Jonan Fernandez, director of Baketik

Eugènia Riera
International Catalan Institute for Peace
Jonan Fernandez

Jonan Fernandez
Photo: Karlos Corbella

Jonan Fernandez has worked actively for human rights and peace in the Basque Country. For 14 years he headed up Elkarri and is currently the director of Baketik, a research centre focusing on ethical conflict resolution based on the sum of two concepts: peace (bak) and ethics (etik). In this interview, Fernandez reflects on the challenges facing the Basque peace process after the end to violence and on the importance of reconciliation in overcoming the conflict.

After the announcement by ETA of a definitive end to violence, nobody doubts that we are at the beginning of the end of the Basque conflict. Now the political conflict has to be resolved and the foundations put into place for social coexistence and reconciliation… Which should take priority?
The two processes are a priority and the most important thing is that they are not confused. We have to differentiate between resolution processes of the political conflict –see how to provide solutions to respond to the political differences which exist in Basque society- and the process of reconciliation of the coexistence – what needs to be done to address the fabric which has been broken over the past decades -. To begin with the latter I believe would be easier and progress made in either of the two will benefit the entire process.

What steps should be taken in the agenda for reconciliation?
Reconciliation takes place in three time frames, the past, the present and the future. And this consists of no more than finding a shared answer to three questions: what happened in the past and why, what we have to do now and what we need to do to ensure this doesn't happen again. As a society, we need to find answers to these three questions looking into the eyes of a 15 year old. We need to provide a rigorous, honest response that does not incite hatred but rather integration and peaceful coexistence.

Reviewing the past implies remembering, talking about the victims and forgiveness. Is it imperative to forgive in order to face the future?
Forgiveness is extremely important, we would almost say that it is fundamental, but it cannot be imposed on anyone, it is voluntary. This is the crux of the issue. It is dealt with as if it were an obligation or a condition, even a starting point for any process, and this is a mistake. There is no law stating that a person has to ask for forgiveness obligatorily because this is a contradiction: asking for forgiveness or being forgiven is part of the human liberty of amendment and thus can only spring from the free will of the person in question; it cannot be imposed on anyone or forced upon anyone, it can be recommended and encouraged. What is compulsory in a reconciliation process is the recognition of the damage inflicted (acknowledgement of the victims), a commitment to not repeating this damage and the assumption of each party's responsibility.

What role should the victims play in the process of reconciliation?
The victim has the right to be heard, to be redressed, to be acknowledged and the right for others not to build the future as if the past had never happened. In terms of political decisions, the victims must be equal to all other citizens; they cannot have additional consideration.

What do you think of the creation of a Remembrance Centre in the Basque Country? Do you see this as a step in the right direction?
We think it's a good step; however there is one nuance that should be highlighted. The critical review of the past must include a non-negotiable condition: that it is capable of integrating all cases of human rights' violations that have been committed without exception. This is the case, because a reconciliation process is destined to fail if there are exclusions when it comes to acknowledging the suffering that has been inflicted. A remembrance centre cannot just take into account part of the memory but must include all. In the same way that it must remember the 839 victims killed by ETA, it must also speak of the 200 additional fatalities produced by parapolice groups or extreme right wing groups, or as a result of police activities in violation of human rights. Or it would have to address the torture… You have to design a memory without exclusion or dilution: you cannot use one human rights' violation to dilute others. This is the major challenge.

Are you going to cooperate with the Basque government?
If the criteria I have just mentioned are met then Baketik will certainly collaborate. However, if there is any inclination towards a seleective memory, then no. Not only because this does not contribute to the process of reconciliation and coexistence, but because it actually hampers it.

Another issue which is on the table is that of the prisoners. Do you consider it an urgent matter to reform penitentiary policy?
In terms of penitentiary policy the first thing that should be done is to comply with the legal standards and, from this point on, to begin dialogue. Although it appears to be paradoxical, the current policy of dispersing prisoners outside of the Basque Country does not correspond to the rule of law and this has historically been denounced by groups such as Gesto por la Paz, Elkarri, Lokarri…Firstly, penitentiary policy should be aligned with the rule of law and then, all political parties and institutions should reach a consensus on a series of measures (legislative, political or pardons) which contribute to a move towards humanizing the penitentiary situation and to consolidate the climate of peace. This kind of measure has been a feature in every peace process.

Do you think that the recently elected PP government is prepared for this?
In the short-term, the answer is no, and acting alone probably not so either. Because of this, I believe it should be a decision that has the consent of the entire political spectrum. In the Basque Country, there would be a significant majority of people who would support this and I suppose that with the passage of time, this will also be the case in the rest of Spain.

Will Rajoy's government be able to rise to the occasion?
I would like to think that they will. After the first few months, there will be sufficient intelligence to decide on the measures required for the definitive and irreversible consolidation of this state of affairs. From the point of view of the international community, nothing else would be understood.

The end to the violence by ETA also requires peaceful organisations to reposition themselves. Baketik has undergone reforms after 5 years in operation and will work in conjunction with Lokarri in the process of reconciliation. What is the aim of this collaboration agreement?
It is very important at this moment in time to join forces and push in the same direction so that the social power of the idea of reconciliation is bolstered. Lokarri and Baketik, despite the fact that we operate in different environments, agree almost 100% on the direction the work must take. From the social movements, we can collaborate with other representatives from the academic world, or the local councils, to design new educational methods for ways of dealing with conflicts, to foster a fresh culture of coexistence. We have to ensure that learning to live together becomes part of peoples' day-to-day life.

Can Catalonia also play any part in the peace process?
The Catalan social and political movements can help the peace process to gain strength from different areas at a national level. When the time comes to offer a critical perspective of the past and to defend a critical memory, we will need the most open points of views and opinions possible.