On the week that the 10th anniversary of the end of Basque terrorist group ETA’s violent campaign is being observed in Spain, two key figures from the radical left in the northern Spanish region today recognized the “pain” of the victims left behind by five decades of assassinations, kidnappings and extortion that claimed the lives of around 850 people and injured thousands more. ETA, which was seeking an independent Basque Country, announced its complete dissolution in 2018.
The general coordinator of the EH Bildu party, Arnaldo Otegi, and the general secretary of Sortu, Arkaitz Rodríguez, spoke out on Monday to vindicate “all of the victims,” and made “a specific mention of the victims caused by ETA’s violence.”
“We want to convey our sorrow and pain for the suffering they endured. We feel their pain, and that sincere feeling leads us to affirm that it should never have happened, as nobody could be satisfied with all that occurred, nor with it going on for so long. We should have managed to reach Aiete sooner,” they said, the latter a reference to the announcement 10 years ago of the end of ETA violence. “Unfortunately, the past cannot be remedied, nothing we say can undo the damage caused, but we are convinced that it is possible at least to alleviate it through respect, consideration and remembrance. We want to tell you from our heart that we deeply regret your suffering and we commit to try to mitigate it to the best of our ability. We will always be found willing in that sense,” the statement continued.
The five-point “solemn declaration” was read first in the Basque language by Rodríguez and then by Otegi in Spanish. It was later published in English by Otegi on Twitter.
The mention of the victims was point number three. In the previous points, Rodríguez and Otegi stated that 10 years after the end of the violence, “we can only verify the full compliance with this commitment.” They added: “There was no trick, it was not a tactical calculation. The commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means on the part of the pro-independence left movement responded and responds to deep ethical and political convictions. It is an immovable decision and it is forever.”
In the fourth point, the pair voiced a long-held demand of the Basque radical left – that ETA prisoners be brought to jails in the Basque Country and not be incarcerated all around Spain. “International experience shows us [...] that it is necessary to find a solution to the question of prisoners,” they stated. “It is an inescapable challenge for everyone, which necessarily involves putting an end to the exceptional prison policy and providing a comprehensive solution. We want to defend the active, resolute and decisive role of the prisoners in surmounting the armed strategy and their definitive commitment to peaceful and democratic ways. Without them [the end of the armed conflict] would not have been possible.” Finally, Rodríguez and Otegi called to be “respected and recognized” as a people, because “we are a nation.”
Wednesday will mark 10 years since the terrorist group announced an official end to its campaign of violence. Previous to this milestone, Otegi was a protagonist in the ongoing talks to bring about an end to ETA as the leader of the political party Batasuna. His interlocutor was the then-president of the Basque Socialist Party, Jesús Eguiguren, who communicated to the prime minister at the time, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, that Otegi wanted dialogue to begin between ETA and the central government.
The subsequent conversations, and the fallout among the radical left caused by a bomb placed by ETA in Madrid’s Barajas Airport that killed two and also broke a ceasefire, paved the way toward the end of the Basque terrorist group’s activity.
Three years ago, ETA asked for forgiveness for its actions from a section of the victims – those who it defined as “citizens with no responsibility in the conflict.” The terrorist organization stated its “respect for the dead and the victims it caused,” but without specifying how many of these it excluded from its request for forgiveness. It also officially announced its dissolution.
Speaking to EL PAÍS this weekend in an interview about his role in the end of ETA, Zapatero called on EH Bildu to reflect on its role in events and be self-critical. “They have to do it,” he said. “They need time. It needs to come from them like they did with the end of ETA. We can all contribute to this by encouraging debate. We will be listening to them.”
The Sortu party, which was born out of the Basque nationalist coalition Herri Batasuna (HB) – later renamed Batasuna – has previously been unwilling to explicitly condemn the violent past of ETA. This has had repercussions on national politics, given the delicate position of the current government, a coalition of the Socialist Party (PSOE) and junior partner Unidas Podemos. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez lacks a working majority in the lower house of parliament, the Congress of Deputies, and as such must seek support from other parties when passing legislation such as the key budget plans.
In November last year, controversy broke out when EH Bildu announced it would support the government’s budget plans in Congress. In response, the leader of the main opposition Popular Party (PP), Pablo Casado, slammed the Sánchez government accusing it of “overshadowing the shining story of sacrifice” of the victims of terrorism.