Village baker, Choto - were kept inside with the added charge of attack on authority. The two prisoners were transferred to Zaragoza and Huesca but the camp and hunger strike continued. On Wednesday 29th the camp was threatened with eviction. Support demos began in Zaragoza and Barcelona. On Thursday morning the riot police arrived but didn't attack as a local doctor intervened. However, the tents had to be taken down.
Publicity was mostly confined to the local press and was often total lies. For example, one paper headlined a claim from the DGA that they had used 'patience and delicacy' in dealing with the villagers, without mentioning the hunger strike. Another report spoke of the villagers as 'human rubbish' and incredibly the Boltaña council offered us a camp site on the edge of the town dump. On Saturday 2 November, bolstered by supporters, the half-dead hunger strikers held a press conference in the dump - christened Rubbish Town - but hardly any press turned up.
Local towns were leafleted, signatures gathered, the whole area graffitied and on Sunday a circus-type musical demo was held in Aensa, a bigger local town, blocking an intersection - significantly without police intervention - and mounting a street exhibition.
Finally, on Monday 4th November, the last two prisoners were released provisionally. The hunger strike ended, fortunately, and the villagers began setting up a new camp by the river, not in the rubbish dump but on land owned by the Communist Party (though the villagers are not communists or in any party). During the weekend, permanent assemblies were held with visitors from all over, and all sleeping (very little) in the street. It was decided to focus on a national demo in Zaragoza, capital of Aragon for the next Saturday - 8th November.
On Thursday 6th a fierce storm struck the peninsula, killing over thirty in the South. In Boltaña the Sasé campers were inches from the roaring river. The tents blew down and the site flooded, soaking everything. Meanwhile, support was growing, especially in Zaragoza, where food and clothing were gathered and buses organised from as far away as Sevilla (over 1000km away) for the demo. On Saturday 8th, over two thousand people gathered and marched through Zaragoza with music, fireworks, theatre, juggling and dancing. The party continued for hours, without police, outside the government headquarters. Finally a street camp in the Plaza de la Constitucion was set up. Simultaneous demonstrations had been held in Barcelona, Madrid, Vigo, Paris and Berlin, in favour of Sasé. In Zaragoza messages of support were read out, including a moving one from chiapas. That day a woman from Sasé had a new baby.
The next day there was another equally big demo in Zaragoza, for the villagers of Beceite, which is due to disappear under a new reservoir. The Sasé campers joined in and linked the two struggles.
The camp continued in Zaragoza city until Wednesday 11th when a march began 180km from Sasé. The march was organised as a mobile exhibition and it was planned to stop and inform in all towns and villages en route, taking at least a week. On Tuesday November 10th, fierce winds brought the first heavy snow to the Pyrenees.
With Love and Rage. To be continued...
A large demo on 4th January '98 was a huge success. Around 400 people from all over Spain and beyond assembled at Boltaña and departed for Sasé at 6am in a large convoy of cars and trucks. Upon arrival at the village, to the stirring sound of the Galician Gaito (bagpipes), people took up sledgehammers and smashed the bricked up doorways. Sasé is now REOCCUPIED! International pressure on the DGA is now more vital than ever, to ensure that there is no repetition of the events of October 24th!