Controversial Premio Euskadi Awarded to Basque Fugitive Joseba Sarrionandia for Essays

Joseba Sarrionandia
Writer and ETA member Joseba Sarrionandia a month before his escape

Controversial Premio Euskadi Awarded to Basque Fugitive Joseba Sarrionandia for Essays
Basque Government Honors Biscayan Writer but will Retain 18,000 Euro Prize Until Author, an ETA Member who escaped from prison in 1985, regularizes his legal circumstances
El País: Controvertido Premio Euskadi de ensayo para Joseba Sarrionandia
Borja Hermoso reporting from Madrid October 3, 2011

The Basque Country’s Department of Culture today conceded the 2010 Premio Euskadi in Essays to Biscayan poet, essayist, and man of letters Joseba Sarrionandia (born in Iurreta in 1958) for the work Moroak gara behelaino artean?. The whereabouts of Sarrionandia, an ex-ETA member, have been unknown since 1985, when he escaped from a San Sebastian prison in Martutene, where he was serving a 27-year prison sentence for belonging to the terrorist organization. This circumstance has lead the executive branch of the Basque Country – in the hands of the Socialist Party of Euskadi thanks to the support of the Popular Party [its archrival everywhere else in Spain] – to retain the 18,000 euros that come with the prize until the writer regularizes his situation. Sarrionandia previously won the Premio de la Crítica in 1986 and 2001 for narrative in Euskara [the Basque language].

Sarrionandia, better known as Sarri, protagonized a movie-like escape: he hid inside one of the loudspeakers of the singer Imanol, who had come to Martutene Prison to perform a concert. There have been conjectures about his whereabouts ever since; some sources put him in Cuba. Sarrionandia, who has never retracted, first received the Premio de la Crítica for Euskara narrative in 1986 for El tambor y la lluvia (The Drum and The Rain). When he won again in 2001 for El amigo congelado (The Frozen Friend), it caused an enormous controversy, such that the president of the jury, literary critic Miguel García-Posada, said he didn’t know that Sarrionandia was a terrorist.

Respecting the Jury
Today, the Basque government, after making the award public, announced that it respects the five-member jury’s right to judgment in giving the prize to Sarrionandia, “whose literary merits are beyond question.” Nevertheless, the executive branch lead by Patxi López “in coherence with its commitment to law and its firm rejection of terrorism, has major reservations about a prize which it sponsors providing economic aid to a person condemned for membership in the terrorist organization ETA, a fugitive from prison whose whereabouts have been unknown since 1985, and who has never retracted his militancy.” In consequence, “the Basque government accepts the ruling but announces it will retain the economic portion of the prize until the winner completely regularizes his standing before the law.”

Sarrionandia studied philology and was a professor of phonetics at the National University of Distance Education.

The winners of the latest edition of the literary prizes were notified in Vitoria in an appearance with the participation of the Vice Ministers of Linguistic Politics (Lurdes Auzmendi) and Culture (Antonio Rivera). The jury pointed out that Sarrionandia’s work is “a different kind of book” which constitutes “a pluralist and solid essayistic work” with “some historical personalities and reflections over colonial wars, personal confessions and political ideas, curious biographies and incredible scenery, and ideas about languages.”

Explore posts in the same categories: Literature, Politics, Spain, Translations

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