Thursday, July 12, 2007

Shed No Tears For The Spirit Of Ermua

It's all very well to say that summer is just about concerts or sitting in terrazas, but surely there still has to be a bit of space for politics? Today is the 10th anniversary of the assassination by ETA of the Partido Popular (PP) councillor in the Basque town of Ermua, Miguel Ángel Blanco. He is not the only local councillor to have been killed by ETA, but his death created a huge impact in Spain because of the way in which it happened. First he was kidnapped, and ETA delivered an ultimatum of 48 hours for the Spanish government to agree to move their prisoners to the Basque country. With no concessions forthcoming from the government, ETA carried out their threat and executed Blanco.

There was a genuine popular reaction that followed the assassination, the tension of the 48 hours between the kidnapping and the killing set it apart from many other ETA actions. I remember the events quite well, the drama of Blanco's assassination took place just a couple of weeks after my arrival in Spain. Unfortunately, this is also the point at which the abuse of terrorism for political advantage by the PP became part of the political landscape. Let's fast forward a couple of months from the assassination. A concert was organised in the Las Ventas bullring in Madrid in homage to Blanco and supposedly in support of liberty and democracy. It turned out to be very different. The singer songwriter Raimon began singing and a huge chorus of boos and whistles came from a significant section of the audience; Raimon had the temerity to sing in Catalan! The actor José Sacristan, associated with the left, stepped forward to cite some verses from Brecht; and got the same treatment. The entire leadership of the government and PP was present and didn't even seem a little bit perturbed by the behaviour of their supporters. It was a display of aggressive intolerance that at the time I found shocking, although seeing it in the light of events that have occurred since it fails to surprise. I just didn't realise at the time how neanderthal the Spanish right is compared to much of Europe - Poland excepted. The concert ended up as a shameful propaganda gift to ETA, who could point to such behaviour as a sign that things in Spain had not really changed.

That concert is where the true spirit of Ermua ended, the appropriation of terrorism for electoral objectives began and has continued ever since. So when I saw the PP leaders calling this week for a return to the spirit of Ermua I understood exactly what they meant, they organised their own commemoration of Blanco together with their satellite organisations; and boycotted the all-party event organised by the town council. That same council has requested that one of those satellite organisations, the Foro de Ermua, stops using the name of the town so that it ceases to be associated with their sectarian positions. What is regrettable about the whole affair is not the isolation of the PP - they made their choice - simply that they cannot shake the habit of opportunist manipulation of a genuine public rejection of terror.


Ian Curtis said...

Ya no recordaba lo que sucedió en las Ventas hace 10 años. Yo tenía 11 años y todos los sucesos aquellos los tengo muy difusos: sólo recuerdo haber llorado, estando con mi familia viendo la TV, cuando se supo que Miguel Ángel había sido hallado muerto con unos tiros en la cabeza.

Qué indigno el comportamiento del derecha española, silbando a artistas por motivos tan peregrinos como los que has citado, en una concentración de unión ante los asesinos.

En efecto, parece de risa el espíritu de Ermua que ahora se invoca.

Rab said...

An excellent account of what happen at the time.

What saddens me is that a party with democratic credentials like the British Conservatives or the Dutch liberals are in the same European group as the Spanish Conservatives of the PP.
When the peace process started in Northern Ireland, the Tories were supportive and loyal to the government and they wanted peace. Sadly, the Spanish PP needs ETA’s violence to continue their spiral of hate. The worst nightmare for the PP is that ETA gives up their armed campaign.

The PP is more nationalistic than the so-called nationalist parties of the Catalans (CiU or ERC) or the Basques (PNV or EA). Sadly, I don’t see anyone steering the party towards a democratic centre-right they claim to represent. Just now they occupy a wide spectrum ranging from centre-right market liberalism to far-right Spanish nationalism and pro-catholic populism. Just like la CEDA so many years ago…