On 15th May 2001 Landaburu was seriously injured when a letter-bomb from ETA exploded. The explosion resulted in the amputation of several phalanges of his fingers, the lost of sight in one eye and several scars.  In spite of all this, Gorka Landaburu continued to live in his town and remained a journalist.


Name: Gorka Landaburu Illarramendi

Age: 63 (1951)

Profession: Journalist

Family situation: Married. Two children.

Place of origin: Born in Paris, resident of Zarautz (Gipuzkoa).

GROUP: Threatened.


- Gorka Landaburu was born and grew up in Paris where his family fled into exile, escaping from the Franco regime because his father was a leader in the first Basque Government for the PNV (Basque Nationalist Party).

- He returned to the Basque Country in 1972 and was a member of ETA – VI Assembly until 1975. On returning from France his began his journalistic activities and already in 1983, he received threatening letters from ETA and the far-right group Triple A at Cambio 16, the magazine where he worked. Later in the nineties he saw his name in some threatening graffiti in the streets of his town, Zarautz.
-The pressure and the threats against him in Zarautz increased when he went to demonstrate with Gesto por la Paz (Gesture for Peace) against the kidnapping of Ortega Lara every Monday for a year and a half. Not only did endure banners and satirical posters in front of his house, but they also threw a Molotov cocktail against Landaburu’s home.
- On 15th May 2001 Landaburu was seriously injured when a letter-bomb from ETA exploded. The explosion resulted in the amputation of several phalanges of his fingers, the lost of sight in one eye and several scars.  In spite of all this, Gorka Landaburu continued to live in his town and remained a journalist.


“We were seven children in my family; six boys and one girl and we were all born in France because our father was a leader of the Partido Nacionalista Vasco (Basque Nationalist Party) in Alava and he had to escape when the Civil War arrived after hiding in Vitoria for several months.  Over in France he joined up with the Basque Government, as the PNV leader that he was.  It was in exile in France where my father met my mother, who was from Zarautz. We seven children were born in Paris. Our parents didn’t only have to leave their country because of the Civil War, but also afterwards they had to live through World War II in Paris –where his father was a member of the government of Regional President, Lehendakari Aguirre during the German occupation –surviving bombings and even a visit from the Gestapo who came looking for my father, who was luckily not at home. My father was appointed Vicelehendakari (Regional Vice President) of the Basque Government when Aguirre died at the age of 56 in1960. My father also died at 56 in1963.”

“This is why we children were born in exile. Although we’re culturally French, we`ve maintained our feeling of belonging to the Basque Country. We were French nationals and we didn’t have a Spanish identity card until the arrival of democracy. Until then us children could visit Zarautz and Vitoria but our parents couldn’t go over the border because otherwise they would have shot my father. But we were attached to the country and the family that we had here. Let’s say that for obvious reasons, I had a Basque flag on my baby’s bottle.”

“We always felt committed to freedom and democracy because in France there were both but not in Spain. Some of my siblings returned and others stayed on in Paris. I returned in 1972 when I was 18. We wanted to be involved in a political party and we were but in totally minority groups like ETA – VI Assembly, which was more like an anti-Franco group which I quickly left in 1975 after the dictator Franco’s death. This group wasn’t violent and we didn’t use any weapons. We were just idealists in the anti-Franco fight with Trotskyite tendencies. I realised that it was a minority group that wasn’t going to start a revolution in the Basque Country or in Spain.”

“I’m grateful to France. I’m still French. I consider myself, as I always say, to be first Basque, French and Spanish. What’s more, I always say that I’ve had to live through two dictatorships: Franco’s, thanks to which my father could never return to his native Vitoria –although they we able to transport his body there 25 years after his death–and the ETA dictatorship.”

“My beginnings in journalism coincided with the period when I returned to the Basque Country. My brother Ander was already a journalist for the magazine, Cambio 16. I started to work for Agencia Efe, then Radio Luxemburg…. I practically joined Cambio 16 in 1977 where I still work. What’s more, I’ve worked in parallel with other media such as Radio France. Every morning from Monday till Friday for 20 years of which 90% were during the “years of lead”,  I did a report for that radio station which heavily criticised the terrorist attacks, which I called murders, and the crimes that ETA committed at that time.”

