Face to Face with ETA: Conversations with a Terrorist is an attempt by directors Jordi Evole and Marius Sancz to understand the perspective that Josu Urrutikoetxea, aka Josu Ternera, held and try to figure out if he was able to justify his actions or not. Josu was a core member of the ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna), and the documentary charts his journey from the mid-nineties, when he joined the far-left organization, to the point where he read out to the public that the organization was being dissolved in 2018. So, let’s find out if Josu Ternera’s arguments have any merit or if he is just trying to sugarcoat reality and justify his cause.
What was on ETA’s agenda?
ETA was formed because a certain group of young people were sick and tired of the fascist regime, and they wanted to do something about it. It could be said that ETA was formed for all the right reasons, but soon, the separatist organization resorted to violence, and they started indulging in all sorts of terrorist activities that they initially stood against. The people were not able to understand if they wanted the good of the people living in Basque or if their only agenda was to come to power. It is said in Face to Face with ETA that around 900 people were killed from 1968 to the early 2000s by the ETA, and never even once did they come out in the open and accept that they had committed a mistake. Everything was done under the pretext of fighting against the fascist regime. One of the key members of the leadership was a man named Josu Ternera, and Jordi Evole, the director of the documentary, took his interview to understand his viewpoint pertaining to the major activities of ETA.
Any rational man would have perceived ETA as a terrorist organization with the sole agenda of gaining control through spreading terror, but the core members of the separatist organization always maintained that their goal was to create a socialist society. Apart from the terrorist activities, another reason people lost faith in ETA was the kind of things they did to get the money to run the organization. They plundered the houses of the same people for whom, according to them, they were fighting the war. That’s when people came to know about their hypocrisy. They levied a revolution tax on the people, and those who weren’t able to give or who didn’t want to give had to face serious consequences. We believe that Miguel Angel Blanco’s murder was the turning point where ETA established the fact that they were a terrorist organization and that a lot of people who believed in their ideologies started disassociating themselves from the group. The ETA was demanding the Spanish government release its members who were serving time in the Spanish prison, and when that didn’t happen, Miguel was shot dead. Whatever their agenda was, whatever their intentions were, nothing mattered, as people didn’t like the idea of giving power to such an organization that resorted to such violent and inhumane tactics. The speculation that I personally came upon after watching the documentary was that ETA ruined its own cause, and the members were responsible for the fact that, over a period of time, common people lost faith in them.
Did Josu Ternera intentionally kill civilians?
Jorid Evole put Josu Ternera on the spot, and he asked him to justify his actions and also tell the viewers about his involvement in them. The dilemma was quite obvious on Josu Ternera’s face, and within the first few minutes of Face to Face with ETA, it was established that the man didn’t have any reasoning to justify his cause. All he did throughout the tenure of the documentary was to just mince his words and go round and round when he knew that he was guilty of taking the lives of innocent people—people whom he swore to protect—and the people who got so sick and tired of ETA portraying themselves as their messiah that they said that these people were not Basque nationals. Josu Ternera was asked this question: how was ETA any different from a Jihadist organization and he literally had no reason whatsoever to back up his arguments. He said that having unintended victims as a result of some operations undertaken by the organization was not something that the leadership ever wanted. He said that a jihadist organization, in any mission, tried to have a maximum number of casualties, but ETA only wanted to damage property, and any other collateral damage was either unforeseen or an error of judgment.
Jordi refuted his argument and reminded him about certain incidents where it was clearly proven that Basque separatist organizations didn’t care about the lives of their citizens, for whom apparently they were fighting this entire war, and their modus operandi was no different from the terrorist groups that wreaked havoc on innocent people. The director took him back to the Hipercor bombing, where a bomb was planted in a shopping center, and to the Zaragoza barrack bombings, where a lot of children and women lost their lives. Now, there could have been two possibilities: First, Josu was an extremely dumb-witted and unaware human being who didn’t know that if a bomb went off in a shopping complex, there would be casualties, or he didn’t mind killing a few innocent civilians in order to get leverage over the Spanish government. We all knew which option was true, but Josu stuck to the fact that they only intended to damage property, and by saying so, he embarrassed himself only as it was an illogical contention.
Where is Josu Ternera now?
Josu Ternera announced in 2018 that ETA was being dissolved, and it became the first organization in the entire European subcontinent to do something like that. The joint mission launched by the General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI) and the Guardia Civil was codenamed “Lost Childhood,” and Josu was captured in French territory after being on the run for almost two decades. As of now, Josu Ternera lives in southern France, where he is out on parole and is awaiting extradition to Spain. Francisco Ruiz, who served in the Spanish force and who saw Mayor Antonio Echeverria get killed in front of his eyes, never even once believed that Josu Urrutikoetxea felt guilty for ruining the lives of so many people who became collateral damage. The organization accepted that they had committed a mistake because that was the only resource left for them if they wanted to stay alive, and had it not been the case, they would have kept on going in the same manner.