Otegi: «We have to move toward Euskal Herria: A New State in Europe»


The leader of the Abertzale (independentist) Left answered Nació Digital’s questions on the third anniversary of his detention

This Saturday marks the three year anniversary since Arnaldo Otegi (Elgoibar, 1958) was sent to jail for belonging to Batasuna, an organization that Spain’s political and judicial system began to consider as part of a kind of global ETA at the end of the 90’s. Otegi has been an inmate in a Logroño prison, from where he answered Nació Digital’s questions in this exclusive interview.

—A Basque philosopher that I’m sure you know, Xabier Zubiri, wrote that “Intelligence doesn’t see reality impassively, but rather impressively.” In that sense, the peace process seems to progress, but the image of Arnaldo Otegi in jail creates a very particular impression…

– Zubiri spoke of “sentient intelligence” and the impression you mention clearly and obviously proves that the enemies of peace are trying to sabotage and even destroy the new era that the Abertzale Left have begun in the Basque Country. There are many numerous and powerful enemies of peace (many of whom are entrenched in key positions both in the police and military hierarchies, as well as on the Boards of Directors of large companies, financial institutions, and media outlets) who were comfortable in an environment of low-intensity armed confrontation from which they extracted enormous political and economic gains. Our crime (mine and that of my jailed companions) is having been responsible for the disappearance of that environment and for the substitution of a new, exclusively peaceful and democratic framework. That is why they jailed us and why they keep us in prison.
—The polls, including even one in El Mundo, foresee an unprecedented shift in the Basque electoral map with more than 60% of the votes going to the Basque Nationalist Party and the Abertzale Left. To what extent can this be attributed to the various forces in the Basque political system and what percentage is due to a reaction to a government with an insufficient social base?

– The PSOE-PP government was only mathematically possible because the democratic will of the people of the Basque Country was subverted by making our party illegal. Trying to bend the public opinion of the State to believe that a majority of our people had finally chosen to put its trust in Spanish constitutionalism was nothing more than an absurd attempt at hiding reality by perpetuating a huge lie (that I have the feeling was finally believed). Now that all of the political sensibilities in the country were able to participate in the election, all of their fictitious reality has fallen like a house of cards in such a way that the next elections in the Basque Country will clearly demonstrate that the Spanish constitutional positions are on the out-and-out here.

—If that tendency bears out, what is your forecast on having a majority in the Vitoria Parliament?

– Let me first offer a prediction: the sovereigntist political forces in the Chamber will win considerably more than an absolute majority (if you’ll let me be generous and include the Basque Nationalist Party as a decidedly sovereigntist force) but I also believe that there was an absolute majority if we add up the left (and this time I’ll be even more generous by considering the Basque Socialist Party as a leftist force). So before talking about majorities, we have to specify the great priorities of this new legislature, which for me are fundamentally these three: consolidate the peace process, design a new political framework, and respond to the economic crisis. In order to achieve the first two, we need everyone at the table, without exception. For the third, from our point of view, we can only form majorities with those who have the political clarity to suggest alternatives that are distinct from those suggested by those who have ransacked our welfare state.

—Is the Abertzale Left considering a path toward the right to self-determination that does not include the Basque Nationalist Party?

– The right to self-determination forms part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights developed by the United Nations. It’s not a right that can be negotiated away; it’s a demand that’s practically pre-political. What we have to negotiate is how to exercise that right. We won’t exclude anyone from that process, but let me offer a thought. We have spent the last decades posing that agreement and the State has always slammed the door in our faces. So I believe that the time has come for us to focus all of our energy on the practical exercise of this right and in the peaceful and democratic configuration of a huge majority that will demand and achieve this purpose: The Basque Country: Another New European State.

—With respect to the peace process, what do you think of Madrid’s attitude? How do you interpret the reaction of the executive in the case of Uribetxebarria?

