Mourning and reconciliation in the Basque struggle for liberation

Written and directed by Iciar Bollain
With Blanca Portillo, Luis Tosar, Maria Cerezuela, Urko Olazabal
In Spanish with English subtitles
Presented nationally as part of the Spanish Film Festival

Maixabel deals with real events, with a slight shortening of the deadlines. In many ways it is a dramatization of the Spanish documentary, The end of ETAwhich includes interviews with the real characters depicted here and is available for free (in Spanish) .

The setting of the film is the violent national liberation insurgency led by Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (Basque Homeland and Freedom – ETA) in the Spanish state between 1968 and 2010. Its subject is the impact on the lives of the protagonists on both sides and how such armed conflicts can come to an end.

Its only scene of violence is at the beginning, the assassination in 2000 of Juan Mari Jáuregui, leading member of the Socialist Party of Euskadi (Spanish Basque Country), regional affiliate of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE).

Following this is a story of imprisonment – the imprisonment of the killers and the painful imprisonment of Jáuregui’s widow, Maixabel Lasa and her daughter, Maria. However, from this heartbreaking anguish comes reconciliation.

This is not a sweet-sweet sentimental harmony, but rather a heartbroken journey through suffering toward mutual understanding. This is how human beings struggle to forgive the unforgivable and heal what there is no remedy for.

After the assassination of her husband, Maixabel volunteered to head the Office of Attention to Victims of Terrorism of the Government of Euskadi. She controversially expanded her program to include not only ETA victims, but also those who were tortured and murdered by police and government-backed death squads.

In 2011, she began participating in reconciliation meetings with members of the ETA military unit responsible for the murder of her husband.

As recreated in the film via superlative acting, these encounters are anguished. Slowly we see remorse expressed, violence abandoned and forgiveness created.

Maixabel’s daughter, Maria, chose not to participate, but spoke about it with her mother.

One of the highlights of the film is when Maria says, referring to her circle of friends: “I find it incredible that the man who hurt me the most thinks more like me than…” The moment of silence that follows resonates with implications of penance and reconciliation.

Maixabel is a powerfully emotional and intelligent film, but it has its political shortcomings.

There is a beautiful scene, worthy of a Ken Loach film, where imprisoned ETA activists debate the politics of individual redemption. This shows the seriousness of their commitment and should open the question of why young Basques risk their lives in the guerrillas.

Instead of considering their political motivations, all that is mentioned is the youthful hero-worship of the Sandinista rebels of Nicaragua – an insufficient explanation.

The Basque people have a particular language and culture. Capitalism came to Spain slowly and inconsistently within a state dominated by the Castilian monarchy, a reactionary Catholic Church, and the downgrading or outright repression of non-Castilian languages ​​and cultures.

The right to self-determination of the Basques and other peoples of the Spanish state has never been recognized. Likewise, the unified republican consciousness that the French Revolution achieved in France was not replicated in Spain.

During Francisco Franco’s dictatorship from 1939 to 1975, the Basque nationalist movement shifted to the left. In the late 1950s ETA emerged from the youth wing of the conservative Basque Nationalist Party and in the 1960s its guerrilla struggle began.

ETA’s first assassination was that of notorious torturer and Nazi collaborator, Melitón Manzanas, the chief inspector of the Social Investigation Brigade. His 1973 explosion of the car carrying Franco’s anointed successor, Carrero Blanco, was cheered across democratic Spain.

It was the repression by the Spanish state that followed, amounting to an armed occupation of Euskadi, as well as the continued denial of the Basques’ right to self-determination, which fueled decades of resentment that drove generations of young people in the armed struggle.

The film does not address the fact that the Civil Guard and the police continued their brutal repression of the Basque sovereignty movement and workers’ organizations long after the official end of the dictatorship.

However, ETA’s strategy confronted it with the same dilemmas faced by the Irish Republican Army: operating underground meant cutting off or compromising legal mass political organisation. No matter how popular ETA was among many Basques, its methods reduced the population to the role of a cheer squad.

Moreover, ETA’s bombing and assassination campaigns alienated people in the rest of Spain and increasingly in Euskadi itself, especially when its victims included those who, like Jáuregi, sought a peaceful solution to the conflict. This gave a prize to Spain’s national unionist forces.

ETA’s violent campaign meant that “Spanish trade unionists of left and right, battling among themselves to be seen as the best advocates of the growing movement of victims of terrorism, could present themselves as peaceful democrats even if they denied that the democratic principle of self-determination applied to the Basques, Catalans and Galicians”, noted Dick Nichols in Last year.

The film also lacks the Basque language itself: for example, all the characters, even those who would certainly have spoken to each other in Basque, speak in Spanish. Indeed, it is an example of the cultural domination against which ETA has risen.

However, Maixabel works as a powerful story of remorse, repentance and reconciliation, which the missing elements do not diminish; it resonates with the human story of tragedy turned into hope. It is mandatory viewing for anyone who wants to understand the emotional and spiritual impact of ETA’s choice for armed struggle.

The trailer for Maixabel may be seen .