Anniversary of notorious Eta killing reopens old wounds in Spain

Death of Miguel Ángel Blanco 20 years ago remembered with acrimony

The victim of one of Basque terrorist group Eta’s most notorious killings, 20 years ago, has been remembered this week, although the commemorations have been marred by acrimony between Spain’s political parties.

A series of events have been held to remember Miguel Ángel Blanco, a local councillor for the conservative Popular Party (PP) in the Basque Country.

On July 10th, 1997, Blanco (28) was kidnapped by Eta as he got off a train in the town of Eibar. The separatist group said it would release the hostage only if all Eta prisoners were moved to jails in the Basque region within 48 hours, otherwise they would kill him.

The government refused to agree to the terms and Spaniards followed with horror the two-day countdown which ensued. After the deadline passed news emerged that Blanco had been found, still alive and with two gunshot wounds to his head following a botched attempted execution. He died in hospital on July 13th.


Mobilising Spaniards

Although Eta had killed several hundred people already, the cruel and dramatic manner of Blanco’s murder was seen as particularly significant in mobilising Spaniards and hardening public opinion against the separatists, who finally ended their armed campaign in 2011.

This week, the PP has hung a large image of Blanco on the facade of its national headquarters in Madrid.

But the leftist mayor of the capital, Manuela Carmena, initially refused to put a picture of Blanco on the city hall building, to avoid "disrespecting some victims compared to others". Instead, Madrid city hall planned to hold a tribute to all terrorism victims on Wednesday.

Begoña Villacis, of the liberal Ciudadanos party, was among those who lambasted Ms Carmena’s stance. “Thinking that Miguel Ángel Blanco is just another victim means you haven’t understood a thing,” she said.

‘A low moral stature’

The premier of the Madrid region, Cristina Cifuentes of the PP, said a refusal to pay tribute to Blanco reflected "a low moral stature".

On Tuesday, Ms Carmena performed a U-turn, agreeing to put up a banner of Blanco’s face for the event.

The Eta victims issue is highly sensitive. Victims’ organisations are extremely visible and often have a high political profile, such as the influential AVT, which is closely linked to the governing PP.

But there has also been criticism of the PP, for allegedly exploiting the image of Blanco, who was a very junior member of the party when he died.

"It's incredible that the memory of an Eta victim in the democratic era should continue to provoke a political conflict in Spain, " wrote commentator Pepa Bueno. "The PP has spent years appropriating a dramatic memory which belongs to all Spaniards."

In Congress on Tuesday parties frantically negotiated the wording of a shared tribute they could agree upon.

But the PP questioned the presence at an event in Blanco’s hometown of Ermua of politicians representing Sortu, the pro-independence Basque party which is seen as being ideologically aligned with Eta.

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Spain