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Basque politician refuses to condemn ETA violence during interview on public TV channel

The controversial broadcast with Arnaldo Otegi has led to calls from right-wing parties for the head of RTVE, Rosa María Mateo, to resign

Otegi entrevista TVE
Arnaldo Otegi in a file photo.

During a controversial interview shown on Wednesday night by Spanish state broadcaster TVE, the coordinator of the Basque radical left coalition EH Bildu, Arnaldo Otegi, refused to condemn the violent campaign waged by Basque terrorist group ETA. Instead, the politician repeatedly stated that for him and his group, it was more important and more constructive to “have contributed to the end of the armed violence” than to get caught up with words.

Victims’ associations are demanding that EH Bildu contributes to clarifying the circumstances of 307 ETA crimes

The broadcast has caused a huge amount of controversy among associations of terrorism victims, who have called for Otegi to condemn the attacks carried out by the group, which cost more than 800 lives over a 59-year campaign for an independent Basque Country. The group was also behind kidnappings, acts of sabotage, threats and extortion.

ETA released a statement in May 2018 announcing its complete dissolution, but victims’ associations are still demanding that EH Bildu contributes to clarifying the circumstances of 307 ETA crimes, the responsibility for which has never been established.

During the broadcast, Otegi – who was previously a longtime spokesperson for the political wing of ETA, and has been in and out of prison for decades on various convictions connected with terrorist activities, including the kidnapping of a Basque businessman – avoided saying sorry to the victims of ETA violence, nor did he refer to the group’s actions as “terrorism.” He insisted that for the Basque radical left – known as the abertzale – it is more important to look to the future than to “become embroiled in controversies over the past.”

EH Bildu – a coalition that was founded in April 2011 after the Supreme Court barred a new left-wing Basque nationalist party called Sortu from taking part in elections due to its alleged links to ETA – currently counts on four deputies in Congress. Otegi explained last night that they would not be taking part in a ceremony today to pay tribute to victims of terrorism in Spain’s lower house of parliament, but that they would be there for the minute of silence due to be held afterwards. “We are making efforts, efforts for peace,” he said. “And I’m telling you that we have made mistakes, we have recognized the pain caused, and the responsibility in the suffering that was caused, and we believe that it would be convenient for all of those who have caused suffering to do so, so that it never happens again.”

We are committed to peace, to justice, and believe me, that is what we are betting on

Arnaldo Otegi

During the interview, Otegi heard criticism from victims associations and was questioned by journalists. He responded: “We are committed to peace, to justice, and believe me, that is what we are betting on.”

The right-wing Popular Party (PP), Ciudadanos (Citizens) and Vox also condemned the interview of Otegi, the first to be shown on the 24-hour public channel. The parties called the decision to screen the program as “unacceptable and scandalous,” adding that it was “whitewashing” the coalition’s role as the “political wing” of ETA.

The PP and Ciudadanos have called for the head of RTVE, which oversees TVE, Rosa María Mateo, to resign over the interview, and have linked its broadcast to the fact that EH Bildu could hold the decisive votes when acting Socialist Party (PSOE) Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is subjected to an investiture vote in Congress. Having fallen short of a majority at the April 28 general elections, Sánchez will need the support of a number of parties if he is to get back into power.

Sources from the news department at RTVE responded to the criticism saying that the interview was of interest for the Spanish public

Speaking about whether EH Bildu will support the PSOE politician at the upcoming investiture vote, Otegi said during his interview that the four deputies in Congress are going by the slogan of “not blocking” his reelection, but also “not giving him a blank check.” Otegi went on to wonder which Pedro Sánchez will be present at the investiture vote: “The one from [Article] 155,” in reference to the mechanism from the Spanish Constitution used to suspend regional powers in Catalonia in the wake of the unilateral declaration of independence in 2017, “or the one who wants to open new spaces for dialogue and a new era.”

Sources from the news department at RTVE responded to the criticism saying that the interview was of interest for the Spanish public, just as all of those with politicians from parties with a presence in parliament are. The same sources added that the broadcast was related to the public broadcaster’s commitment to pluralism of news.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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