An inclusive memory in the Basque case

Carlos Martín Beristain
Physician and Doctor of Psychology, he works in aid programmes for victims of political violence and has written several books on the subject
Carlos Martín Beristain

Carlos Martín Beristain

In the case of the Basque Country, the debates and experiences regarding the building of a memory to victims overlaps political debate and cultural spaces. In recent years, a process of acknowledging the victims of ETA's violence has gotten underway as this particular group did not have the social support of the institutions and certain sectors of the community up to now. Recognition of other victims of extreme right-wing groups or government agents nevertheless, has always been postponed until now, with the excuse that the time wasn't right or that any initiative might be used by some to compare the State to ETA or to manipulate the suffering of victims or disrespect them. Moreover, several acts of local recognition have been organised by institutions and town councils, especially between 2005 up to the present day, which demonstrates an encouraging development in the social climate.

In such contexts, the difficulties of overcoming conflicts have also been evidenced in the representation and memory of victims of different groups (ETA, GAL, State agents), and the risk of making political use of these memories. Nevertheless, in recent times there is ever-growing interest in inaugurating a space dedicated to an inclusive memory, by way of several reports commissioned by the Basque Parliament as well as parliamentary initiatives as yet in the development phase.

An inclusive memory would be one in which all the different human rights' violations and moral criticism thereof are brought together and recognised, thereby demonstrating respect for the suffering and dignity of the victims of different perpetrators. For this to take root, firstly we must separate the recognition of victims from the debate concerning processes of victimisation. In other words, all victims must avail of the same rights to truth, justice or redress, regardless of who the authors of this violence are and without entering into political assessment as to the justification of this suffering or those responsible.

Inclusive memory is grounded in a common basis of respect for human rights that transcends political differences. In order to achieve this, what is required is empathy and to cross the boundaries of solidarity. To overcome defensive memories of one's own identity, of those who have witnessed or recognized the suffering of the victims with whom they feel closeness, while they have denied the pain of others or justified this pain using political arguments or derogatory assessments. All this is of concern to the Basque society and Spanish society in general. Nevertheless, in addition to conflict concerning memory, there have also been encouraging experiences of meetings between victims from all sides. This demonstrates the feeling of empathy between persons who have suffered similar events and situations, including pain and marginalisation, assaults on their dignity, or witnessing impunity, but also a capacity for solidarity far and above political differences.

From the perspective of redressing the social divide caused by violence, an inclusive memory can act as an important instrument, even though it may have varying manifestations and/or degrees of commitment. It may receive broad approval from the different victims and their right to recognition and memory, or as acts of mutual recognition between victims from different "sides" or political sensitivities. In other cases, it can serve as part of a shared symbolic expression. All of these are potential manifestations of a process that has yet to be set in motion. These processes cannot be coerced, although the spaces which facilitate these steps and people who are capable of taking them are required. For many years, the predominant response to these initiatives and prospects for meetings has been that, the time is not yet right. But like the wisdom in the words of Casaldáliga: it is late, but it is all the time we have in hand to build the future, it is late but if we insist a little, the dawn will come1. The time for this memory has come. A memory not only focused on settling a debt, but also on its contribution to rebuilding coexistence.

1. Pedro Casaldàliga, El tiempo y la espera, Santander, Editorial Sal Terrae, 1986. Back