13.12.2020 20:50 h.
MEP Maite Pagazaurtundúa (Hernani, 1965) has spent her entire life defending the values of democracy and an open society. First against terrorism in the Basque Country; now against the populisms that grip Europe. The representative of Cs was also one of the founders of ¡Basta ya !, the resistance movement against ETA that cemented the defeat of the terrorist group. Twenty years after the European Parliament awarded the Sakharov Prize to this civic organization, Pagaza recalls its birth, its legacy and the undying value of that struggle.
–Question: When ‘Enough Already!’ was founded in 1999, there were several organizations that had been denouncing the abuses of nationalism and the crimes of ETA. What motivated the appearance of this common front by civil society?
–Answer: More than a common front of associations, ¡Basta ya! was an initiative of citizens. It arose out of democratic instinct because we felt a terrible suffocation. On the one hand, ETA was in the stage of the socialization of suffering, which consisted of having the constitutionalist parties trapped. Councilors were assassinated, all of them had to go with an escort … it was the final attack by ETA. Unfortunately, Basque nationalism, which had been very indifferent to the victims, did not fight against the authoritarians. As the murderers were nationalists, the regional government had a certain weakness to understand that the priority was to protect all threatened citizens and not their nationalist agenda. Also, just before ¡Basta ya! Was born, there was the Lizarra pact, promoted by all nationalism to leave out any constitutionalist force in exchange for ETA to stop assassinating.
— Q. Had society at that time started to react?
— A. There was a small civic movement, but there were many taboos. The pacifist movements were very afraid. This was seen with the slogan “Say it with your silence”, which more or less asked ETA to please stop killing. The difference of ¡Basta ya! is that it caused an intellectual and argumentative liberation. We made a defense of democracy without giving in to any blackmail. Society was not dormant, but people were very afraid. And there were tens of thousands of citizens calling for the murder of their neighbours.
— Q. Fear is the first force that moves people.
— A. There were many ways to scare you. The last one was to kill you. And they had controlled the words. For example, saying Spain in Hernani in 1994 was marking you. They had the streets taken: everything was covered with posters. They spent a fortune on propaganda so that everyone knew what the slogans of the season were. And in San Sebastián we still had our circles, but we were thinking of the rest of the Gipuzkoans who lived in towns like Tolosa, Mondragón …
–Q: Do you think that opposition to nationalism sometimes tends towards resistance? From what you say, in ¡Basta ya! they were not satisfied with the expression of the complaint.
–A. We had a great political speech. Democratic, not partisan. A speech was made about the need to understand that democracy is a difficult space for coexistence between the different people, but where the citizen has rights and the tribe cannot set limits. We demand the Europe of citizens, against the Europe of ethnic groups. There was a very strong speech at a time when the parties were exhausted. With that intellectual power and audacity that this movement had, it was encouraged to defend ideological pluralism and it helped to bring ETA’s operational agony.
— Q. Did you receive any support from nationalism?
— A. After the Lizarra pact, there were some people of Basque nationalism who abandoned it at least from the point of view of the acronyms. The most significant at that time was Emilio Guevara, former provincial deputy for Álava, who came to the events of ¡Basta ya !. But the fact is that Gregorio Peces-Barba, Gabriel Cisneros, Javier Pradera, Elías Querejeta; Elvira Lindo and Mercedes Milá made our public presentation in two events; Paco Vazquez; victims of terrorism who had never appeared in public … There were people who thought that the nationalism that did not kill had done something terrible with the Lizarra pact.
— Q. What did the 2000 Sakharov Prize mean?
–A. It helped because, in addition, Fernando Savater‘s speech is still applicable to defend democracy anywhere in the world. And even more so in our Spain, in which Carlism-Leninism is quite strong [laughs]. The difference between political rhetoric and substantive speeches is seen over time. Reading or listening to the Strasbourg speech now is extraordinary. In addition, it is very respectful of the ideas of nationalism, but requires a democratic framework. I wouldn’t take a word from it. Today it is still as important to defend the Europe of citizenship against the Europe of ethnic groups as it was 20 years ago.
