Very few ex-members of the Basque clandestine organisation ETA (Euskadi (e)Ta Askatasuna, Basque country and Freedom) have published autobiographies. Yet, these memoirs and recollections of past involvement into high risk and violent political activities exist. They exist and they all give evidence of something. They certainly share a common denominator, ETA, but they do engage with it differently. Their views, writing styles, historical depth and motives all clearly vary significantly.
José Luis Alvarez Enparantza aka “Txillardegi” (1929-2012) was the first well-known ex-member of ETA to initiate the biographical move when he published a novel in 1988 on a young Basque militant (codename “Exkixu”) who had issues with ETA’s Marxist line (http://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Exkixu.html?id=VCd8SAAACAAJ&redir_esc=y). His novel could be read as an autobiography, especially in those moments where Txillardegi is discussing at length the modus operandi of ETA’s underground life. However, it is in 1994, in a volume of reflections on the past, present and future of the great Basque Country – Euskal Herria as an objective – that José Luis Alvarez Enparantza is offering a more direct autobiographical perspective on his involvement in ETA. The chapter dedicated to ETA (“Ekin-etik ETAra”, from Ekin to ETA) is nearly 100 pages long and centred on his exile in Paris and then Brussels and, again, on his quasi obsessive disagreement with the ETA’s Marxist political line: “Ni ez naiz marxista. Ez naiz behin ere izan” (I am not a Marxist. I have never been) (http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=O-7LbMqFvEcC&pg=PA15&lpg=PA15&dq=Euskal+Herria+Helburu&source=bl&ots=ShuG-ZH08S&sig=FDS_FtWApjk5wniRLFExvX-lJ_M&hl=en&sa=X&ei=8YSpU7SwMeeP0AXX94HoCw&ved=0CGYQ6AEwCA#) (the book has been translated in Spanish in 1997) (http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=FNdQ8FpwG2IC&pg=PA287&lpg=PA287&dq=euskal+herria+en+el+horizonte&source=bl&ots=KIAvmLIZOw&sig=-QNplhfc8czqCoEbTvVhIcjGSa0&hl=en&sa=X&ei=VZOpU67aCOaJ0AXsgIGYAQ&ved=0CDIQ6AEwAg#).
Txillardegi’s book was shortly followed by a bestseller Agur ETA. El adiós a las armas de un militante histórico (Bye-bye ETA. Farewell to arms of an historical militant), a conversation between the journalist Matias Antolin and the repentant (arrepentido) jailed member of ETA Manuel Soares Gamboa aka “Riojano” (1953 – …) (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Agur-ETA-adi%C3%B3s-militante-hist%C3%B3rico/dp/8478807470). Manuel Soares Gamboa joined ETA in 1980 and was a member of the famous deadly “commando Madrid“. In 1989, he participated to the negotiation process in Alger before being deported to the Dominican Republic. In 1995, he came back to Spain and surrendered to the police. Incarcerated, he was among the dissident prisoners in Nanclares de la Ocla who denounced the criminal derives of ETA (http://elpais.com/diario/1997/07/19/espana/869263204_850215.html). The book has been reedited several times since 1997 and Manuel Soares Gamboa carried on since with asking his victims’ relatives for their forgiveness and collaborating with the Spanish justice (http://elpais.com/diario/2004/07/20/espana/1090274412_850215.html).
Mario Onaindia (1948-2003), sentenced to death by a military tribunal under the authoritarian regime of Franco for being part of ETA and later sentenced to death by ETA itself, published the first volume of his memoirs (El precio de la libertad, the price of Freedom) in 2001 (http://www.amazon.co.uk/El-precio-libertad-Memorias-1948-1977/dp/8423954617). The second volume, El aventurero Cuerdo (the prudent adventurer) was published after his death in 2004 (http://www.amazon.co.uk/El-aventurero-cuerdo-memorias-1977-1981/dp/8467014121/ref=la_B001K15TX6_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1403619280&sr=1-2) and is more concerned with Onaindia’s second political life: the creation of the political party Euskal Iraultzarako Alderdia (EIA, the Party for the Basque Revolution), how he championed an eventual merger with the Basque region of the mainstream socialists to form the Partido Socialista de Euskadi – Euskadiko Ezkerra (PSE-EE, Socialist Party of the Basque Country – Basque Country Left) and how he played a crucial role in negotiations with Juan Maria Bandres that led ETA’s political-military faction to abandon arms. It is in his first volume of his memoirs that Mario Onaindia is recounting his involvement in ETA. El Precio de la Libertad is a 636 pages length sophisticated and non-linear, non-historical account of his life, divided in nine chapters. Each chapter is about a personal and significant locality, offering as such a detailed geographical fresco of his environment. It could almost be read as a classic social novel as the reader is invited to discover, piece by piece, all the social and economic transformations of the Basque country in the late 1950s and 1960s. Those transformations informed his intellectual mutation and eventually the reasons of his contribution to ETA “when ETA was really fighting fascism”.
