The breakthrough following the original Aiete Conference in 2011 came when the Basque organisation Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) announced the permanent termination of its armed activities. In 2018, ETA publicly announced its dissolution, ending 50 years of violence, which had left more than 800 people dead.
The cessation of ETA’s activities became an opportunity to reinvigorate the process of building peace in the Basque Country, which straddles parts of northern Spain and south-west France.
Assessing lessons and challenges in the decade since the 2011 Aiete Conference was the focus of the 2021 conference, which was convened on 14-15 October by Conciliation Resources, the Berghof Foundation and Basque civil society organisations Foro Soziala and Bake Bidea. In their joint statement at the start of the conference, they said:
“Ten years ago, Conciliation Resources and the Berghof Foundation joined (the social movement) Lokarri in organising the International Conference for the resolution of the conflict in the Basque Country, known as the Aiete Conference. This conference was part of a broader roadmap that opened the door to a new scenario for peace in Basque Country. We intend to reflect on the global challenges for conflict resolution, examine the lessons of the Basque peace process, as well as the obstacles and opportunities inherent to this peace-building process.”
More than 100 participants including political and civil society representatives, international partners, academics and think-tank experts took part in the conference’s three roundtables.
The discussions highlighted the importance of civil society engagement: the peace process in the Basque Country was unusual in that from 2006 it advanced without negotiations between the Spanish Government and ETA, creating what some call a ‘unilateral process’. In the absence of negotiations, civil society organisations took the lead in facilitating multiple dialogues across society. These dialogues demanded the termination of violence and brought an end to the existence of the armed group.
Challenges remain, particularly in relation to reparations and the rights of victims and prisoners, with almost 200 people still in detention. Speakers at the conference, some of whom were themselves victims of ETA and State violence, emphasised the importance of giving voice to all victims. In doing so they demonstrated the power of brave and difficult conversations to provide mutual acknowledgement.
Conciliation Resources will continue to support civil society partners in the Basque Country to further the peace process. Three days after the 2021 conference there were signs that it was generating a fresh momentum like its 2011 predecessor: the Basque pro-independence left movement in Spain recognised the “pain” of ETA’s victims and their loved ones and said that the violence used in the quest for independence “should never have happened” – a significant step towards reconciliation.
A recording of the livestream of the 2021 Aiete Conference can be viewed (in the Basque and Spanish languages) on Foro Soziala’s YouTube channel here.