Eta prisoners vow to end divisive Basque homecoming ceremonies

Jailed members of disbanded group acknowledge ‘pain’ of terrorism victims

People holding Basque flags take part in a demonstration demanding the release of prisoners affiliated to the separatist group Eta in Basauri on December 31st, 2018. Photograph: Ander Gillenea/AFP via Getty

People holding Basque flags take part in a demonstration demanding the release of prisoners affiliated to the separatist group Eta in Basauri on December 31st, 2018. Photograph: Ander Gillenea/AFP via Getty

 

Jailed members of the defunct Basque terrorist group Eta have issued a plea for an end to public events celebrating their release from prison and which offend relatives of their victims.

The homecoming celebrations, known as “ongi etorri” – “welcome” in the Basque language – are typically held in public spaces in the hometown of the prisoner on their release. They have often involved speeches given in tribute to the prisoner, along with traditional music and dance. Victims’ organisations have alleged that they glorify terrorism.

On Monday, the EPPK Eta prisoners’ group issued a statement calling for the ongi etorri celebrations only to be held in private spaces and in a “discreet” manner.

The communiqué, excerpts of which were published by Basque nationalist news sites Berria and Naiz, stated that “there are people who have honestly expressed that they feel pain with the public ongi etorris . . . They are people hurt by the actions of our past militancy and we understand that they may feel pain.”

As of October, there were 184 prisoners serving sentences linked to Eta-related terrorism in Spain and another 22 in France, according to Spanish government figures. Earlier this year, a longstanding Spanish policy of keeping many Eta prisoners in jails far from their northern home regions of Navarre and the Basque Country ended.

Public events

The Covite terrorism victims’ organisation, which has been particularly vocal in denouncing the homecoming events, reported that there have been 30 of them so far this year.

However, the coalition of Basque leftist pro-independence parties has said that out of 35 prisoner releases this year there were only two such public events.

The most recent was in August when Agustín Almaraz, who had served a 25-year sentence for four murders in the 1990s, was received by dozens of applauding supporters and music on the streets of Santutxu in Bilbao.

In its statement, EPPK suggested that the move to make the homecomings less visible would prevent hardliners on the unionist side from continuing to use the events to attack the Basque independence movement.

“Certain agents and parties irresponsibly seek confrontation instead of coexistence,” it said.

Although Covite welcomed the prisoners’ decision, Consuelo Ordóñez, president of the victims’ organisation, described it as “cynical” and called for further action.

Campaign of violence

“They must stop calling the murderers of our loved ones ‘political prisoners’,” she said. “They must stop demanding impunity for them in massive demonstrations. They must take Eta out of our public spaces.”

Eta formally ended its campaign of violence in 2011, having killed 853 people over four decades. In 2018, it disbanded altogether. However, Eta often remains the focus of Spanish national politics with unionist parties, particularly on the right, insisting its influence continues among Basque radicals and even sways the government.

EH Bildu, which was seen as Eta’s political voice until the terrorist group’s dissolution, recently lent its parliamentary support to the 2022 budget Bill of the leftist Spanish government of Pedro Sánchez. Macarena Puentes, of the conservative Popular Party, said this meant that the budget had been “stained with the blood of Eta”.