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The Spirit of Ermua and the Legacy of ETA Terrorism by Carlos Perona Calvete

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Essay

The Spirit of Ermua and the Legacy of ETA Terrorism

1997 protest against the ETA assassination of Ermua councilor Miguel Ángel Blanco.

The Innocent Victim

Miguel Angel Blanco was twenty-nine years old when the terrorist group ETA kidnapped him on 10 July 1997. He appeared forty-eight hours later, mortally wounded with two shots to the head in the Guipuzcoan town of Lasarte, in the Basque region. 

His sin had been knowing himself to be Basque and Spanish while serving at the town hall of his town, Ermua, where he was a councilman. 

Ten days earlier, security services had finally tracked down and rescued a man by the name of Ortega Lara, a prison official whom the ETA had kidnapped and kept in a cell for 532 days. The rescue did not sit well with the terrorist group’s leaders, who decided an immediate response was called for: The climate of fear in Basque society could not be allowed to abate. 

Miguel Angel Blanco’s execution was this response. 

The ETA had by now murdered 778 people, injuring many more. We might say the public was somewhat numb to the constant violence. And yet, the kidnapping of Miguel Angel sparked something. It began during those 48 hours when he was captive, while there was still hope that his murderers might let him go, and continued thereafter. In the words of Iñaki Arteta Orbea: 

Hundreds of souls, their names had passed before us … But those July days were different. They killed that boy in front of us, and it was as if we had awakened to something truly terrible, with a courage we had not known before. In Bilbao we took the “herrico taverns” [pro-ETA establishments] and showed them our teeth. We scared them.

The country spontaneously took to the streets. The gesture of showing open palms, white, innocent hands, became a symbol for what was, suddenly, a movement. The Spirit of Ermua, as it was dubbed, had been born

Photo: La Fundación Miguel Ángel Blanco.

But the political class soon got to work deactivating that civic reaction. Politicians made their empty promises, disarmed the righteous ire of a nation, and the people thought they had done enough, expressed their will clearly enough. They were wrong. The ETA was allowed to go on killing until 2010, only ceasing from its armed activity in 2011, but retaining the ability to intimidate. 

Over the decades, the Basque Country has been largely purged of dissident voices. Multitudes have been forced to leave their homes for other parts of Spain after receiving letters from the ETA informing them of their political crimes against “socialism” and “freedom.”

The political wing of the ETA, together with moderate separatists, have thereby established their dominance (although, in spite of everything, support for independence from Spain polls at well below 50% of the Basque electorate, being at about 20% at present, rising to about 30% if certain conditions are met). 

Of the killers, a member of the political party Herri Batasuna (ETA’s political brand at the time), observed Miguel Angel, providing logistical information concerning when best to kidnap him, as well as lending others the car that would be used to carry out the crime. He was caught and has since been released from jail in 2020.

Regarding the people who actually carried out the murder, José Luis Geresta committed suicide three years after the murder. The ETA claims he was murdered. He had also tried to pull out several of his teeth, having developed the paranoid delusion that tiny microphones had been inserted under his gums by a shadowy element of the police force. The other two, Irantzu Gallastegi Sodupe and Javier García Gaztelu, were caught and incarcerated, where they remain to this day. Both are apparently alienated from the ETA’s leadership, bitter that the terror campaign ended and that they are not more prominent in their former circles. 

Politicians 

Twenty-five years have passed since the northern wind of Ermua swept across Spain. 

We recently witnessed a tribute to Miguel Angel Blanco in Ermua, which was held this past July 10th. The king, the prime minister, and politicians of various stripes were in attendance. Spain’s PM Sanchez gave a speech in which he omitted to mention that his tenuous coalition governs by the assent of the ETA’s whitewashers, the political party Bildu

The only voice worth hearing, still echoing the prophetic call from the wilderness to end fear and return the Basque people to themselves, was that of Mar Blanco, Miguel Angel’s sister, and her tripartite invocation, ‘justice, dignity, memory.’ 

Granted, the leader of the centre-right Popular Party (PP), Mr. Feijoo, warned of the hollowness of political “equidistance,” reminding attendees that there is such a thing as a murderer, and there is such a thing as a victim. The king, don Felipe, called for unity and recalled the Spirit of Ermua “which emerged from the unity of democrats and the demand to marginalize those who, for decades, aligned themselves with terror and murder.” 

Rhetoric aside, the Spanish political establishment has allowed the Basque Country to be purged of many of those who most vehemently rejected violence and who most publicly opposed the machinations of a manic minority. Today, it allows the fruits of that purge to thrive. If the centre-Right is to contribute anything of value, it won’t be through one-off speeches.

Concerning the Monarchy, if it limits itself to defending the barest essentials on which the Spanish state is founded (“democracy,” “opposition to murder”) during official events, that is, if the king’s role is to be merely institutional and symbolic, this role might as well be carried out by a mere institution or symbol, and not a person or a lineage. 

Dynasties originate by virtue of the actions of their founders, and will not perpetuate themselves without their successors taking some action. If the state is symbolised by a person, it is so that, given certain conditions, that person might act personally. In this vein, the leader of VOX, Santiago Abascal, has repeatedly warned that, if the king should de facto acquiesce to the current political establishment’s project of weakening Spain’s institutional unity, then VOX would prefer a Republic. 

