Short Memories

Building a narrative against violent extremism

A gentleman by the name of Arnaldo Otegi has been released from prison today, the 1st March, at Logrono, Spain. Otegi was previously a member of ETA and had been involved in a number of their operations, finally going on the run and hiding out in France. He was eventually arrested and jailed for the kidnapping of the Basque businessman Luis Abaitua in 1987. He became involved in the political side of ETA, but the Spanish authorities continually banned ETAs political cohorts for carrying the message of this terrorist group, responsible for near 900 murders in the Basque region. Otegi has served two periods in prison for glorifying terrorism, in 2006 and 2010. In September 2011 he received a sentence of ten years for attempting to reform the banned Batasuna party that was reduced on appeal to six and a half years in 2012. The ECtHR ruled in 2009 that the actions of the Spanish government in banning Batasuna was legal, as Batasuna’s actions, “contradicted the concept of a ‘democratic society’ and presented a major danger to Spain’s democracy”. Gerry Adams, at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis in1983 stated, “armed struggle is a morally correct form of resistance in the six counties”. The British never attempted to ban Sinn Fein as a political party, and have allowed Irish republicans a free hand to attack them within the ECtHR.

The history of ETA has mirrored that of PIRA, and when their Irish inspiration committed to a ceasefire in 1997, ETA was left with nowhere to go but to follow suit in 2011. However the Spanish were not as quick to forgive as the British, and did not concede to ETAs demands in the way the British authorities did. Their prisoners were not released nor pardoned, they could not continue to laud the terrorists in the way Sinn Fein were allowed, they were not given carte blanche approval to have a huge part in a consociationalist style of politics, and they did not disband the local police force that they could not defeat. Their new political mouthpiece, Sortu, was formed in 2013, and due to the so far permanency of ETAs ceasefire, they have been allowed to exist as a political party.

Sinn Fein has actively worked on getting Otegi released; Martina Anderson stated on 17th February, “I warmly welcome the release of Arnaldo Otegi … and immediately repatriate all Basque prisoners to prisons within the Basque Country as the first step towards an early-release programme.” Gerry Adams in An Phoblacht 30 July 2010, “Having been in the Basque Country many times and knowing Arnaldo personally, I am convinced that his primary political aim is to bring about a democratic and peaceful resolution to the conflict.”

The writer Paddy Woodworth commented in 1998, that one of Batasuna’s leaders stated, “Ireland was a mirror for us, so was the republican movement. If it could happen in Ireland, why not in the Basque country?” Less than a generation from the GFA, convicted murderers are accepted in government and forgiven for their crimes, could this possibly happen in Spain. Mr Otegi’s ‘coming out’ party begins today, will Sinn Fein be there?

Ken Funston, Advocacy Manager at South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF), Northern Ireland, and Phd University of Ulster.