The Basque people’s right to decide their own destiny is the key to resolving the conflict, according to the pro-independence party Batasuna. Arnaldo Otegi is spokesman for the movement, which was made illegal in 2002. Since the violent Basque separatist group ETA declared a ceasefire, Spain’s Socialist government has said it’s ready to negotiate.
Otegi spoke to EuroNews in his native Basque about the developments.
EuroNews asked him: How would you explain the fact that people are prepared to die, and to kill, for Basque independence, when the region already enjoys much more autonomy than many others in Europe?
Otegi: The Basques are one of the most ancient peoples of Europe – and there’s one things that the Basques love above everything else, and that’s freedom, freedom to decide. So, for as long as the Basques are refused and denied that right, the people will be ready to fight.
EuroNews: Four months have passed since ETA declared a ceasefire. You’ve admitted having several meetings with the Socialist Party beforehand – what came out of those talks?
Otegi: Trust was created between the two parties, and the fact that the two parties expressed their willingness to do things differently, and to create democratic solutions to the problems. Dialogue is always beneficial, the pro-independance Basque leftwing has always supported dialogue, and the fruit of this labour, which was profound and long lasting, has led the two parties to believe that there’s a possibility of resolving the conflict through dialogue.
EuroNews: Have you defined any kind of road map?
Otegi: No, we haven’t agreed together on a road map, but these meetings are proof of a willingness on the part of both parties to resolve the conflict through dialogue. What’s more, we think that this road map should be defined by the associations, unions and political parties across the entire Basque country. The road map shouldn’t just be decided by the Socialist Party and the pro-independence left. It should be done by all those groups concerned, social and political, by all the Basque people.
EuroNews: The Spanish government has said that in the future it will only talk politics with legal parties. Your party has been outlawed for failing to condemn violence. What are you ready to accept to become legal again?
Otegi: First of all we have to underline the fact that it’s very rare in Europe for a party to be illegal. The excuse used to outlaw us was that we weren’t prepared to condemn ETA’s armed struggle. Sinn Feinn did the same in Ireland, and Nelson Mandela did the same when he was in prison. It isn’t a question of condemning a problem or a part of the problem, the question is that a political party, should, above all, resolve conflicts efficiently. And we’re ready for a solution. But as far as I see it there’s a paradox that’s arisen in Europe – the Popular Party hasn’t condemned Franco, and nobody’s banned them. It’s a party which doesn’t condemn a regime that struck deals with Hitler, the same Popular Party that had us condemned. We should be legal, because that’s the wish of our citizens and our people.
EuroNews: The territorial limits of the Basque Country, the people’s right to decide, the plight of ETA prisoners – What points, for you, are non-negotiable?
Otegi: We have a red line determined by democracy, freedom and justice. We think that it has to be agreed, without dramatising anything, that there is a place called the Basque Country, that this country is a nation, in the non-exclusive sense of the term – we are staking out a left-wing position, and so we state that we are a nation, without overdramatising things. One must also accept something which we consider simply democratic – respect for the Basque people’s decisions. In other terms, the same thing that happened in Montenegro, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, what happened in Europe, and what will happen to Gibraltar, has to happen here. It should also happen in the Basque Country, that means we should respect the will of the Basque Country.
EuroNews: In terms of the right to decide, do you think the Spanish government will accept a referendum on self-rule?
Otegi: We hope so. In fact our hopes aren’t only in respect of the Spanish government. It’s clear for us that that is the wish of the Basque people. And also we think that this is nothing other than a basic demand of a stable democracy. So we think that the Spanish government or the French government, if they’re really democractic, rather than if they’re really left wing, or even more so in the case of the Spaniards, if they’re really republican, should accept somthing that’s little more than a simple democratic mechanism – the Basque people have to be listened to, and their demands respected. It’s the case in Montenegro, why not in the Basque Country? It’s the case in Lithuania, why not in the Basque Country? In other words, we, as Europeans, and being among Europe’s most ancient peoples, we demand equal rights with other Europeans.
EuroNews: You believe that a part of the Basque Country lies in France, and you want the French state to participate in the peace process. According to Paris the Basque issue is a purely Spanish question. Is it really realistic to expect France to play a part?
Otegi: It’s more than realistic, I think it’s absolutely essential. France is maintaining its position in declaring that the Basque issue is a question for Spain. I don’t really think they believe that. It’s a complete lie since there are Basques in France, and what’s more, at the moment, the Basques in France are calling for an institution for the Basque Country, and a political status that will give the Basque Country institutional recognition. Therefore I’m convinced that if things move forwards in the southern Basque country and in the Spanish state, the French state will also have to change its position. Because the Basques have a problem with both states. In sum the Basque question is a European problem, and Europe should find a solution to it.
EuroNews: Do you think ETA should ask for forgiveness for the suffering it has caused?
Otegi: As I see it, when these kinds of conditions are imposed at the start of a process, one is often looking to humilate the opposing party, to stop them in their tracks. This kind of gesture would definitely be welcome as the process develops, from all parties concerned, but I think these kinds of gestures at the start of the process only create obstacles. If the process develops, and finally, like in Ireland, they get to a final deal, these kinds of gestures will definitely be necessary from both sides. What’s more I’m convinced that it won’t be an obstacle once the process and the conflict are overcome.