“This was something that ETA never liked, that we used words like ‘crime’, ‘murder’, etc. Proof of this was when in1983 ETA sent us a letter in which it disapproved of the terms that we used about the attacks in the magazine Cambio16. They told us that we had to change our language. This letter forced us to go over to the other side, crossing the border to San Juan de Luz. We went to a bar there belonging to Juan José Etxabe. At the end of the meeting they told us that we should be aware of the consequences if we didn’t change our vocabulary, so when we left we were very worried.”

“It just so happens that the following week, we got another letter from the far-right, from the Triple A. In that letter they picked on my brother Ander, the photographer Josu Bilbao and me and they said that we were communists and that we had criticised Tejero too much for the coup d’état and that they were going to burn the magazine’s headquarters in Bilbao and kill the three of us. I remember the signature at the end; it read ‘Hitler was right. Triple A.’ When we got threats from ETA and the far-right in such difficult times, plagued with killings, you could think that we were on the right path. We carried on doing what we always did, despite the threats: condemning injustices and defending human rights with our pens or typewriters which were the only things we had at that time.”

“Another violent episode I lived through was I think in 1984 when I went with the photographer Jon Bilbao to cover a demonstration by political refugees against GAL (Antiterrorist Liberation Groups). We were surprised to see a police cordon at the end of the demonstration which stopped the protest moving forward.  As journalists, we are normally at the front of a demonstration. Suddenly, about 20 fanatics who were close to ETA came up to us and lynched us. I had to go over to the police telling them that I was French until they finally listened to us and we could escape. We left to take refuge in a bar and four of the demonstrators came up behind us to ask for the roll of film, showing us they had a gun but they didn’t pull it out. It was a very tense moment.”

“Previously, there had also been some threats against my brother Ander, who was the first journalist to be threatened in this country. He had to get out for a while and went to Catalonia and later he was a correspondent in Mexico, Paris and Brussels for Group 16.  The first serious threats occurred when Ander published an article in Cambio 16 that reported on the so-called `revolutionary tax´ in Bilbao’s old town: how those within ETA charged this by using envelopes that were sent to hotel and restaurant owners in that area. They put up a banner which read ‘Landaburu, Rosón –Minister for the Interior at that time–, Bandrés, what a trio´.”

“There’s been a lot of fear in the Basque Country. I spoke on the radio every day and they listened to me from the French Basque Country because I did features.  Neither my brother nor I think we are heroes, nor do some other journalists who spoke up in the eighties. But there were very few journalists then who dared to say that a murder was a murder, instead of an act of liberation for the Basque people.  Here there was a like a silence, a sort of ‘cowardice’ among the majority of the people and political parties too. Some more than others. I remember going to cover the funerals of the ones murdered and seeing that the streets were empty, or the balconies were closed, it was raining, with the relevant Minister there and them putting the coffin in the direction of the native land of the Civil Guard or person who they had killed…Then there were cheers and applause and that was the end of the story, until the next day.”

“In 1984, when my brother left to go to the Mexican office, I took control of the Basque Country office of Cambio 16, which was the most important magazine in Spain at that time. We were journalists, we had to be on the front line and we assumed that role, without backing out, in order to defend democracy. In those eighties, after those threats, ETA did not threaten us as much as when you walked down the street and they shot you with their looks in the town. Journalists received threats at the beginning of the eighties, they killed the journalist Portell in 1978, and there was a far-right attack on the magazine El Papus… There were also attacks on representatives of the newspaper Egin. From 1984 until more or less 1996 no journalists were directly threatened.”

“In the nineties ETA started threatening various sectors of society; now they didn’t just go after police officers, Civil Guards, soldiers or businessmen that they kidnapped. We journalists began to experience the ´socialisation of suffering´ and started to receive letters and bombs.  By several of us threatened journalists meeting up together, it took a lot, but we managed to bring together a good hundred journalists at the Ercilla Hotel in Bilbao towards the end of the nineties to protest against the direct threats from the world of Batasuna (`Unity´ political party) as well as more indirectly from ETA.  The threats continued and we demonstrated at the ‘Peine del Viento’ (Wind Comb) sculpture in San Sebastian, where there were a few demonstrations after some attacks, among them, the one on me.”

