‘Face To Face With ETA: Conversation With A Terrorist’ Review & Recap: When Did ETA Disband?

Face to Face with ETA: Conversation with a Terrorist is a Netflix documentary directed by Marius Sanchez and Jordi Evole. The Netflix documentary deals with the sensitive and significant history of violence surrounding the Basquist separatist organization ETA, which was responsible for the deaths of more than 800 people in France and Spain. Now, a former member and leader of the organization, Josu Urrutikoetxea, stepped forward to discuss some of the most disturbing violent acts his organization had committed and apologized to the victims he and his group had caused harm to. But does this apology make his actions forgivable? Well, forgiveness for such crimes is subjective and completely up to the victims and their families. Let’s see if any victims of such horrible acts could forgive Josu Urrutikoetxea.

Spoilers Ahead


What Is This Documentary About?

Face to Face with ETA: Conversation with a Terrorist consists of two interviews, one with the former security officer Francisco Ruiz, who was also gravely affected by the assassination of the Mayor of Galdakao, and another with the former member of ETA, Josu Urrutikoetxea, often nicknamed Josu Ternera. However, in this interview, Josu preferred his original name, as he had left behind his past identity as a terrorist a long time ago. The film opened with director Jordi Evole having a conversation with Francisco Ruiz, recalling the incident of February 9, 1976, when an ETA cell orchestrated an attack on the Mayor of Galdakao. The mayor went out for a walk at 8 a.m. sharp, and his bodyguard, Francisco Ruiz, and his fellow officers were also out with him. The assassination attempt was successful, as it claimed Mayor Victor Legoburu’s life. Several bodyguards of the mayor were riddled with bullets, including Francisco, who survived the traumatic incident despite multiple gunshot wounds. After that incident, life was no longer normal for Francisco and his family, as they were only left with trauma. The people of the Basque country were afraid to be seen as the victims of a terrorist attack, which made Francisco and his family feel isolated in their own community. In this documentary, Francisco described the nightmare he had gone through for ETA, who were responsible for so many deaths and so much destruction.

Jordi wanted Francisco to watch his interview with Josu Urrutikoetxea, who used to be one of the leaders of this terrorist organization. However, in this interview, Josu Urrutikoetxea not only confessed the crimes his group had committed but also defended this organization, claiming that for all the violent acts they had carried out, the Spanish government of that time was to blame.


What Atrocities Did ETA Commit?

The terrorist organization, or Basquist separatist organization, ETA, was founded in 1959, during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. Even after Franco’s death, the group grew extremely violent as they began to fight for the independence of the Basque Country. The group remained active until 2010, and throughout this time period, the organization became responsible for several assassination attempts, bombings, and other violent acts that killed 852 people and injured 2661 others. These attacks claimed the lives of many unintended victims, including women and children, and were irreversible. Josu Urrutikoetxea joined ETA in 1968 after learning about the organization from daily newspapers and became one of the lead members of the organization. During his initial time in the group, Josu Urrutikoetxea said that he was proud to be a part of this organization with no regrets whatsoever. Josu Urrutikoetxea ended up spending 12 years in prison and went into hiding for 20 years.

As Jordi asked him why Josu wanted to appear in this interview, he proudly explained that all these years, people around him had said many things about his life and his ideology more than he himself had spoken about them. In this interview, he wanted to speak for himself. While talking about the violent acts ETA had committed from 1968 to 2010, Josu called some of these acts “senseless violence” while defending the others. Josu never compared the acts committed by ETA with the jihadist attacks on Europe, believing that ETA had never been religiously extremist. Despite hailing from a traditional Catholic family, Josu himself doesn’t believe in God, as he believes in worshipping nature and finding beauty in human beings. However, it is a bizarre experience to hear this kind of statement coming from someone who was once part of a group responsible for countless deaths.

One of the most significant and talked-about assassinations committed by ETA was the killing of Luis Carrero Blanco, former prime minister of Spain, in 1973. Upon questioning, Josu responded that he neither felt remorseful about Carrero Blanco’s attack nor celebrated his death. The only death ETA had celebrated was the death of Francisco Franco. Josu continued defending the violent attacks committed by ETA, saying that the organization had never wanted to kill a target for the sake of terrorizing people, but all they wanted to do was bring the government to the table and initiate a negotiation between them. Josu blamed the authorities and the government, saying that if they had communicated or negotiated with ETA, they wouldn’t have witnessed so many deaths. Even while talking about the Hipercor attack (June 19, 1987), which killed many people, including innocent children, at the supermarket, Josu blamed the police for not evacuating the place when there was time. Jordi demanded to know what ETA’s motives were behind carrying out the explosion, to which Josu replied that it was meant for only property and financial damage, not to kill innocent people. It sounded very silly when Josu was constantly defending this attack, as if he didn’t have any idea that the explosion could bring harm to innocent lives. Jose’s response regarding the other attacks, like the Zaragoza attack or the other violent acts on barracks in Vic, was more or less the same, which sounded like he was ready to justify those acts with his political ideology, which made it clear that Jose had never been genuinely regretful about these horrible acts. At times, he even denied being in the leadership of ETA, which showed that he was not ready to admit his guilt. Even when Jordi brought up the killing of the former lead member of ETA, Maria Dolorasb Gonzalez, Josu defended the act, saying that Maria had disconnected herself from ETA’s ideologies and motives. Instead of complying with the group, Maria believed in negotiation; therefore, the team had to take a step to get rid of her. Josu was not only a fellow team member of Maria, but he had been in a relationship with her; therefore, his compliance with his group’s decision proved him to be a straight-up evil person.

