(Opinion piece by Rufi Etxeberria, Oskar Matute, Rebeka Ubera and Pello Urizar)
Five years ago the International Conference of Aiete took place to promote the resolution of the conflict in the Basque Country, better known as the Conference of Aiete. Five years of an event that marked a before and after in the Basque Country.
The people who sign this document had the honour of being witnesses of it and could confirm the expectation that it brought about in the Basque Country as well as out of it and the different degrees of adhesion and commitment that political, trade union, economic and social agents demonstrated.
A special mention is also deserved, for the commitment shown, by the international personalities who endorsed the conference and the effort made to achieve a just and lasting peace. Personalities like Kofi Annan (ex-Secretary General of the UN and Nobel Peace Prize winner), Gerry Adams (president of Sinn Fein and participant in the peace process in Ireland), Gro Harlem (ex-Prime Minister of Norway), Pierre Joxe (former Defence Minister and Home Secretary of France) and Jonathan Powell (chief of staff for Tony Blair during the Peace Process in Ireland).
The organization was carried out by organizations and foundations specializing in conflict resolution around the world and ended with a declaration that contained the necessary points to advance towards a scenario where all the parts affected would understand that they hadn’t been defeated.
In the first point they called on ETA to make a public declaration of a definitive end to armed activity and to ask for dialogue with the Spanish and French governments to deal exclusively with the consequences of the conflict. In the second they urged the before mentioned governments to welcome the petition of dialogue and to begin conversations to deal exclusively with the consequences of the conflict.
In the third point they also urged that steps be taken for reconciliation and to recognize, recompense and assist all the victims, recognizing the pain caused. The fourth point suggested that the non-violent actors and political representatives gather to deal with other related subjects that could help to reach a lasting peace and indicated that third-party observers or facilitators could assist and help in the dialogue.
The Conference of Aiete served to draw up a roadmap that would bring us a lasting peace dealing with all of the necessary points for unblocking it: ending armed activity, decommissioning, prisoners, victims and dialogue as a medium for the resolution of political conflicts. A roadmap that would serve if there was political will.
And it worked, at least to begin to take steps towards the desired scenario of reconciliation. Three days after the Conference of Aiete, ETA announced the definitive end of their armed activity and asked the Spanish and French governments for a dialogue to deal with the consequences of the conflict. The first roadmap of Aiete – and that which certainly with the urgency that most demanded Basque society – was fulfilled.
Unfortunately the other points haven’t been completed with the same speed and disposition. The petition for dialogue to deal with the consequences of the conflict hasn’t been responded to. On the contrary, the obstacles for the decommissioning of ETA have been continuous, and the policies of exception with Basque prisoners, ignoring every indication and resolution of the European Court of Human Rights, have been maintained and even increased.
In the same way, the attitude towards the victims hasn’t been impartial. The difference at the time of cataloguing one victim or another shows us a clear intentionality of creating a story of first and second class victims. The work so that the legislation recognizes the same rights and assists at the same level is becoming hard and difficult, due to the continuous obstacles that are being put by some political forces as well as from the different establishments of the Spanish state.
And what to say about sitting down to deal with the political conflict to find a democratic exit to a problem that we have been carrying for too many decades. Spain continues denying the existence of any political conflict. It’s curious, to say the least, to recall those declarations by Spanish political and governmental representatives that said that in the Basque Country all political options were legitimate while they were developed by political and democratic means, and during this five-year period we have been able to see that “he used to be indecisive, but now he’s not so sure” isn’t just an old Spanish refrain but is something very current.
Fine, all of these political representatives have to know that in this land there exists a people with a clear commitment for human rights and democracy and therefore for the personal and collective rights which belong to us. Those of us who sign this document are committed to this society and its rights, and in the same way in these years we have treated the roadmap of Aiete to be carried out to its last development, from now on we will continue working so that violence becomes a memory of the past and our references for the future be democracy and human rights, personal and collective.