MADRID: Sometimes, while travelling, there are chance encounters from history that only take place if you keep an open mind. And so it was in a side, run down cafe in Madrid where one had gone with a struggling curator of cinema one came by sheer chance with a self confessed ‘terrorist’ Just as one was getting up to leave in walked a short, smiling , bearded man in shorts and twinkling eyes.
For the purpose of this article I will call him Ramon, not being sure what the political status is. He helped himself to a glass of wine, and since he knew the ‘curator’ said a warm hello. In passing it was mentioned that he had just come out of jail. Immediately we asked him to sit down with us, plied him with local wine, and got out the story that was fascinating. Despite the fact that most of it was lost in translation, as in Madrid they don’t know English. So the translator was the ‘curator’ whose English left a great deal to be desired, but even so the story unfolded.
Ramon was a terrorist. And he has no hesitation in admitting he worked for a revolutionary party, he himself carried out four bank robberies, two blasts and was in jail three times for a total period of 16 years. And why? Because they were trying to change the system, were fighting the oppressive regime of Franco and were sure they could bring a new order and a new sanity for the working class. At least that is the reason why he was there with this organisation that we learnt later was the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) that was active in Spain from 1961 for about 45 years , that brings it close to today, and carried out hundreds of violent attacks across the country.
ETA was crushed by successive governments, through state set up death squads, as well as large-scale arrests. As Ramon said the general secretary is still in jail. He himself joined ETA in 1975. As far as he knew it, he was working in a group of 200 members, and they basically robbed banks in Madrid and blasted government targets. He recalled attacks by his group—one could not understand whether he was part of these attacks as well—on the Supreme Court in 1984, on the stock market in 1988. He did participate in the bombing of the Income Tax department in Barcelona, or again so it seemed from the translation, where they first told the people to come out and then blasted the building.
He said the idea was not kill innocent people, but to attack government institutions across Spain.
Ramon joined ETA in 1975 just three months before Francisco Franco died on November 20,1975. The organisation was very active against Franco, whose oppressive rule as a dictator probably gave it the support and the cadres. In 1978 Ramon was arrested but released soon. In 1980 he was arrested again while distributing leaflets for an armed revolution. He was in jail till 1983. He was arrested then again after a year, and this time he was released only after 12-13 years. In fact he had come out of jail just about ten years ago when one met him in the cafe, sitting down happily—and one would have thought rather innocently—to narrate his story.
Ramon now paints T shirts for a living. He had designed some for our wheeler dealer friend and hence the connection. He has no regrets he says, he lived a full life. And yes he still believes in revolution, not armed, at least not in the first instance certainly, but in a struggle for the poor and marginalised of society.
Are you disappointed?
That is not the correct word, he says. Again the translator could not give us the alternative word he chose. But for Ramon the violent revolution might have ended, but the dream of a new order has not. Why? The response is simple: “it cannot carry on this way . Capitalism has to go, maybe not the way we thought but definitely some other way.”