Spanish cinema breaks taboo and talks Eta

Few issues marked Spain's recent history as much as the violence of Basque separatist group Eta, but it was only when peace finally came that this bloody period made its way into films without taboo.

Spanish cinema breaks taboo and talks Eta
A still from Justin Webster's documentary The End of ETA. Photo: The End of ETA
As Spain prepares to mark five years since Eta quit violence on October 20, the armed group is more present than ever in the San Sebastian film festival in the Basque Country, with screenings of films and documentaries on the conflict.
“Emotionally, peace has taken hold enough for the story to be told with honesty,” said British documentary-maker Justin Webster, director of “The End of Eta”, screened earlier this week to applause and a full house.
“Now we can start writing the first draft of what really happened,” he told AFP.
'Few films'
Films are scarce about the separatist organisation, which is blamed for the deaths of 829 people in a four-decade campaign of bombings and shootings for an independent homeland in northern Spain and southwestern France. It declared a permanent ceasefire in 2011.
There were also some 150 anti-Eta killings blamed on militias close to the police and police abuse, according to a study by the Basque regional government.
“Few films have been done bearing in mind how important it was in many people's lives over four decades,” said Basque director Imanol Uribe.
His first feature-length documentary, “The trial of Burgos” that came out in 1979, was about the last trial of Eta members during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, which ended in 1975. His last film “Far from the Sea” depicts the relationship between the daughter of a victim of Eta and her father's murderer.
While this was screened in a normal manner, the same was not true in the 1980s and 1990s. His 1996 film “Numbered Days”, which gives a humane depiction of an Eta member, may have won the festival's top Golden Shell prize and eight Oscar-equivalent Goya awards, but it is better remembered for the huge
controversy it generated.
“It seems easier to broach the theme now, it was more complicated at that time,” he said.
 'Watch what you say'
Director Julio Medem concurred. In 2003, he showcased his documentary “The Basque Pelota,” a call for
dialogue as violence still raged by depicting the conflict from different perspectives, from victims of Eta to relatives of jailed group members.
Now considered a reference on the violent period, the documentary caused trouble for Medem with attempts to censure it at the film festival and accusations of sympathising with the armed group.
“I really copped it,” he said 13 years after the screening. “At that time, using the word 'dialogue' automatically put you on the side of Eta supporters.
“Not everything is black and white, there are colours, there are many colours… But no one was interested in hearing about those colours.”    
Eta was a “definite taboo” in Spanish cinema, he said. On the one hand, any divergence from the official government position sparked a wave of criticism, and on the other hand the Eta entourage would warn people with a “watch what you say”, he added.
'War of stories'
But when the violence ended, a wide variety of works emerged, from documentaries to thrillers, dramas and even comedies.
“Eta has stopped killing and it remains to be seen how history will be written,” said Santiago de Pablo, a historian at the Basque Country University who is about to publish a book on the theme.
Perhaps one of the most controversial works to be screened was the documentary “Asier and me”, in which director Aitor Merino portrays his childhood friend who was jailed for eight years in France for being an Eta
Through the documentary, which has humorous touches, Merino asks the viewer tough questions — how can this gentle friend be a terrorist? Can you be friends with a terrorist? What brought him to join Eta?
“We like cinema that makes people uncomfortable, that questions principles,” he said.
And if Eta had still been wreaking violence, he would have screened it all the same, he added, “but with more context and without the humorous tone.”

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Has the Covid-19 pandemic killed Spain’s pintxos and tapas culture?

What impact has the ongoing pandemic and health crisis in Spain had on the culture of sharing tapas and pintxos? Esme Fox explores how crowding around bars laden with uncovered food is not the done thing anymore.

Has the Covid-19 pandemic killed Spain's pintxos and tapas culture?
Nicolas Vigier/Flickr

Spain is of course known throughout the world for its excellent and unique cuisine, and besides the paella, it’s the tapas and the pintxos that everyone raves about.

But how has Spain’s tapas culture changed since Covid-19? Can it adapt and change in order to survive?

Nowhere in Spain is this more evident right now than the Basque Country, where the culture is the Basque version of tapas – pintxos. Pintxos are small pieces of bread, topped with all types of ingredients, from fried peppers and anchovies to goat’s cheese and fig, all held together with a stick.  

Before the pandemic, pintxos bars in the likes of San Sebastián and Bilbao were groaning with mini bites all laid out in front of you. The idea was to jostle to the front of the bar between the crowds and grab a pintxo or two to put on your plate. At the end of the night, the bar person would simply count the number of sticks you have and you’d pay accordingly.

In this new world, however, the idea of crowding up with customers to a bar laden with uncovered food and taking them with your hands is simply unthinkable.


Pintxos before the pandemic | Image by takedahrs from Pixabay

According to an article in El Pais, Covid-19 has completely changed the feel of the Basque taverns. People must now social distance and only a certain number are allowed up to the bar at one time.

Where sometimes bars used to have up to 200 different types of pintxos, now they might have around 40 types because there’s fewer people; residents and tourists alike.  

In San Sebastián, the city council has ordered that all pintxos must now be completely covered at the front and sides and the case must be translucent so that customers can see what they’re ordering. Any bar not complying with these measures can be fined.

This means of course that the number of plates of pintxos that can easily fit onto a bar has now been reduced because extra space is needed for the coverings and containers.

The main difference to the pintxo scene however is that customers are no longer allowed to touch the pintxos, meaning that a large part of pintxo culture is missing. Now customers just point to what they want and are served by the bar person, much like in many bars across the world. Will this destroy the Basque Country’s unique pintxo culture?

Journalist Marti Buckley who lives in the Basque Country said: “Coronavirus is probably the worst type of pandemic possible when it comes the pintxo bar way of eating. Food at a sneeze's length, where it sits all day in front of hundreds of people, smashed in a bar like sardines, elbow to elbow. Glass cases, masks, and limited entry has really changed the experience. However, most measures I am seeing appear to be temporary, so if this ever ends I hope the bars will go back to how they were”. 

olive pintxos

Stuffed olive pintxos | Image by elcodigodebarras from Pixabay

The Basque Country is striving for a fast recovery however, and many visitors to the region have told The Local that the pintxos bars almost felt back to normal.

Travel writer James Taylor who went to San Sebastián post lockdown said: “I didn’t notice much had changed. The main difference was that you couldn’t grab the pintxos yourself. Everything was covered and you had to pay straight away”. This may change the way that people used to graze on pintxos, going up for more when they felt like it, but it doesn’t seem to have killed the culture completely.

Bilbao has even run its first pintxo competition since the Covid-19 outbreak. Aitor Olazabalaga from Bar Fermín who participated in the competition told local Basque news website Deia: “It’s important that we encourage consumption of pintxos again. We had a bit of a shake, but we must all come together to make sure that life in the Old Town recovers”.

In other parts of Spain such as Barcelona for example, tapas culture doesn’t seem to have changed too much. People do seem to be going out in smaller groups and eat out less often though. Friends are still sharing plates of Padrón peppers and ham croquetas, but are being more careful. Double dipping brava sauce with your potato for example is definitely a big no no.