The situation in Spain is anomalous. Deeply so. The political class is committed to fragmenting the state, together with weakening the country’s geopolitical position. But nowhere is the lack of respect for citizens, their interests, their future, more manifestly evident than in the systematic strengthening of ideological minorities whose goal is to limit the freedom of Spaniards in order to impose their project, as in the case of regional separatists whose intimidation tactics in the Basque country, Navarra, Catalonia, Valencia, and elsewhere have, for decades now, received cover from the centre-Left and tacit acceptance from the centre-Right. 

Nowhere has this been more flagrant than in the case of the ETA’s bloody campaign, and the current normalisation of its political heirs, with no effort made to help the—according to some estimations—hundreds of thousands of Basque political exiles and their families return to their ancestral homes. 

Today, we have before us the task of seeking redress for unjust political exile and suppressed memory. Basque history has been banished. It is the history of the tribes of Sancho Garcés III, Rex Dei gratia Hispaniarum; of the men who fought for Spain at Las Navas in 1212, under the black eagle banners the ETA would, centuries later, appropriate; of clans whose contribution to the Reconquista led them to populate whole swaths of Spain; of resistors against the French who fought at Noáin and took the fort of Maya in 1522; of a people whose participation in Spanish imperial administration was second to none … all this and more is anathema to the separatist and quasi-separatist political elites who run institutions and control the local educational curriculum in the Basque Country.

Poetry

The life of nations is in its laws and verses. Christ’s Transfiguration was attended by Moses and Elijah, in whose respective persons the law and prophecy are represented. When innocents are martyred, it spurs us into law-making, that the abuse they’ve suffered might be restrained in the future, and into verse-writing, that their lesson might be remembered. We have need of these to charge against evil acts, and to change hearts. Righteousness comes flanked by these. The vision thereof, we hope, will inspire those among us able to be a stone on which to build, able to bear it, like Peter, the stone, with James and John, who were present at the Transfiguration.

In Spain, the law has done what it could, impaired at times by cowards and politicians willing to evade responsibility and whitewash murder. 

Of poetry, we have had very little. We have not yet seen the raising up of prophets in the Basque Country. The cultural renewal that would expel the spectre of fear, exorcise the Pyrenees and interlace the taciturn Castilian of the Basque hills with its now moribund dialects.

For now, we may look back to our deficient poetry. I like the work of Gabriel Aresti. A Basque nationalist of some kind, his poem, La Casa de mi Padre (“My Father’s House”) is not really about nationhood, but inheritance (my translation). 

I will defend my father’s house. Against wolves, against draught, against usury, against justice, I will defend my father’s house. I will lose livestock, land, pine trees; I will lose interest, rent, dividends, but I will defend my father’s house. They will take my weapons, and with my hands I will defend my father’s house; They will cut off my hands, and with my arms I will defend my father’s house; they will leave me without arms, without shoulders, without a chest, but with my soul I will defend my father’s house. I will die, I will lose my soul, I will lose my offspring, but my father’s house will stand.

Another Basque poet wrote a reply to Aresti. In his poem, bearing the same title, Francisco Javier Irazoki retorts (my translation):

From that dwelling was fear first seen, and thereafter the green colour of the country.

Now I say:

I will defend my father’s house against purity and its blood-drenched flags.

To defend it, I will offer up each stone, window and door. They will receive these, them who do not think as I do …

I will defend my father’s house by opening a rift in the ceiling; through that gap will drip tongues and music from unknown or remote lands …

Without enemies, the poet Gabriel Aresti will recline, relieved, with the nobility of a wolf.

Offering our home, we will prevent men from being foreigners in that empty space and memory.

These are not poems of prophecy. They do not build. They kill the hearth. Spain and her wounds have need of greater verses, truer visions, than these. The law of Moses is fulfilled when the innocent victim exposes the lie of his captors. But where is Elijah? 

Aresti is not Moses, and he is not Elijah. He will sacrifice for his home, but his sacrifice is unto sterility. His closing line gives the game away: “I will lose my offspring, but my father’s house will stand.” There is only house, no home, because he will lose his children before he loses bricks and roofing. Moses restrains sin and builds a nation with its tabernacle; Elijah is a vessel of mercy, of life that the young might overcome death. Elijah resurrected a boy (1 Kings 17:21-22). Aresti’s vision has no law, neither does it have children and resurrection, only the empty house of a maimed torso, revelling and baren.

For its part, Irazoki’s reply is an impotent refusal, a sigh, entropy, suicide. 

Our poets are so poor as to choose between sterility and suicide, both of which deny their history and prefer themselves to their progeny. 

Of course, in his opening lines, Aresti is right. A house belongs to someone. Houses have heirs, fathers have sons. They do not belong to Irazoki’s “tongues and music from unknown or remote lands,” leaking like rain through an axed roof. 

The Basque Country belongs to someone. And that someone has, in so many cases, been bombed and threatened into leaving or shutting up. 

That someone needs to return and recite the name of his father and mother, of the Basques the ETA and its pusillanimous collaborators extorted and exiled. 

Spain, as a nation, needs to defend its children’s house.

Carlos Perona Calvete is a writer for The European Conservative. He has a background in International Relations and Organizational Behavior, has worked in the field of European project management, and is currently awaiting publication of a book in which he explores the metaphysics of political representation.

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