In the same year 2004, Xabier Zumalde aka “el Cabro” (the Goat) (1938 – …), who was one of the first military leader of ETA in the 1960s, published two volumes: Mi lucha clandestina en ETA (my secret fight in ETA) (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mi-lucha-clandestina-en-ETA/dp/8493229326/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1403619315&sr=1-1&keywords=Mi+lucha+clandestina+en+ETA) and Botas de Guerrilla (Boots of insurrection) (http://www.amazon.co.uk/botas-guerrilla-Javier-Zumalde-Romero/dp/8493229342/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1403619355&sr=1-2&keywords=Botas+de+Guerrilla). Xabier Zumalde Romero’s first volume of his memoirs is divided in seven linear and chronological sections from his early memories as a child, in the aftermath of the war, until the late 1960s when he was in charge of the military front of ETA: “The Executive Committee appointed me because, really, they had no one else to do the job… I was part of the organisation since a couple of months only. I was not politicized or indoctrinated and totally ignorant of what Basque nationalism represented in our history”. Both volumes are rich in pictures and reproduction of internal documents. Zumalde’s direct and impetuous writing style is certainly different from the sophisticated tone of Mario Onaindia’s memoirs. However, they share a common ground. Like Onaindia, Zumalde presents his involvement in a different ETA that has nothing to do with the more contemporary one [e.g. ETA post 1977 for Zumalde and post 1992 for Onaindia]: “I am part of the first generation of etarras. We belonged to the first lineage of brave gudaris [Basque soldiers] who decided to face the terrible post-war dictatorship of Franco”.
In 2005, it was Eduardo Uriarte Romero (“Teo”) (1945 – …), ex-member of ETA in the 1960s and another key protagonist of the Spanish political transition like Mario Onaindia, who published his memoirs Mirando atrás. De las filas de ETA a las listas del PSE (Looking back – From ETA’s ranks to the Lists of the PSE) (http://www.abebooks.co.uk/MIRANDO-ATR%C3%81S-filas-ETA-listas-PSOE/12232337065/bd). Teo joined ETA in 1964 and was one of the 16 accused at the Burgos Trial. Sentenced to jail, he was amnestied in 1977 and contributed to the creation of the political party Euskadiko Ezkerra (EE), before joining the Socialist Party of the Basque Country (PSE) in 1990. 486 pages long, his memoirs are a classic politician autobiographical exercise, from his discovery of the Basque country when he moved in Donostia as a kid born and raised in the south of Spain to the up-to-date political commitment. Although Eduardo Uriarte Romero and Mario Onaindia were close friends in ETA and in post-ETA political legit life, Teo diverges slightly. Is there really a clear cut between one good anti-Francoist version of ETA and a bad current undemocratic one? Anti-Francoist identity does not necessarily mean a democratic one, suggests Eduardo Uriarte.
In 2006, Jon Juaristi Linacero (1951 – …), who joined ETA in 1966, before joining the workerist/Trotskyist faction of ETA (ETA VI) and abandoning any leftist political activities in 1974, published a bitter critique of his own adherence to radical Basque nationalism in a refined volume, playing with the autobiographical genre: Cambio de destino, Change of destiny (http://www.casadellibro.com/libro-cambio-de-destino-memorias/9788432296680/1062873) is a richly well written political education a la Flaubert, an history and an attempt to map the psychological evolution of a young Basque discovering ETA, the armed struggle and the harshness of internal ideological disputes. Jon starts his book with the Basque country of his childhood and closes the book with the year 1999 when he left the Basque country under the pressure of ETA.
Finally, Emilio Lopez Adan aka “Beltza”, who has been part of the clandestine organisation from the mid-1960s until 1974, has just published his memoirs in May 2014 (http://pmb.ldd.fr/ikas/opac_css/index.php?lvl=notice_display&id=31005). In his Biolentzia Politikoaren memoriak (memoirs of political violence), Beltza is concerned with documenting – in an archivist sense – the political, intellectual and social context of ETA in the 1960s and consequently exposing the reasons why violence against the regime was seen as a viable solution. Beltza’s memoirs are a somewhat thoughtful exercise combining a socio-historical approach with a philosophical reflection on the inevitability and indefensibility of violence.
With the notable exception of Manuel Soares Gamboa, a member of ETA in the 1980s, all the others were etarras in the 1960s and 1970s and have abandoned the armed struggle a long time ago. They were and are all involved in well-established public positions whether as political actors, renowned professors and intellectuals, historian or intelligent advisor for the Basque Government and, finally inventor. Moreover, and again with the notable exception of Manuel Soares Gamboa, they have all published numerous volumes on the Basque country, its history, its language, its literature but also essays on the roots of Basque nationalism and nationalism, essays on politics or even social and historical novels with ETA and/or the Basque country as key characters. With the exception of Txillardegi’s novel (1988) and the more recent publication of Beltza’s memoirs (2014), all these recollections of ex-members have been published during the same troubled period of time when the Spanish society was reconsidering the so-called success story of the political transition, re-opening the pact of forgetting (pacto del olvido) and recalibrating its understanding of the role played by ETA against the authoritarian regime.
Considering the number of individuals who have joined the ranks of ETA between the mid-1950s and the late 1970s, very few of them have turned public and autobiographical. But that should not be a surprise really. When dealing with past political engagement, silence is a more widely spread personal and collective strategy. With the exception of the straightforward violent condemnation of ETA by Manuel Soares Gamboa, the memoirs of the etarras of the 1980s and 1990s are still to be written. It is somewhat uncertain that these etarras are likely to do so in the near future. It is also doubtful that the social and political conditions of reception of such publications are there yet, both in Spain and in the Basque country.