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10 years after the end of Basque separatist violence, some wounds are still open


In 1978, in the Spanish Basque Country on a cold night, men dressed in black arrived at Tamara Muruetagoiena's house in the village of Oiartzun near the border with France.

TAMARA MURUETAGOIENA: And I remember this. I was almost five. There were men drenched in blood with shotguns, and they asked my father to take care of them. And he did.

MCCAMMON: They were members of the Basque separatist group ETA. It's considered a terrorist organization by Spain and many other countries around the world, including the United States. That night, it started snowing heavily.

MURUETAGOIENA: The roads were closed. They couldn't cross the border, so they stayed in my house.

MCCAMMON: Muruetagoiena's father, who was a doctor, treated the wounded terrorists. Two years later...

MURUETAGOIENA: My father went to trial for assisting terrorists, and he was able to prove his innocence. But my parents never recovered from what happened. My parents divorced three years later.

MCCAMMON: But that was not the end of it. In 1982, her father was arrested again.

MURUETAGOIENA: My mom was also arrested in a different city with me present, so I saw how my mom was arrested - probably one of the most traumatizing events of my life.

MCCAMMON: Muruetagoiena's mother was released after two days with no charges. But Esteban (ph), her father...

MURUETAGOIENA: My dad was released in nine days with no charges, but he was brutally tortured during that time. And by the time he got out, he was physically and mentally destroyed. And he died at the third day. He was only 38 years old, in perfect health.

MCCAMMON: The official autopsy declared that Esteban had died of natural causes.

MURUETAGOIENA: Which prevented my family and I to pursue justice for all this time. And now it's been almost 40 years.

MCCAMMON: Since then, Muruetagoiena has fought to bring her father's story to light. I asked her, has her family ever received recognition for the pain that he and they have endured?

MURUETAGOIENA: No. Absolutely nothing. And now I've embarked on this path to seek truth, justice and reparations for my father's death, but also to tell our story.

MCCAMMON: In the 10 years since ETA declared an end to its reign of terror, there have been official ceremonies to remember ETA's more than 800 victims. But families like hers aren't represented there. That's something Edurne Portela, a Basque writer and journalist, has been thinking about.

EDURNE PORTELA: We need to acknowledge that - our many conflictive (ph) accounts of what has happened in the Basque Country.

MCCAMMON: Portela recently wrote an op-ed published in Spain about the need to find a minimum shared memory, as she calls it, when it comes to the fight for Basque independence, one that reckons with both ETA's role and the role of the Spanish state. She joined me along with Tamara Muruetagoiena to look back at what is left to do when it comes to remembering the past and coming to terms with it.

PORTELA: And some accounts are opposite to each other. They can't reconcile. But I think that all of them, they are something important about our past, whether we like it or not. And also, we want to heal our society. I think that we need to listen to all the accounts to acknowledge that violence, terrorist violence or police violence was never legitimate and justified. And I think that needs to be the first step towards any kind of reconciliation or a common view of the past.

MCCAMMON: Tamara, why do you think this conflict is still a source in Spain of continued misunderstanding and continued division?

MURUETAGOIENA: Well, I think that in the Basque Country itself, I think it's better understood that there were - that it was more complex than what it's been told. However, in Spain at large, there's been a great deal of misunderstanding and potential to be able to tell the story in terms of the good guys versus the bad guys with very little nuances and very little room for interpretation.

MCCAMMON: Edurne, your thoughts on that question - why this conflict is still such a source of misunderstanding and division?

PORTELA: I think that after 10 years, especially from the right and the extreme right in Spain, there is a constant manipulation of the victims of ETA. And also, ETA has become sort of like the excuse to unsettle the Spanish politics. And it is sad and it's appalling that after 10 years, they still use ETA as a weapon against, now, for example, the sort of progressive government in Spain. And also, I think there is that part of the conflict that is more uncomfortable for the Spanish government and the Spanish state more precisely, which has to do with the history of the Dirty War, the violation of human rights and also the fact that many of the people involved in those activities, illegal activities, haven't been processed and haven't been taken to justice, and those crimes have not been properly investigated.

MCCAMMON: How optimistic are you both for this peace - this 10-year peace will last?

MURUETAGOIENA: I believe peace is going to last. Things are progressing in the right direction. There is a lot of work to be done, but I don't think the kind of violence that we experienced in the past would ever come back again. However, according to the Spanish government or most of the Spanish media, there was never a conflict. So if there was never a conflict, there's nothing to resolve. And I think that there has to be an acknowledgement of a real conflict. And until that happens, I think that there are going to be wounds that won't be healed.

PORTELA: I feel always sort of uncomfortable about talking about the future, but I'm pretty sure that ETA or anything similar to ETA has no place in our future because, you know, in 40 years of violence, they have not achieved one political goal. And I think we are all aware, at least within Basque Society, that violence was never the way. Even people who supported them in the past are recognizing now that, you know, that wasn't the way and that it has caused too much suffering. So I don't see in the future this happening again. But we still have a lot of work to do.

MCCAMMON: I've been speaking with Edurne Portela, a Basque writer and journalist, and Tamara Muruetagoiena, who is executive director of the nonprofit Great Mountain Forest in Connecticut. Thank you both so much.

MURUETAGOIENA: Thank you so much, Sarah. It's been an honor to be here with all of you.

PORTELA: Thank you so much, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: NPR reached out to the Guardia Civil for comment on the allegation that Esteban Muruetagoiena was subject to physical abuse while detained, but we did not receive a response by air time.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
Miguel Macias
Miguel Macias is a Senior Producer at All Things Considered, where he is proud to work with a top-notch team to shape the content of the daily show.
Sarah Handel
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