“In the nineties the pressure increased a lot, not only from ETA, but also from people who were informers and supplied information.  Some graffiti appeared around Zarautz that read ‘Landaburu kanpora’ (Out with Landaburu), that my son Aritz, who was 18 at the time, saw.  The graffiti did bother me but it was more that my son saw it or saw it with his friends. I called the town council and it took them three days to remove them. Later on there was also graffiti depicting targets at home. They appeared at the side of the front door and there were also others at the pier in Zarautz.”

“Every Monday for a year and a half, between 20 and 40 of us went with Gesto por la Paz to demonstrate with a banner against the kidnapping of Ortega Lara. But opposite us, were another 40 or 50 from Batasuna, just a few meters away because the street where we protested was very narrow.  They insulted us, took photos….. The tension increased from then on. Sometimes my wife would ask me if a black tie that had appeared in the letterbox was mine, or some keys… We started getting telephone calls in the early hours of the morning and I tried to downplay their importance.  In 98 and 99, during demonstrations that went past my house, I appeared on a banner which read ‘Lumadun txakurra’ (Journalistic swine), they threw out satirical leaflets which called for a boycott of the Spanish press… And one night they threw a Molotov cocktail against my home, which we luckily didn’t even notice. They also threw paint.”

“From 1999 on, after being assigned surveillance for a period, the Ministry of Interior called me to say that they were going to give me bodyguard protection because my name was on ETA’s lists.  When I walked through Zarautz I noticed the looks but I never looked down; I looked them straight in the eyes.  Most of the time it was they who looked down.  I felt quite scared, I checked under the car, I told the family to wait outside when I got the car out… but I tried to de-dramatise it.  You never think it will happen to you. Although before the attack I did rebel a bit.  I’ve run up against Batasuna leaders in the street, telling them that if they were brave, they would have been the ones who threw Molotov cocktails instead of the youngsters they told to do it. You could see that many of these youngsters looked at me with hatred, almost without knowing who I was, they had poisoned them.  Others in the town, who are threatened such as Patxi Elola, just like me, haven’t given an inch.”

“First I had one bodyguard. After the attack, two. This put you in a situation. I’ve stayed at home a lot of Sundays. I practically always had the same bodyguards for the whole week and they had no rest.  Often I would go home and call them so that even if it was just to pick up some bread for me, they could clock in, because if they didn’t clock in they didn’t pay them. But after, I decided to live a normal life.  If I had to go out with my group of friends to have a few glasses of wine I did, although I know that there was one who looked sideways when the bodyguards came in. But it was soon cleared up. I tried to live my life in a normal way and that it didn’t harm me. My fight was against it changing my life.”

“The ETA attack on me happened on 15th May 2001. Two days prior to it there had been regional elections which Ibarretxe won. On that day I was in Bilbao covering the election night. We finished at four o’clock in the morning and I stayed at my brother’s house. Then the next afternoon, I returned to the office where I worked in San Sebastian and after an interview, I went home accompanied by the bodyguard.  At home I collected the post which was checked beforehand by the bodyguard. I looked and it was a normal parcel, just like the one I received every month from the organisation Elkargi. I normally opened the post on the sofa next to my daughter. But on that day I didn’t open it and I left it on top of the table in my office.  I didn’t open it right then because I was tired after the elections and had slept very little. So I left it for the following day.”

“On the 15th I got up and was alone at home. When I got out of the shower, I had forgotten my towel and when I went to fetch one, I don’t know why I opened the envelope when I saw it right at that moment. The envelope exploded in my hands. I was dazed but I didn’t lose consciousness. I went downstairs to go to the bathroom, I looked at myself in the mirror and saw blood everywhere.  I opened the door with my elbow to go to my neighbour’s house and told him to call an ambulance. I didn’t feel anything much then. The bodyguard was waiting below at that moment. Suddenly he came up and when he saw me, the poor thing nearly started crying with a sort of feeling of guilt because he realised that it had been the envelope. The ambulance came and took me to hospital where they operated on me and where I was for 15 days. ”

“I was lucky because when I opened the envelope, an armchair that was nearby absorbed part of the blast wave, although the explosion destroyed my hands and left me blind in one eye. At the trial it came out that there were 120-150 grammes of dynamite in the envelope.  I wouldn’t normally be here now, nor would my daughter if she had of been next to be on the sofa.”

