Basque premier Iñigo Urkullu: “ETA should never have existed”

The regional leader speaks to EL PAÍS about the legacy of the terrorist organization ahead of the announcement of its historic dissolution

Basque regional premier Íñigo Urkullu.
Basque regional premier Íñigo Urkullu.L. RICO

With less than 24 hours to go before Basque terror group ETA announces its formal dissolution, the leader of the Basque regional government – known as the lehendakari – Iñigo Urkullu speaks to EL PAÍS about what he believes has been the darkest chapter in Spain’s recent history.

During its decades-long campaign for an independent Basque Country, ETA killed a total of 853 people and injured hundreds more. The lehendakari, from the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), discusses ETA’s apology to some of its victims and whether the Spanish government is willing to change its policy of keeping ETA prisoners in jails outside of the Basque Country.

We have all lost. There are no winners or losers

Question. ETA will announce it dissolution on Thursday. Does this really mean the group will disappear?

Answer. All signs point to that being the case. We have passed on our conditions for the end to international agents: that it be unilateral, effective and definitive. And I think the announcement will do this.

Q. What are your thoughts about the end of ETA after more than half a century of terrorism?

A. I think it is a very important moment. ETA owes it to the Basque people and all of humanity. It brings an end to a process that began on October 20, 2011 with the definitive end of terrorism [the date ETA announced the end of the armed fight for independence]. ETA should never have existed. This puts an end to a 60-year-long dark chapter.

Q. What did you think about the ETA statement that apologized to only some of its victims?

A. ETA wants to create its own narrative but there is still time to recognize the unjust harm it has caused indiscriminately.

ETA was a terrorist organization that used the name of the Basque people in vain

Q. Does the Basque radical left, the abertzale, need to recognize this as well?

A. Those who have caused or justified violence must recognize the unfair harm they have caused to the Basque people. I wish and hope this happens. I think we are trying to look for the most comfortable declarations of a terrorist organization that is terrified that it will be seen as having served no purpose and as having lost. But no. Here we have all lost. There are no winners or losers.

Q. Once ETA dissolves, will there need to be new prisons policy for ETA prisoners who, under the current policy, are jailed hundreds of kilometers from home?

A. The majority of Basque society has wanted change for decades. Within current legislation, prison policy can be managed differently.

Q. Will ETA prisoners be allowed to transfer to jails in the Basque Country?

A. We are working toward this with the Spanish government. It is a response to what most of Basque society has called for. The Basque regional government has already put forward a plan to transfer prisoners to facilities within a close range of Basque Country that would not imply reunification.

Q. Is Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy open to this change in policy?

A. Both the prime minister and those who manage prison policy are aware of what we are talking about. Rajoy is responsive. The Spanish government has always made the dissolution of ETA the condition for changing penitentiary policy.

Those who have caused or justified violence must recognize the harm they have caused

Q. Are you going to take a particular initiative to achieve this?

A. Of course. I already did this last year. Our program calls for prison functions to be run by the regional government and we hope to work with the Spanish government on the question of the reintegration of prisoners.

Q. How will ETA be remembered by the history books?

A. I doubt that in the future it will have more than four or five lines in history books but I hope they help to explain that ETA was a terrorist organization that used the name of the Basque people in vain, inflicted pain and suffering on victims and on a society whose ethical values were at risk of distortion.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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