3 min
Arnaldo Otegi during the commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the Aiete Conference, prior to ETA's communiqué announcing the end of its armed activity.

The declaration made by the general coordinator of EH Bildu, Arnaldo Otegi, on October 18 on behalf of the nationalist Basque left has an enormous historical significance for the Spanish political system. The fact that the nationalist left recognises the specific pain of the victims of ETA without making a general reference to the "victims of the conflict" and that it points out that this suffering should never have happened is unprecedented. It is a full-fledged self-criticism of the armed struggle, only 10 years after ETA laid down its arms.

The virulent reactions by the far right and the right wing who need to keep ETA alive at all costs, the undisguised jealousy of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) and the Socialists' lack of solidity, who took their words back after being pressured, are only proof of the enormous significance of the statement.

With his words Otegi has accelerated the end of one of the defining elements of the 1978 regime: the existence of ETA and a political force related to it with a remarkable electoral and social weight in the Basque Country and Navarre.

Without ETA, the political system born after Franco's death cannot be understood. The broad consensus around the Constitution ended up including all the relevant political forces (although the PP ended up joining only reluctantly). The 1978 text also enjoyed broad support in almost all territories, including Catalonia. The exception was the Basque Country, where the Constitution was not widely supported and where ETA and the nationalist left decided to remain outside it, giving the new regime a similar consideration to that of the dictatorship and opting for political forms of rupture that would combine arms with legal means.

Thanks to ETA, the PNV consolidated its position as the only political interlocutor legitimised to negotiate on behalf of the Basque Country, becoming the party that has governed for the most years since 1978. ETA also served as an excuse for not purging the State Security Forces, which claimed to need the best personnel to fight terrorism, even though many of them came from the worst repressive apparatuses accustomed to illegal police practices. The lack of this purge is behind the fact that state terrorism was possible. ETA reinforced the Army (no military force has caused more casualties among high-ranking military personnel) and King Juan Carlos as its maximum leader and only guarantee against the coup. ETA underpinned the consensus of the major parties around an exceptional anti-terrorist policy that allowed the illegalisation of parties and limited the exercise of civil rights. The assassinations by ETA, which increasingly extended its targets to "civilians", generated such rejection among the population that massive and transversal social movements arose, at least since the assassination of local councillor Miguel Ángel Blanco. The impact of the Hipercor bombing in Catalonia was also huge.

In short, ETA was political glue for the 1978 regime.

History is full of ironies and the fact that Otegi comes from ETA (pm) is one of them. Part of the ETA (pm) theorised that there was no point in armed struggle after Francoism and, after initially joining Roberto Lertxundi's communists to create a left-wing space of their own which would be different from the nationalist left's, they ended up joining the Basque Socialist Party. Mario Onaindia, one of the protagonists of the Burgos process, was perhaps the best known figure.

Almost 40 years after the 8th Assembly of ETA-pm in which, paradoxically, the supporters of continuing the armed struggle who would end up joining ETA(m) won, Arnaldo Otegi and the nationalist left have said what they have said, 10 years after everything changed with ETA laying down its weapons.

The first proof that everything changed was that Elkarrekin-Podemos came first in two general elections in the Basque Country, an unprecedented event that surprised everyone. Today the nationalist left is the second largest political force in Euskadi, its best-known spokesmen besides Otegi are deputies or senators in the Spanish Parliament and it is a key force both for the governability of the State and for imagining any left-wing coalition government both in Euskadi and in Navarre. Otegi's nationalist left has also been an example of internal discipline (there have been no splits or ruptures like 40 years ago but, on the contrary, regroupings) and a lesson in pragmatism for Catalan pro-independence supporters.

Arnaldo Otegi, who spent six years in prison which, according to the ECHR, he should not have spent, has shown political intelligence and a commitment to peace and political normalisation that all democrats should celebrate and be grateful for. It was high time this was said from Madrid.