In 1989, Josu Urrutikoetxea was charged with belonging to the ETA in Beyonnea. In France, his trial began in 1990, in which he was found guilty of being a member of ETA and being in illegal possession of weapons. Later in 1993, Josu Urrutikoetxea was given a sentence of 12 years in prison and was released from prison in 2000. In between these, he was elected to the Basque Parliament as a member of the Euskal Herritarok Party, but Josu couldn’t attend the parliament daily. After his election to parliament, within a year, ETA committed another attack, killing 23 people. ETA demanded a revolutionary tax from the ordinary people, who refused to pay the tax, which was the main reason why ETA committed the killings. Jordi asked Josu if killing people for money wasn’t quite similar to something a mafia would do but Josu replied that the revolutionary tax was important for ETA. ETA continued the political-military conflict with the government, but in this journey, they killed and destroyed a lot of families.


Why Did Josu Urrutikoetxea Leave ETA?

Finally, in 2002, when the Supreme Court summoned Josu for the hearing, he fled from Spain and went into hiding. In 2006, Josu Urrutikoetxea left the group after realizing that his ideology no longer aligned with ETA’s. Josu Urrutikoetxea wanted to end the violence as well as the political-military conflict, but ETA was still not in the mindset to negotiate with the governments, as they wanted to continue with the violence. Therefore, Josu Urrutikoetxea finally decided to resign from the post in ETA and went to hide in the Pyrenees, in the district of Ariege.

However, in 2011, the organization went live on television and announced that it had decided to disarm permanently. Finally, the nation felt relieved as the terrorist organization had disarmed itself for good, so Jordi asked Josu if he believed this decision taken by the group was a victory or a failure. Josu responded that it was neither victory nor failure but a necessary step taken by the group to finally put an end to the violence. In 2018, before his final detainment, Josu Urrutikoetxea announced the ultimate dismantlement of the organization. ETA dealt with its 60-year violent past, but it finally failed to achieve any of the goals it had aimed to. In 2021, the Basque Pro-Independence Left accepted the fact that the violence caused by ETA was unnecessary. But the silver lining is that ETA was the only terrorist group in Europe that permanently disarmed itself and never committed a single act of terror ever again.


Did Francisco Ruiz Forgive Josu?

In the concluding scenes of the documentary, Jordi brought up the 1976 incident of Victor Legoburu’s assassination, which severely injured and traumatized the mayor’s bodyguard, Francisco Ruiz Sanchez. Jordi asked if Josu wanted to say something or apologize to the victim of this traumatic event, which created some discomfort in Josu’s mind. Still, he responded by saying that he extended his deepest apology to Francisco and his family for what they had to go through. Jordi later told Francisco about his interview with Josu Urrutikoetxea, who apologized for creating such havoc in their lives. Francisco forgives the man and accepts his apology, but he perceives that a criminal like Josu Urrutikoetxea could never mean it from the bottom of his heart; instead, this was just an apology for show. However, being a man who loved peace, Francisco forgave Josu Urrutikoetxea, even though the harm Josu had caused was an irrevocable loss.

Francisco Ruiz is now living his retirement in Ciudad Real, while Josu Urrutikoetxea is on parole in southern France, waiting for his extradition to Spain. Face to Face with ETA: Conversation with a Terrorist is an important discussion about violence and its profound effect on human lives. In the interview, the questions brought up by Jordi Evole were sincere and triggering, which definitely made Josu Urrutikoetxea feel uncomfortable at times, but he continued answering those questions politely. Josu’s journey from darkness to light showed his attempt to redeem himself. Josu Urrutikoetxea’s redemption would probably spark more conversation and discussion regarding his deeds and his transformation from an unempathetic person to a human, but it will never heal the wounds that ETA has caused permanently.


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Poulami Nanda
Poulami Nanda
Poulami Nanda hails from a medical background, yet her journey is to cross the boundaries of medicine and survive in the cinematic world. The surrealistic beauty of cinema and art has attracted her from a very young age. She loves to write poems, songs, and stories, but her dream is to write films someday. She has also worked as a painter, but nothing attracts her more than cinema. Through her writings, she wants to explore the world of cinema more and more and take her readers on the same ride.

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