Publication date: 
Apr 2018

'Civilian disarmament' in the Basque Country: an unprecedented approach

Rassemblement populaire du 8 avril 2017 à la place St André à Bayonne. Credit: Bake Bidea

Anaiz Funosas is the founder and president of the civil movement for peace, Bake Bidea – Le Chemin de la Paix (French Basque Country). Since the Aiete Declaration in 2011, she has initiated the main meetings on the peace process in the Basque Country. She is also a member of the Basque Country delegation leading discussions with the French Ministry of Justice on Basque political prisoners. On the occasion of the Forum in Bayonne on 6-8 April 2018, Anaiz explains the important role played by civil society in the peace process.

1. The Forum taking place on 6-8 April 2018 – what is about, what will take place over the three days, and what is the objective? 

Bake Bidea is a civil movement that developed out the International Conference of Aiete. Since its creation in October 2012, the movement has been the driving force behind the development and participation of civil society and its elected representatives in the peace process.

On 6, 7 and 8 April, along with the Artisans de la Paix, we are co-organising a forum to mark the first 'anniversary' of disarmament. The aim of the weekend is to reflect back on the factors that facilitated the civilian disarmament of ETA. However, above all the aim is to take stock of the peace process, to think about and acknowledge the suffering and the victims and to reflect on the discussions with the French Ministry of Justice which started on 10 July 2017. Then we will reflect on what remains to be done.

On 8 April, a year to the day of disarmament, we will inaugurate a statue, Arbolaren Egia (The Tree’s Truth). Disarmament has been a major milestone in the peace process. It has both brought to the fore the suffering experienced by everyone and opened up prospects for building a common future.

As it is not always easy to transcribe feelings and sensations into words, and because words can limit or distort lived experience, and because feelings can be expressed in different ways, the sculptor Koldobika Jauregi suggested symbolising this step in the peace process through a piece of art. The sculpture is a metaphor showing peace flowering through the burial of the axe. In agreement with the City Council, Bake Bidea asked Koldobika Jauregi for his permission to install his sculpture in Bayonne. In this way, the sculpture will belong to everyone, and represent the success of disarmament.

We thought it was important to mark symbolically what civil society has achieved and to ensure that is conveyed to future generations through this sculpture.

2. What role has civil society played in disarmament since the Aiete conference in 2011?

In the Northern Basque Country (French) civil society has been the driving force behind all the initiatives and awareness raising, and it is made up of men and women from across the political and social spectrum. I think we understood how important political courage and risk-taking are for the development of the peace process. This is why our commitment to the efforts of the Artisans de la Paix to lead the civilian disarmament of ETA has been unflinching.

Since Aiete, popular mobilisation has become increasingly strong and diverse in the Northern Basque Country. A roadmap for the resolution of the consequences of the conflict was developed and agreed among political representatives under the auspices of the International Contact Group (Bayonne Declaration 24 October 2014). As time moved on and without significant progress in the peace process, civil society refused to give up and decided to take matters into their own hands. In autumn 2016, three well-known civil society figures, Jean-Noel Etcheverry, Michel Berhocoirigoin and Michel Tubiana made contact with the armed organisation ETA. Following their discussions, ETA agreed to delegate political responsibility for disarmament of its arsenal to these three individuals. The only conditions were that the process should serve to open the way to a resolution on all the consequences of the conflict and that the process should be undertaken in a win-win spirit.

Civilian observers at arms caches. Credit: Bake Bidea

During the first decommissioning of 15 per cent of ETA’s arsenal, the French police intervened and arrested five civil society representatives. Following these arrests, civil society and its elected representatives organised their support and declared that they were ready to take on the process! The five individuals were released and the disarmament process was completed within four months. It was a disarmament process developed by political parties, institutions and civil society.

On 8 April, the location of weapons caches was handed over to the French authorities through the International Verification Commission. At the same time nearly 180 people from civil society came to the sites to oversee and verify that it was indeed the French authorities who were recovering the arsenal. An unprecedented step!

3. What are the remaining issues and challenges for the peace process, and what are the challenges for the civil society in supporting it?

The unreciprocated civilian disarmament process (in the absence of a peace agreement) that we built in the Basque Country has led us to understand that it is now up to us to find solutions to the questions of prisoners, exiles and all the victims. Our task is to avoid descending into a war of narratives, rather to build the real conditions that will allow us to understand the past or different understandings of the past.

4. What kind of external support has been most helpful to civil society?

The support of international representatives such as Kofi Annan, Jonathan Powell and many others. But from Bake Bidea's point of view, the support we receive from organisations such as the Berghof Foundation and Conciliation Resources has been and is fundamental in building our own process and participation.

5. And what have you personally learned over recent years during the peace process?

Everything! The journey we have gone on has helped me to understand the extent to which a diverse and active civil society is the best guarantee for things to succeed. I have also learned that states’ refusal to build a peace process is not a disaster, but an obstacle. And you can get always get around obstacles!

6. When you look to the future, are you hopeful? What are the opportunities for the peace process?

Yes, I am hopeful because I believe in our willingness to see this peace process through to the end. The process has gained new momentum since the disarmament, and space for dialogue with the French Ministry of Justice has opened up. In the Southern Basque Country (Spanish), dialogue between the political parties seems to be resuming, and civil society is driving it. All the ingredients are there to finally overcome the blockages.

For an analysis of the disarmament process, see the report published by Berghof Foundation in September 2017 (by the Permanent Social Forum): "The Basque Model of Disarmament. Lessons learned from an innovative process." (available in English, Basque, Spanish and French).


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