A Free Software week in the Basque Country

With sights like the old town of San Sebastián and the Guggenheim museum at Bilbao, the Basque country in northern Spain is certainly worth a visit. But the reason that I and FSFE staffer Rainer Kersten spent a week there had nothing to do with old houses, art or pintxos. (Well, *almost* nothing to do with pintxos.) We went there to meet with people from the vibrant community of Free Software activists, to give talks and to build links between the local and the European level.

We came into town from RMLL at Bordeaux in Rainer’s 2CV, a car that by now is something of a minor celebrity in its own right. After settling in with the mayor of Baskooge at San Sebastián, the first stop was a meeting with the regional government on Tuesday in Vitoria.

This meeting was organised by the Technical Office for the Support of Free Software (SALE), which was recently set up by the government, and is run by a number of experienced Free Software people. The Basque government sent some rather high-level representatives, with two Directors General present at the meeting, as well as the director of EJIE, the publicly-owned company to which the government has outsourced its IT work.

Most of all, the government representatives were curious to hear what is being done with Free Software elsewhere in Europe. I presented some example cases, such as Munich, CommunesPlone, and the huge @ndared project in Andalusia. The Basque government just embarked on an effort to open up government data and make it available online. But they don’t yet have a strategy for using Free Software as a motor for regional economic development. This clearly was a new perspective for them, and I made an effort to get the point across that local companies prosper when the public sector moves to Free Software.

After the formal meeting and the obligatory three-hour lunch, we drove back to San Sebastián, arriving just in time for the first Fellowship meeting there. There were Free Software activists with impressive experience, such as a teacher who has succeeded in migrating her school to GNU/Linux.

On Wednesday I had a couple of interviews with a regional radio station and a newspaper, and then it was time to move the base camp to Bilbao.

After a live radio interview [mp3, sorry] there on Thursday, I gave a talk [20100715bienvenidos_al_mainstreambilbao.pdf] about the role of Free Software for regional businesses and the public sector in a technology park. It was really well attended, and we got great feedback. From there, we went directly on to a networking meeting with regional Free Software activists at Deusto University in Bilbao, where Txipi organises a yearly Free Software summer school. We talked about what people in the Basque community are doing, and how linking up with FSFE can help them become more effective.

After so much work, it was time to relax a bit with friends, and those who would soon become friends. We had a Fellowship meeting in Bilbao, where our crowd of fifteen or more people quickly overloaded each bar we went to. The meeting only wrapped up when the waiter took the table away from underneath our last caña.

After too few hours of sleep (again) it was Friday morning, and I headed to the airport for my flight home. It was a great week in a wonderful region. We met a lot of people who have been active for Free Software for a long time. We also came at an exciting point in time, when both the government and local businesses are wanting to emulate the successes that Free Software has brought elsewhere.