Violence forces Basque academic to flee

November 3, 2000

A second academic under pressure from violent Basque nationalists linked to Eta has left his job in Spain.

Jose Mar!a Portillo, lecturer in contemporary history at the University of the Basque Country, has brought forward his plans for a year's sabbatical after continued threats and attacks. He is starting a research project at an unnamed university in the United States, but he intends to return to the Basque Country.

His departure follows that of Mikel Azurmendi, an anthropologist at the same university, who left for similar reasons at the end of September.

Manuel Montero, rector of the university and a colleague of Dr Portillo, said: "Jose Mar!a left because he was sick of the situation. His name was painted on walls near the university and they have burnt his car twice."

In December 1997, the lecturer's car was set on fire. In October last year, his car was destroyed in a second incident on campus.

Violence at this level is the trademark of groups such as Kale Borroka, which is seen by many as a training school for Eta. Members of Kale Borroka are generally teenagers as young as 16 or 17, who are responsible for much of the low-level violence and intimidation, including burning buses, attacks on property and violent demonstrations common throughout the region.

Dr Portillo is an outspoken critic of nationalism and a member of the Forum of Ermua. The forum, which is opposed to Eta violence, was founded after Eta kidnapped and then executed Miguel gngel Blanco, a councillor in the town of Ermua, in 1997.

Professor Montoro does not see the departure of Dr Portillo and Dr Azurmendi as proof that intellectuals have no freedom of speech.

"The pressure of EtaI is not stopping freedom of speech in the Basque Country," he said. "Levels of tolerance are high in the university and we are overcoming the climate of fear."

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