– The PP has apparently made the lack of a solution its alternative: so when we define them as enemies of peace, we are being absolutely rigorous and proportionate with the level of provocation and irresponsibility that they are demonstrating. In the case of Iosu, that attitude was particularly cruel and vengeful. You can’t solve problems if there is a permanent and deliberate slant towards being slaves at the lowest possible positions and the most basic instincts. Today the alternatives offered by the PP are threats and economic decadence.

—What kind of symbolic progress does the Abertzale Left propose with respect to ETA’s victims? Do the meetings between prisoners and victims help contribute to the peace process?

– The Abertzale Left, in a solemn ceremony in February in the Kursaal building in San Sebastián (Donostia), declared its “profound regret for the painful consequences that came from ETA’s violent acts and for our political position in the measure in which it added (unintentionally) to the pain, or humiliation of the victims.” Now, in a book that I have published, I have expressed this regret personally, which is an additional step on the road that I truly believe will bring us to the end of this process. On the meetings that have taken place between some prisoners and some victims (which I profoundly respect on a personal level) I have the impression that they may lose some of their value as they are incorporated into a particular strategy. That said, I have made a proposal to the Abertzale Left that it open those means of communication (both direct and indirect) with all of the victims as we search for the human interaction that will allow us to move forward with our commitments with peace and justice for all.

—When will there be a verifiable delivery of arms from ETA? Must a definitive dissolution be staged as the final point in the peace process?

– ETA has constantly applealed to the Spanish State for talks to begin that will allow the disarmament and dissolution of the organization’s military structures. The PP government has repeatedly refused this invitation to dialogue, with, to my knowledge, the approval of a good part of the international community. That attitude does not surprise me because for the enemies of peace, the dissolution and disarmament of ETA are parts of one of its worst nightmares. At the end of the day, without ETA acting like the big internal enemy there won’t any longer be any excuses or democratic arguments that justify opposing our national and democratic rights. And at that point, the only things they’ll have left are force, threats, and compulsion. And that’s where they are.

—Are there stable contacts between the current Spanish government and the Abertzale Left or ETA?

– As far as the information that reaches me, there is currently no kind of contact with the Spanish government.

—After so many years of violent conflict, would you consider yourself an acceptable lehendakari (president) of the Basque people?

– You’ll understand that I am loathe to talking about myself in the first person, considering it an exercise in vanity that I have always tried to avoid. So I will respond in collective terms. The Abertzale Left will one day most certainly form a leftist Basque government that will be accepted by and acceptable to the immense majority of the Basque people.

—Since Catalonia’s National Day on September 11th, all the polls indicate an independentist majority in Catalonia. Do you think a process like that undertaken in Catalonia, without inmates or violence, can attract more international sympathy or advance more rapidly in public opinion?

– For me, the process of recovering our sovereignty is very similar in political terms for Basques and Catalans. In whichever case, the fact that there are no inmates, refugees, or victims in Catalonia enormously facilitates the development of a process that focuses solely on demands for sovereignty. We, on the other hand, will have to invest a large part of our energy in solving what we call “the consequences of the conflict” and in which the participation of the Spanish and French governments is absolutely necessary. That said, I’ll tell you that I don’t believe that factor is particularly important to the international community. With respect to the tempo, I would say that I believe the Catalan process has accelerated, but I don’t doubt that it will spur our process on, and vice versa.

—What essential differences do you see between the two situations?

– In addition to the existence of inmates which I mentioned in an earlier reply, I think there are two notable differences that will manifest themselves in our country with time: an enviable leadership by Catalan civil society and the expansion of the independentist base for economic reasons. Those two ingredients will together make the process unstoppable once it has begun.

—Basque nationalism has always had a close relationship with the Irish Republican movement. With violence behind you, will you now look towards Scotland?

