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Researcher of the group 'Emotional culture and identity' (CEMID) of Institute for Culture and Society (ICS), University of Navarra
When the echoes of the debates and initiatives that arose in Spain around the tenth anniversary of the end of the violence of the terrorist group ETA are still resounding, we would like to bring here some reflections on various mediation initiatives between terrorists and their victims that went rather more unnoticed in 2011 and 2012, several months before and after the advertisement of ETA that we have commemorated these days. The thread for these reflections is provided by a recent film, Maixabel (Icíar Bollaín, 2021).
Although fictionalized in some aspects, the film basically reflects two of the meetings that Maixabel Lasa, widow of Juan María Jáuregui (former socialist councilor in Tolosa and former civil governor of Guipúzcoa, murdered in 2000), had with two of her husband's murderers, Luis María Carrasco and Ibon Etxezarreta.
In these lines we propose to take a look, on the one hand, at the way in which the film represents the pathway staff followed by the participants in these restorative meetings and, on the other hand, at the work of the mediator of these meetings, who in the film receives only the first name of Esther. The Esther of the film is a transcript of Esther Pascual, jurist, university professor and mediator, who was part of the team of mediators who, from May 2011, facilitated a series of restorative meetings between terrorist prisoners in Nanclares de Oca prison and victims of ETA violence.
Also noteworthy in this team is the figure of Eduardo Santos, jurist and current Minister of Migration Policies and Justice of the Government of Navarre, in whose house the first meeting between Maixabel and Etxezarreta, on which the film is based, took place.
What effects did they have?
Before briefly answering this question, we would like to clarify here, rather, what these meetings were not.
In the first place, the initiative to bring together victims and perpetrators did not start from a moral equality between them, nor from the whitening or lowering of criminal responsibility and staff of the crimes committed by the terrorists. None of the latter obtained penitentiary benefits for participating in these meetings. Moreover, according to the team of mediators, the preparation of the meetings was particularly demanding with them, and these meetings were fundamentally oriented towards the benefit of the victims, whose emotional and psychological integrity was protected in a particularly delicate way.
In addition, it should be noted that these meetings were not necessarily framed in the context of a desire to forgive or be forgiven. The main purpose of these meetings was essentially to get to know the other person's vision, feelings, motivations and ideas, and to try to comprehensively repair the damage caused to the victim, forgiveness being only one of the possible components of this reparation.
Finally, although these meetings were primarily staff, voluntary and confidential, their impact was not restricted only to the private sphere, as they received institutional support from the Basque Government and the Ministry of the Interior, which facilitated the projection of their benefits from and towards the public sphere.
What were these restorative encounters?
Meaningful encounters within personal itineraries.
Encounters driven by individual freedom.
Meetings with a social benefit, moved by the will to restore a part (even a small one) of the lost social harmony.
A space to manage grief, resolve doubts and questions and obtain, at final, a certain emotional calm.
An opportunity to reduce otherness and humanize. The sessions served to get to know the other and to reverse, through words, the negative link between victim and victimizer imposed by violence.
The film Maixabel reflects very well the staff and emotional journey that victimizers and victims go through in this subject of encounters. However, the mediation process itself is only partially reflected in the film. The work of the mediators during the process went far beyond what the scenes project.
First of all, a long chain of individual interviews was carried out with the prisoners who showed interest in these encounters. The goal of these was to carry out an emotional work prior to meeting with the victims; a work of activation of empathy since, in general, the act of killing has already implied a dehumanization (one's own and the other's) beforehand.
Individual meetings were also held with the victims in order to clarify their doubts and focus their efforts on narrating how the attack changed their lives and how it generated an imposed "link", neither sought nor accepted, with the murderer of their loved ones.
In these cases of criminal mediation, the preparation prior to meeting -long, measured- and the work of the mediation professional become, therefore, crucial to make visible to the victims the real repentance of the perpetrators, which can help them to face their experience -their loss, their grief- in new ways.
In sum, the experiences of these restorative encounters and their reflection in a film like Maixabel lead us to discover something to some extent unexpected: the constructive effects of mediation in places where it did not even seem minimally possible. And, by seeing in them the beneficial power of mediation, we also (re)discover the human capacity to recognize the humanity of the other through words.