— Q: And do you think the European Parliament would award this award today? Savater asked rhetorically the same last Saturday in ‘El País’ …
–A. I would concede, but it is true that the forces against Europeanism would hit the roof. Fortunately, in the last European elections, majorities are supported by parties that are not ethnic. But it is true that there are identity, extreme right and extreme left, forces in the European Parliament. But I think we would still have a majority.
–Q. By the way, what happened to the report on fundamental rights of the European Union? The rapporteur for the document threatened to vote against her own text.
–A. The rapporteur was MEP Clare Daly, who is from the group of the European United Left and has little parliamentary experience. There are working rules in the European Parliament that are based on commitments. To facilitate those compromises, each rapporteur has a shadow rapporteur to work together and I, on this report, was one of them. But in the explanatory statement, Daly introduced a text that was contradictory to everything we had agreed to. She cheated us a bit combined with the participation of Diana Riba [ERC MEP and Raül Romeva’s wife]. Given this, the majority of the rapporteurs wrote to the president of the Commission because it is stated in the regulations that when the explanatory statement is not consistent, it is withdrawn. Then she got angry. But MEPs cannot be encouraged to cheat.
–Q. In January we will see the request of Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí. Do you think they will end up withdrawing the act of MEP?
–A. This issue has been delayed by Covid-19 and Puigdemont has continued to be all this time in the European Parliament. Although apart from talking about their issue, parliamentary life he has not done much … But I think they are not right and that it will be resolved against them in an absolutely legal way. I hope so.
— Q. Going back to Spain, how do you assess the choice of Bildu as a strategic partner of the Government?
–A. ETA has been operationally defeated, but its political world has not stopped being completely toxic. Arnaldo Otegi remains the same, this week he has not condemned the history of ETA. For years, in the Basque Country there has been an important debate about the so-called ethical ground. After having participated in such a monstrous operation, what less than taking political responsibility for this past. But there has been a game of filibusterism by which this terrible past of persecution, an attack against Spanish democracy and the elimination of political adversaries has not been condemned. And there is a toxic element in this for Basque and Spanish politics. Now Bildu have an exchange value and you have to be very little strategist or have very bad political intention to think that the streets are paved with gold.
— Q. Do you think that it is going towards the constitution of a tripartite in the Basque Country between Bildu, PSOE and Podemos? A tripartite that could be constituted in Catalonia next year.
–A. Cheap is expensive with the Catalan secessionists or with the political heirs of ETA. They always build up strength and have a long-term strategy. Two potential tripartites of this nature are worrisome because they destabilize the very narrative of our political pluralism. Now, I have no doubt that Spanish society reacts intelligently.
— Q. After the agreement with Poland and Hungary, do you think there will be no more shocks in the processing of European recovery funds?
–A: I hope that with this agreement we can activate the 750,000 million euros of this fund. The German formula gives a break and the funds will be able to arrive in a few months. I don’t think there has to be any other setback.
–Q. Are you concerned that this money will be used well once it reaches the States?
–A. There is an amount of the distribution that is determined by each country and the delivery mechanisms have been made flexible as much as possible. Today, of the funds for the 2014-2020 period, only 39% has been spent in Spain. There are countries that manage this much better than us. Europe has tried to make it easier so that inequality between countries does not grow. We need our societies to demand that governments do not play buddy capitalism. We are talking about funds for the next generation, so that young people who now have such a hard time have a future. We have to take advantage of all this money to give viability to an economy of the future, such as digital connectivity projects that can give a new life to the empty Spain.
–Q: Will the European Union emerge weaker or stronger from the pandemic?
–A. During the previous term we had Brexit, the French elections, the Salvini period, the Greek corralito … but the European elections had a large turnout and there is a European majority that pulls the cart. Additionally, Ursula von der Leyen‘s common sense helped cope well with the initial Covid seizure. As seen in some surveys, European citizens are happy to see that the European Central Bank and other large European institutions acted quickly to provide security and confidence. And that’s why we have those 750,000 million for the first time. If we Europeans were not united, we would be small boats adrift and we would have been eaten by financial and political predators on the loose.