Misc 21/11/2020

20 years since the murder of Ernest Lluch: guns against ideas

The death of the former socialist minister at the hands of ETA shocked Catalan and Spanish society

David Miró
4 min
Manifestació de rebuig de l'assassinat a Barcelona

Barcelona"They've killed Ernest Lluch!" At a time when the news didn't run as fast as it does now, the assassination of the former socialist minister ran like wildfire on the night of November 21th, 2000. Those who were already sleeping at that hour woke up with to the radio and television stations repeating the news: "Ernest Lluch has been murdered by ETA". People emphasized both words, Ernest and Lluch, to emphasize that he was a familiar person, not an anonymous victim destined to fill in the news for three days and then be forgotten. The general feeling, at first, was one of disbelief, which as the hours passed turned to shock and finally to outrage. Who did these gunmen think they are, to come to Barcelona to shoot at a Catalan citizen who had adopted the Basque Country as his second homeland? What made them think they could do it? And then: why didn't Aznar's government try to stop this madness through dialogue and negotiation?

Let's take it one step at a time. In order to understand people's reactions, we must first outline Lluch's social dimension. ETA had killed a person who was well-known, someone who had a media presence, who talked about Barça as well as politics, history or economics, and who wrote articles and did research. It was difficult to find someone from these fields who didn't have a relationship with him. Lluch never said no. He listened to everyone. His voice, capable of turning abstruse concepts into understandable ideas, was heard everywhere.

Idea shaker

It is important to state that Lluch was not seen as a politician - or a conventional former politician. He was more of an idea agitator, a free thinker who at one point had entered politics to contribute with his thoughts. Dialogue was his motto, which is why he was a magnificent talker. At Cadena SER he shared a discussion with Miguel Herrero de Miñón and Santiago Carrillo, three heterodox thinkers. In Catalonia, Josep Cuní brought him together with Baltasar Porcel, and their duels made sparks fly. In RAC1 he talked about Barça, his passion, with his friend Lluís Foix.

His great political legacy is the universalisation of the health system, which he consolidated - when he was minister under Felipe González - with the General Health Law, by creating a network of what would later be known as primary healthcare. Before that, he had played a leading role in an episode that marked the destiny of the PSC: as spokesman for the parliamentary group of Catalan Socialists, he refused to present the party's amendments to the law limiting the autonomy process, the Loapa. This was the beginning of the loss of the parliamentary group and of the growing dependence on PSOE. Paradoxically, Lluch was a convinced federalist and one of the leading scholars of Catalan Austriacism (the alternative project to the bourbons - borbónicos - during the War of the Spanish Succession), which he saw as the seed of Catalan nationalism.

If there was one place where Lluch felt comfortable, it was at university, with his students, teaching or between papers. Wherever he went, he left a string of disciples. Such as in Valencia, where he landed in 1970. There, as well as questioning some of Joan Fuster's economic theses in La via valenciana (1976), he was one of the founders of the PSPV and taught group of economists such as Vicent Soler, the current advisor of the sector. Outside of politics, he was the rector of the Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo in Santander, before returning to his home university in Barcelona, where he was a doctor of economics.

Shot in the parking lot

As his biographer, Joan Esculies, has written, Lluch died "hugging his notes" before he could even get out of the car. According to the court sentence, the material author of the shots was José Antonio Krutxaga, helped by other two members of the Barcelona commando, Francisco García Jodrá and Lierni Armendaritz. Two months earlier, the commando had murdered the PP councillor José Luis Ruiz Casado in Sant Adrià del Besòs. Lluch, therefore, had reason to be concerned, but he never wanted to have security with him - which made him an easy target, since he always followed the same routine. The terrorists simply waited for him in the car park of his estate to execute him. Guns silenced his ideas.

There has always been speculation about what ETA intended with Lluch's murder. During the trial, the terrorists who killed him only said that he had been a "minister in the GAL government" and admitted that they did not know that he was in favour of dialogue. It had been less than a year since ETA had resumed armed activity after Lizarra, and it had done so with strength under the orders of Francisco García Gaztelu, Txapote, an exponent of the hard line and opponent of the truce. Txapote was the ideologue of the assassination of many politicians and the author of that of Miguel Ángel Blanco.

The profile of Lluch, a Catalan person in favour of dialogue and of seeking a constitutional solution to the Basque conflict, was uncomfortable for the hardliners of ETA, but also for the hardliners of PP, who were outraged by the call for dialogue made by Gemma Nierga at the end of the massive demonstration that filled Passeig de Gràcia 48 hours after the assassination. José María Aznar seemed to go into mild shock when he heard the "ustedes que pueden, dialoguen, porfavor" (translated as "you who can, please dialogue"). His face was a reflection of the discomfort that the Lluch's figure provoked.

The last time I saw Ernest Lluch in person was in Bilbao, the day after the Basque elections of 1998. Only a month after the Lizarra Pact and ETA's ceasefire, the violence had disappeared and the Basque left had received a spectacular result as a prize. Lluch, I remember, was exultant. He saw peace very near and could not stop smiling.