Josu Urrutikoetxea arrested
A blow to diplomacy and peace
Alain Badiou (philosopher), Etienne Balibar (philosopher), Thomas Lacoste (director),
Jean-Luc Nancy (philosopher), Toni Negri (philosopher)
Jacques Rancière (philosopher)
Op ed. The arrest of Josu Urrutikoetxea, which took place on French territory on the morning of Thursday 16 May in a public hospital in Haute-Savoie "via an anonymous source", is not good news. It is a blow to political wisdom, to the determination to uphold the concept of justice, to the commitment to the reconciliation of the peoples and to underlying democratic hypothesis. It is not Josu Urrutikoetxea's past as a fighter – which has been so well exploited by the political authorities and stigmatised by the media - that will interest us here, but his decisive political contribution to the ongoing peace process in the Basque Country.
The centrality of his personal contribution, which is not widely recognised, to the process which allowed the cessation of the conflict, the last and longest standing armed conflict in Western Europe, is essential. Josu Urrutikoetxea, as a historical member of the ETA organisation, had the courage to open up the debate and completely re-affect the structure of the group so that it could give itself the means to put a definitive end to the armed struggle.
A linchpin in the process towards disarmament
Outside the group, despite ten years in prison, followed by the last seventeen years in hiding, he has succeeded in ensuring the transformation of a conflict by unilaterally shifting it from a politico-military scenario to a strictly political logic. He is the linchpin of this unprecedented situation, which opened a new era for the Basque Country.
From the early 1980s onwards, he established contacts with the Spanish government in order to set up the Algiers peace negotiations in 1989. This did not prevent the French Government, at the beginning of January 1989, from questioning him in Bayonne when ETA had just announced, at the request of the Spanish State, a unilateral truce before the opening of these discussions. After ten years in prison, six years on French soil and four years on remand on Spanish soil – let us be clear: without trial or sentence - in 1998, then in 2001, he was elected to the Parliament of the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country before going into hiding in 2002. A situation he has been in ever since, until his arrest on 16 May.
Nevertheless, from June 2005 to September 2006, Josu Urrutikoetxea was in Geneva, under the protection of the Swiss government, playing a leading role in the negotiation process and the establishment of the roadmap drawn up with the Spanish Socialist government. We find him again involved in the creation of the next roadmap, which preceded the Aiete International Peace Conference in 2011. The latter, chaired by the Nobel Peace Prize winner Kofi Annan, anticipated, inter alia, the definitive cessation of all armed action - a proclamation of which indeed took place, as announced, three days later, on 20 October 2011 - and the opening in Oslo of negotiations on the consequences of the conflict, previously accepted by both sides: the Spanish government and ETA. Between 2011 and 2013, Josu Urrutikoetxea found himself in the Norwegian capital, under the protection of the Norwegian government, waiting in vain, despite government commitments, for the arrival of Spanish negotiators. In the absence of a State interlocutor, either French or Spanish, and despite several police operations aimed at preventing the organisation's disarmament, ETA decided to hand over its weapons to the Basque people, so that the organisation's total disarmament would take place on 8 April 2017. Finally, on May 3, 2018, Josu Urrutikoetxea would declare to the international community from the Henry-Dunant Centre in Geneva ETA’s dissolution. These are some of the milestones in the collective history of this territory and the unprecedented resolution of this conflict, whose unilateral nature can only impress.
A worst-case scenario
As a safety precaution, could we imagine, in South Africa in June 1991, once the pillars of apartheid laws had been abolished, that the future Nobel Peace Prize winner, Nelson Mandela, would be put back in prison? Is it conceivable, in Northern Ireland, in April 1998, in the aftermath of the Good Friday agreement, that an arrest in Belfast and the detention of a Gerry Adams would be ordered?
Yet it is this worst-case scenario that we, worried and dismayed, are witnessing: in acknowledgement of his role, the French authorities are preparing to impose a prison sentence on Josu Urrutikoetxea.
We cannot accept that the diplomacy of our countries and that of the European Community should be so degraded. We cannot tolerate such inconsistency in political decision making when so many actions have been carried out unilaterally - 2011, the unilateral end of the armed struggle; 2017, the handing over of weapons to the Basque people; 2018, ETA dismantling its structures - and supported across all sections of society. We refuse to allow Josu Urrutikoetxea's determination and moral standards in overcoming an armed conflict to be opposed by contempt, humiliation and, ultimately, repression.
Recognition, respect for human rights, transitional justice, sentence adjustments, these elementary and yet essential concepts cannot remain alien to our States and to the European Union. They cannot continue to persist in this way and systematically try to penalise those involved in this process.
We know that the international community will soon react and openly support Josu Urrutikoetxea, and rightly so. It is not too late for a strong, informed and significant gesture by the French State to open up a political space and avoid a new deprivation of freedom for the one person who has been indispensable to peace-building, and thus enable all of us to face the future together and with clarity.
Alain Badiou (philosopher), Etienne Balibar (philosopher), Thomas Lacoste (director), Jean-Luc Nancy (philosopher), Toni Negri (philosopher) & Jacques Rancière (philosopher)
Article published on Friday 31 May by the French daily newspaper Libération.