Navarra, Spain – Pictured counterclockwise (Bottom Left) – David Miranda, Emily Fox, Daisy Martinez, Gabriela Taveras, Lauren Greenwood, Erin Dobbs (Top Left) Marie Leone, Daniel Garay, Dr. Borislava Manojlovic, Antton Maya, Hung-Yiu Wong, Kevin Princic (Not Pictured – Devika Topiwala, Ryan Tonra, Ava Ikbal, Engy Beskal)
Bilbao, Spain – Fourteen Graduate and Undergraduate students from Seton Hall University led by Dr. Borislava Manojlovic and Antton Maya, a Ph.D Candidate, recently returned from an academic study tour to Bilbao, Spain as an experiential education exercise to introduce students to the actors and institutions that address the region's contentious past.
The Basque country, from the 1960's until 2011 was under a constant threat of terrorist attacks by the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), a separatist nationalist left wing paramilitary group. The ETA purported to want independence for the Basque Country from Spain. Their communication methods however, involved assassinations, kidnappings, and shootings of prominent government officials. Similar to the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the group believed that political violence was necessary to achieve the goal of independence. After the death of Spanish General and Dictator Francisco Franco, ETA attacks intensified, and other paramilitary groups, such as GAL (Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberacion), added to the violence. Although the conflict ended with a ceasefire in 2011, the Basque country is currently in a state of post-conflict reconstruction and reconciliation. The Spanish and French governments have taken a different official approach with respect to recognizing the conflict, payment of repatriations for victims of terrorist acts, reconciliation efforts, and acknowledgement of human right violations.
The Diplomacy students were part of a unique experience afforded only to selected individuals, who wished to gain an understanding of critical post-conflict issues and processes. Dr. Manojlovic, an expert in conflict analysis and resolution with significant experience working with the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in conflict areas such as Kosovo, Croatia and Bosnia, developed and led the intensive nine-day program in the Basque Country and Navarre. Dr. Manojlovic had this to say about the overall trip, "The study abroad experience in the Basque Country has been both an intense and rewarding experience for students. It is a unique opportunity for students of international relations and diplomacy to learn from people on the ground about the initiatives and processes of post conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding."
Students met with former and current high level Basque Country officials including Juan Jose Ibarretxe, the former President of the Basque Country; world renowned Artist Jesus Mari Lazkano; Senators of the Government of Navarre and members of the Basque Parliament; the Regional Minister for Citizen and Institutional Relations of the Government of Navarre, Ana Ollo Hualde; The Secretary General of Peace and Coexistence for the Basque Government, Jonan Fernandez Erdozia; and a variety of additional political organizations. The topics of these meetings centered on reconstruction and reconciliation efforts and initiatives implemented by the organizations and individuals. Each meeting offered an invaluable perspective on the position of the government, civil society, victims and political actors.
The delegation was also accompanied by Antton Maya, a Ph.D. candidate in Public Law in the Université de Pau et des pays de l'Adour (UPPA - Bayonne) and the University of the Basque country (EHU/UPV – Bilbao). His research is focused on transitional justice and dealing with the past (Spanish Civil War and Franco regime) in the Basque country. Antton, who helped coordinate many of the study seminar meetings and activities, had this to say about the diplomacy students and the overall experience, "Students had the privilege to meet high-level scholars, politicians, victims and other civil society members. They heard very different narratives, which provided them with insights about the Basque political situation and ongoing peace processes." Towards the end of the trip, two Seton Hall University students had an opportunity to speak about the trip and their impressions of the Basque Country on Onda Vasca, a Spanish and Basque radio station.
David Miranda, a graduate student and Army veteran was an enthusiastic participant, both during the on-air conversation and throughout the trip, as the topics related closely to work he accomplished overseas helping to rebuild Afghanistan. In his radio interview, he reflected on how coexistence and reconciliation were obviously still very sensitive issues for many - both for the Basque government and victims of terrorist attacks. He was also very optimistic, stating that "there is still much work to be done for both victims of terrorist attacks and those who have renounced the violence, but, I hope that with time and effort everyone can achieve peace - always keeping in mind that you are Basque first."
Another Diplomacy student, Gabriela Taveras, who worked as an intern with the United Nations Dominican Republic Mission was encouraged by the experience. She stated, "I have been very impressed with the different methods that the [Basque] government, political organizations, activists and others have taken while seeking common objectives… all have empathy, justice and truth."
As the Basque society continues to make important steps toward lasting peace, Seton Hall's Diplomacy students and alumni may very well be important interlocutors in this process. After all, their motto is "Diploforlife."
Categories: Nation and World