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Spain commemorates, on Wednesday, ten years since the end of a conflict that will have lasted more than four decades, when the Basque separatist group ETA decided to silence the guns. A “major turning point” for the Basque Country, which is still striving to settle a still painful past.

“It is time to look to the future with hope, it is also time to act with courage and responsibility”: it is in these terms that the organization ETA, classified as terrorist by the European Union, indicated, on October 20, 2011, that she renounced violence.

“With this historic decision, ETA shows its clear, firm and definitive commitment” in favor of a “peace scenario”, affirmed the press release posted online by the Basque newspaper Gara and read on a video by three hooded activists, the raised fist.

Solemn staging, weighed words: this declaration, which put an end to the last armed insurrection in Western Europe, marked a “major turning point” for this movement which wanted to free itself from Spain, underlines Rafael Leonisio Calvo, political science researcher and author of “ETA, terror and terrorism”.

Over 850 dead

Founded in 1959 under the dictatorship of General Franco (1939-1975), ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, or “Basque Country and Freedom”) had always defended the use of violence, multiplying assassinations, since the first in 1968 , attacks and kidnappings. More than 850 deaths are attributed to him.

For many observers, in view of this bloody story, the ETA press release was “a surprise, especially since it was a unilateral announcement and without compensation (…) But in reality , it was part of a long process “, underlines Rafael Leonisio Calvo.

A few weeks before the announcement, secret negotiations had been initiated with the Spanish authorities. The principle “had been recorded with the socialist government of (José Luis Rodriguez) Zapatero”, assured one of the historical leaders of ETA, Josu Urrutikoetxea, known as “Ternera”, in a recent interview with AFP.

These negotiations culminated, on October 17, 2011, in the International Peace Conference, organized at the Aiete Palace in San Sebastián, in the presence of the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. ETA was then called upon to abandon the armed struggle, to “promote reconciliation”.

Pacification, apologies, self-dissolution

At the time, the organization was very weak: most of its cadres had been arrested and its arms caches discovered. “ETA was in a situation of impasse, both militarily and politically”, underlines Eguzki Urteaga, professor at the University of the Basque Country, who recalls that his political showcase has for some time called for a “change of strategy “, under pressure from public opinion.

“During Francoism, ETA had benefited from a form of aura among a part of the population opposed to the regime. But then, the rejection of the armed struggle did not stop growing, especially from 1995, when ETA has decided to broaden its targets by targeting members of civil society, ”he adds.

For Eguzki Urteaga, “there was a strong desire among the inhabitants for normality in social and democratic life, after four decades of conflict: suddenly, we very quickly felt a change of climate and attitude, with a desire of reconciliation “.

The end of the armed struggle, a year after the last death attributed to the separatist group [un policier français abattu en 2010 près de Paris, NDLR], therefore seemed inevitable. “This decision was considered” and served as a “tipping point”, insists Eguzki Urteaga.

From that date, ETA indeed engaged in a process of pacification, which led it to lay down its arms on April 8, 2017, then to ask for “forgiveness” in April 2018 from its victims, before d ” announce its outright self-dissolution on May 3, 2018.

From an armed struggle to a memorial battle

A disappearance which did not prevent, three years later, resentment from persisting, as shown in mid-September by the intense passing of arms around a demonstration, finally canceled, to denounce the imprisonment of ex -etarras, like the Frenchman Henri Parot, author of particularly deadly attacks.

But if “these ideological and partisan confrontations are still very present, in recent years we have seen a slight evolution”, nuance Eguzki Urteaga. “This was reflected at the level of political alliances, since the Socialist Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, to obtain a majority, must rely on Bildu, formation heir to Batasuna, considered as the political branch of ETA. was also observed at the level of prison policy, when the Sanchez government allowed a relaxation of the conditions of imprisonment for the former members of ETA “

“For 10 years, we have made progress (…) but there are still unhealed wounds,” admitted Iñigo Urkullu, president of the Basque Country region and moderate nationalist, calling for “clear recognition” of the violence. committed by ETA.

A step in this direction was taken, Monday, by the heirs of the political arm of ETA who recognized, for the first time, without ambiguity, “the pain endured” by the victims of ETA. “This should never have happened,” insisted Arnaldo Otegi, ex-ETA activist and main figure of the Basque separatist left.

Progress deemed insufficient by the Spanish government. “We must go much further” by going “from words to deeds”, ruled the spokesperson of the executive Isabel Rodriguez, calling on the separatist left to “condemn” the tributes paid to the ex-etarras on their release from prison.

The results of a decade without armed struggle must be qualified, for Eguzki Urteaga. “If there is a form of normalization of public life, and on the other the persistence of strong tensions: in reality, the battle has shifted. We have gone from a political and military confrontation to a confrontation which is more and more societal and memorial “, explains the Basque sociologist before concluding:” The question that is asked is that of the story, namely what we will pass on to new generations. a conflicting subject, which gives rise to a real battle for memory …. Perhaps less so in the Basque Country than in Madrid, where the Basque question gives rise to many tensions. “

With AFP

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