“The first reaction I had was to think ‘They got me’. The attack left me with physical after-effects in my hands. It damaged three phalanges and my thumb disappeared on my left hand. I was blinded in my left eye, I’ve got scars… But I said it in hospital; I said that the only thing that they gained was to reaffirm my beliefs to carry on and that they weren’t going to kick me out of this country. They destroyed my hands, they made me blind, they gave me scars all over my body but they made a mistake because they didn’t cut out my tongue, and I’m a journalist. It was clear for me that I had to go after them, that we were going to win over them and that they weren’t going to impose their dictatorship in the Basque Country.”

“I had to stay in hospital for 15 days where they operated on my hands four times. They also operated on my eye twice in Barcelona. My eye’s ok, it hangs down a bit but at least it withstands. After, I also had to go daily to rehabilitation for six months because I lost all sense. I had to learn to do several things again, like writing. ”

“When I had recovered I went back to work. I directed Cambio 16 again and started a magazine in Basque. I spoke out against all the violence, defended human rights, if it’s necessary to speak out against torture I do that too, as we have done at the time. As a final result: it has basically all changed since ETA disappeared.”

“My strong beliefs remained, even though I was worried, like my wife, my children etc. You see that now there are people who start to recognise you, give you a hug… People from the other side who you can see don’t agree either. I remember a friend from Batasuna telling me that he didn’t agree but he didn’t say so in his party.”

“After the attack the situation calmed down. Yes, there was more graffiti but I think they daren’t pick on me. Things started changing little by little from 2001, and there began to be fewer attacks because of the situation in general in which the police were all over them and rejection was greater. The feeling I have is that a lot of time has been wasted, with a lot of tragedies, many deaths and I can plainly say, from both sides. We wasted a wonderful time in the Basque Country for 30 or 40 years and people have left us and will never be back. That is the saddest thing. That is why we have to carry on acknowledging them, talking, remembering them.  Without taking vengeance, just simply telling the story of what happened.”

“Life continued as normal, although it was never normal because I lived in semi-freedom with bodyguards, until after the communiqué from ETA in 2012. It was always necessary for me to call the bodyguards to let them know if I was going to go out or not.  I remember I sometimes escaped and went out on my own, telling them I was going out. It was a hassle to be always waiting for two men to come and pick me up from work or come before going out at the weekend. Suddenly getting rid of this weight was a great relief. I can finally go out to get cigarettes, a newspaper or bread when I fancy, without having to wait for them to come and pick me up. I can improvise and I don’t have to organise all the plans. It is a great freedom that we’ve got back.”

“My current plan is to carry on living and working and try to contribute to moving towards coexistence. I’m not talking about reconciliation, like others, but about living together. When I’ve spoken to leaders from the nationalist left I tell them that it’s time for making gestures, not declarations.  It’s necessary to move forward politically.  It’s not a question of wiping the slate clean. I say that you must read the page before you turn it over.”

“I’ve met with prison inmates in the Vía Nanclares programme who want to meet me again. I have told them that I accept their request for pardon. Two of the ones in the meeting told me that they were in the commando unit that tried to kill me, but hadn’t participated directly in the attack. I thanked them for telling me. They are at the phase where they have repented and gone down a route that most haven’t and I´m going to try to help them. But now we are going to work to be at peace and recover lost time so that what has happened never happens again. So everyone has to contribute a bit. Remembrance, justice and reparation have to be worked on.  It’s necessary to tell what happened and that it’s not forgotten. But some have to do more homework than others; those from the world of ETA and nationalist left.  How do you say it ‘welcome, the world of democracy, but don’t push your way in.”