December 31, 2023, Hernani (Guipúzcoa). In the middle of the street, the people of Ernai – a youth organization close to Sortu – have set up a table and arranged it as if a New Year's Eve dinner were going to be held there: tablecloth, plates, glasses, candles and 10 empty chairs, one for each ETA resident of the town - some 20,000 inhabitants - imprisoned.

On the backs of the seats, they have pasted their photographs. There is the face of Gurutz Aguirresarobe, sentenced in 2011 to 32 years in prison for the February 2003 murder of Joseba Pagazaurtundúa, head of the Andoain Local Police. Inmanol Miner, 90 years old for the murder of the ertzaina Iñaki Totorika in 2001. Ainhoa García Montero, 140 years old for the murders of José Ángel Santos and Josu Leonet, workers of the Elektra company who in February 2001 had a car bomb exploded in Martutene that was not intended for them. Beñat Aguinagalde, Joanes Larretxea, Ibón Fernández... So up to 10 names and faces.

In the video distributed by Covite (Collective of Victims of Terrorism) a banner is seen next to the table – "Today there will be 10 empty chairs. We love you!" - while the song 564, which Hertzainak recorded 30 years ago to pay homage to the ETA members imprisoned at the time, who numbered precisely 564, plays in the background. "Harder than eternal cold / and more years than days / there are 564 empty beds / amplifying the bitterness./ According to some they pay the punishment / they deserve, / for those who love them in return / they are the wind of freedom...", the lyrics say.

This New Year's Eve table in Hernani is one of at least 23 calls that, Covite denounces, have been held on December 31 alone in the Basque Country to ask for the release of ETA prisoners. "Like every year, the pro-ETA members have taken advantage of the end of the year to ask for the release of ETA members. This is their particular Christmas tradition and farewell to the year. Most of the acts have been carried out by @sortuEH or its related lobby @sare_herritarra," Covite published in X.

Event in support of ETA member Diego Ugarte in Vitoria.COVITE

On the list of these 23 tributes are two other Christmas tables. One of them was displayed in Bilbao with identical paraphernalia. In this case, with six empty chairs, all for "convicted of murder or attempted murder," Covite notes. Two of the seats for Beatriz Echevarria and Iñigo Zapiráin, members of the Otazu commando, sentenced to 3,860 years for the van bomb attack on the Burgos barracks in July 2009; to 485 years for the murder of Army Brigadier Luis Conde in September 2008, to 45 years for the murder of Police Inspector Eduardo Puelles in June 2009... Josu Puelles, the latter's brother, did not know about the celebration of this event, but he is not surprised. "It's one more humiliation to the victims of terrorism," he says of the performance, which was also accompanied by music, in this case El Blus de Aranjuez, by Rotten XIII: "They have you locked up / Left aside / By a cruel and bloodthirsty system / In which you and I have never trusted...".

"What is worrying is not the existence of these acts, which at the end of the day could be understood as logical within their strategy, but the permissibility and non-action of the institutions, both the Basque Government and the central government, both at a practical and legislative level. Nothing has ever been done against these acts that humiliate the victims, re-victimize them and deepen the pain," says Puelles. "What angers me the most and outrages me the most is that they do legislate against other movements or acts that seem to belong to past dictatorships, such as Francoism. In fact, the Law of Democratic Memory expressly prohibits acts of glorification of Francoism, which says a lot about the government we have, which is allied precisely with the people who have not been convicted, who are proud of it and who also want to break up Spain."

There was at least a third Christmas table, the one set in Ondarroa (Vizcaya). "New Year's Eve table by SARE and Ernai (the youth of SORTU) in Ondarroa with the images of ETA members Asier Badiola, Imanol Miner, Aitzol Etxaburu and Ibon Iparraguirre. Two are convicted of murder, one for attempted murder and one for kidnapping. They made a toast in his honor," Covite posted. The mayor of the town, Urtza Alkorta, was among those convicted that EH Bildu included in its lists for the municipal elections. She was sentenced to five years in prison in 2013 for collaborating with ETA.

The simulated dinners for prisoners are the most eye-catching events on the list of 23 that covers much more: demonstrations in Sare in favour of the release of prisoners in Lasarte-Oria, Andoáin or Villabona, calls for rallies in 12 municipalities in Guipúzcoa, as many in Biscay and a dozen in Navarre, (which means that the number of events actually exceeds 50), an act of support in Vitoria for Diego Ugarte, convicted of the murder of Fernando Buensa and his bodyguard, and a race for children also in favour of the prisoners in Oyarzun.

  • ETA
  • Justice
  • Terrorism