Op-Ed: Memory and Conflict in Basque Country

Opinion: Gabriela Taveras Ruiz is a Diplomacy and International Relations graduate from Seton Hall University, and has represented youth groups at the UN. Currently, she's fundraising to attend the One Young World Summit to help her make the Sustainable Development Goals a reality through art, thanks to an online platform she's currently working on. If you're interested in donating or learning more about her work you can visit here.

According to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), the number of armed conflicts increased from 41 to 50 between 2014 and 2015. Decades after creating the United Nations, the nature of conflict continues to morph in increasingly dangerous ways. The risk of preemptive strike is ever-present, and civil conflicts have displaced 65 million people from their homes, forcing them into uncertainty.

With an unparalleled number of international organizations and peace treaties, we can't help but wonder: what are we doing wrong?

Based on personal experience, I can say some of us don't understand conflict that well.

You see, I come from a country that’s no stranger to violence, political corruption, and sharp inequality. However, we lack the complications caused by civil strife. I’m convinced this relative peace made us complacent. This became evident during a university course I attended in March 2017. This class focused on “Memory and Conflict,” and it took us to the evergreen slopes of the Basque Country, in northern Spain. A pinnacle of stability, it’s difficult to think this region served as the headquarters of Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), a terrorist group that claimed the lives of 829 people.

While there, I served as a translator between our student group, and the politicians and civil society leaders we met with. We heard stories of resilience, forgiveness, and compassion in the face of incomparable odds. We met with a woman who advocated for ETA prisoners to be relocated to prisons closer to their families, and with a journalist who was severely wounded by an ETA attack, and made it his mission to meet with, and forgive, those involved in his near-assassination. We also heard from those who'd lost family members, and demanded that justice be unforgiving towards the perpetrators. We listened to uncompromising stances refusing to reintegrate ETA combatants into society.

We soon realized there was no clear cut morality: everyone believed and behaved according to their desired outcome. Generations were born and raised during ETA’s nearly sixty years of operation. They first suffered because of Franco’s regime, and more decades would pass until the Basque Country could feel at ease. Basque identity, and the desire for self-determination, were cornerstones of this decades’ long impasse. While culture and language continue to be important for the younger generations, they’ve been likelier to express affinity with their Spanish heritage. As one of the students we met said: “I'm happy to be Basque and Spanish.”

This proves inter-generational, and integrated, dialogue is a necessity, and the first step in achieving prosperity. Post-conflict reconstruction takes commitment, and community-wide participation. It requires that politicians with distinct party agendas find common ground for the future, and for civil society to band together and bring actionable proposals to the table. The Basque people need justice, but its delivery will impact how the pages of history will be written, and the path they'll tread in the years to follow.

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