Of pintxos and peacemakers
It’s was tough to tear myself away from the pintxos and txakoli in Donostia-San Sebastian’s old town but, thankfully for my training schedule for the upcoming New York marathon, I did come off my holiday in the Basque Country last week to update myself on the beleaguered Basque peace process.
I was particularly pleased to enjoy a lengthy discussion with Arnaldo Otegi, the pre-eminent Basque peacemaker who was released from jail earlier this year after serving a six year sentence for ‘offences’ against the Spanish state which wouldn’t pass muster in any other liberal democracy. No one did more to secure the ETA ceasefire of 2011 than Arnaldo and his imprisonment was condemned by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, among others.
With elections in the offing, the independence movement in Euskadi is championing the cause of a sovereign Basque Country while advocating for movement in the becalmed peace process.
The late Fr Alex Reid told me his own foray into the Basque-Spanish peace process was stymied by the refusal of the authorities in Madrid to engage. Sadly, little has changed in the intervening period, meaning the work of peacemaking and reconciliation is left in a limbo.
However, in the spirit of Martin Luther King’s conviction that “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice”, I have no doubt that the Basque dream of peace, justice and independence will be realised.
Donostia-San Sebastian is the European Capital of Culture this year and was resplendent with celebratory events and new arts and heritage centres. Among those was the stunning Tabakalera, a former tobacco factory transformed into one of the most ambitious contemporary arts centres in Europe.
But it’s not only in the Basque Country that the arts are being used to lift spirits and widen horizons.
I also had a chance today to visit the David Hockney exhibition in the Mac Arts Centre in Belfast. My personal guide was Ireland’s greatest visual artist Robert Ballagh who has just completed one of his own most ambitious paintings of DNA discoverer (with James Watson and, many argue, Rosalind Franklin) Francis Crick. One of the many things which has made Robert Ireland’s most popular artist is his aversion to new technology. He has a website which he doesn’t visit because he has no computer. So while he knew the Guardian had written a piece about his Francis Crick portrait it wasn’t until I showed him the article on my iPhone over brunch that he had seen the coverage. The new work will hang in the Francis Crick Institute, a science research centre, set to open later this year in London.
I look forward tomorrow morning to getting a briefing on political developments since my departure on holiday before commenting on matters which Martin McGuinness has already spoken off with authority. I will then return to a full schedule of engagements in what is set to be another busy but fruitful week.
It’s great to travel but it’s hard to beat the road home.