– We maintain a very close relationship with the Irish Republican movement, but I want to take advantage of this especially interesting question to try to respond to it in strategic terms. Ireland was a mirror for us not only for the existence of the political-military nature of the conflict, with inmates and victims, but also for the demands of an intermediate strategic framework that allowed the Irish people to exercise their right to self-determination. We have also been defending this kind of intermediate political agreement with the State (Autonomy plus the right to decide) for years. But today, and this is the important thing, in structural terms, we need to ask ourselves these questions. Is that agreement really possible with the current Spanish state? Is it possible to have an intermediate agreement that doesn’t involve, for example, full sovereignty of economic matters? And the answer today is No. So, without rejecting the outstretched hand of that agreement, we need to unilaterally put all of our effort toward the construction of an independent state of Europe. They don’t respect us, we’re leaving.

—Should the resolution of the Basque and Catalan political situations be undertaken solely in Madrid or Paris? Should Europe get involved in a hypothetical internal expansion?

– Basques and Catalans are already part of the European reality. And it is in that framework in which we have to see our national and democratic rights fulfilled. I don’t have any doubt that this is the way it will go if we are able to form solid popular majorities in defense of a sovereign state in our respective nations. Especially as threats proliferate about vetoing Catalonia’s membership in the European Union if it becomes independent. By the way, can you think of anything more violent than threatening an entire people with a veto that would have grave social and economic consequences for the entire population? Let me tell you an anecdote that happened to me more than ten years ago, during an encounter with a very influential member of the German Social Democrats who literally said the following to me: Germany won’t lift a finger in favor of the independence of the Basque people, but if you declare it peacefully and democratically, it won’t do a thing to defend the unity of Spain either.

—The Spanish state has traditionally had two areas of territorial instability, embodied by longstanding Basque and Catalan political formations, to which a new phenomenon has been added in Andalusia. Do you believe that the movement led by Sánchez Gordillo can add a solid Andalusian nationalism to the political scene?

– I have enormous respect for the working people of Andalusia and an intense degree of sympathy for Marinaleda (where there is a square named for Santi Brouard, a companion and teacher of the Mesa Nacional, who was assassinated by State terrorism), and for SOC, Sánchez Gordillo or Julio Anguita. That said, it is my desire for Andalusia to articulate a solid leftist nationalism as well because that would no doubt contribute to the consolidation of an important popular and plurinational alliance that would advance the definitive modernization of the Spanish state both in political as well as economic terms.

—I would like to ask you a personal question. You have gone to jail six times (1987, 1991, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2009), the first two times as a member of ETA and the last four because of your political activity. Do you think this sentence will be your last?

– I will be honest with you. Until the democratization of the State, all of us who are true to our principles and who participate strategically in peaceful and democratic ways must be ready to and know how to practice civil disobedience because jail will continue to be on our life’s horizon. And with that I return to Thoreau: “Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.”

—Have you received any special treatment by the penitentiary system?

– I have not received any special treatment, nor would I accept such.

—Imagine a Basque State. Should the citizens who consider themselves Spanish have any special collective consideration?

– In what will no doubt be called the Basque-Navarrese Republic (Euskal Herriko Errepublika/República de Navarra), all the citizens will enjoy the same rights and obligations, regardless of origin, race, ideology, or religion. That said, and if the citizens you mention demand it, they could have any necessary considerations of a collective nature that were in line with the constitutional framework that we have set up. We will always be open to dialogue and negotiation. Those citizens have nothing to fear, among other things because that identity is shared (to a greater or lesser degree) by many of the citizens that today make up Euskal Herria.

—What’s the first thing you will do when you get out of jail? Both politically and personally, if you don’t mind.

– Politically, I will once again take the time to speak to as many people and politicians in all of Euskal Herria as I can in order to see exactly where the country is and then I will make myself available to the Abertzale Left. On a personal level, I need to make up for stolen time with my family… and if I can can, I’d like to take a trip with my family to some city or country that I’ve been wanting to visit: Cuba, Prague or Jerusalem, for example.

* Nació Digital (http://www.naciodigital.cat/) is a Catalan independent daily

Nació Digital * / BARCELONA

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