Patria: What you need to know about the new HBO series Spain has been waiting for

A new HBO series tackles Spain's taboo over Basque separatists ETA.

Patria: What you need to know about the new HBO series Spain has been waiting for
Still from the series Patria. Photo: HBO

Ten years after the separatist group ETA renounced its armed struggle, few will speak of the bloody campaign that ravaged Spain's Basque country, but a new TV series is hoping to shatter that taboo.

With the conflict still an open wound, HBO's “Patria” – a highly anticipated adaptation of a novel of the same name by Spanish writer Fernando Aramburu – hits the small screen on Sunday in Spain and across the Americas.

“The wound, because it is so deep, will take time to heal. The Basque Country has not forgotten ETA,” says Gorka Landaburu, a Basque journalist who lost several fingers and an eye when he opened a letter bomb sent by the group.

ETA's symbol — a snake wrapped around the handle of an axe — is no longer seen on the walls of villages in the region, but at a bend on one mountain road, a scrawl of graffiti demands the release of a Basque militant while another calls for “a full amnesty”.

But across the region, a conspiracy of silence enshrouds the memories with few prepared to open up about a bloody and painful era that many would prefer to forget.

“There is a taboo,” says Ana Aizpiri, whose brother Sebastian died two ETA bullets to the back of the head in 1988, “a blanket of silence that extends even to the dining table”.

“No-one mentions that empty chair,” she said.

Archive photo showing a mural in the Basque town of Hernani in 2006. Photo: AFP


But Sunday's pilot episode of “Patria” is hoping to shatter that silence with a televised version of a novel about the families whose lives were shattered by the violence of ETA.

“It is a very sensitive subject, the wounds remain open and we still have not managed to digest” the years of terror, Aitor Gabilondo, screenwriter and executive producer of “Patria”, told AFP after a screening of the eight-part series at the San Sebastian film festival.

Spanish actor Ane Gabarain (L), director Aitor Gabilondo and actor Elena Irureta pose wearing face masks on the red carpet before the screening of “Patria” during the 68th San Sebastian Film Festival. Photo: AFP

Scars that need healing

For 40 years, the bloody violence engulfed the Basque Country, a region which is home to just 2.2 million people.

Formed in 1959 by a group of frustrated nationalist students, ETA waged a decades-long campaign for Basque independence in northern Spain and southwestern France that killed an estimated 853 people.

But its attacks were countered by violence from far-right groups and shadowy death squads such as the state-sponsored Anti-terrorist Liberation Groups (GAL) — which emerged in the 1980s — that between them killed dozens of ETA militants.

After declaring a permanent ceasefire in 2011, ETA began surrendering weapons in 2017 before disbanding completely in May 2018.   

“Terrorism, violence and blackmail may have disappeared but there are still scars that need to be healed. It will be a long process before we can live together,” says Landaburu.

The idea of coexistence is one that sticks in the throats of many here.   

“In the Basque Country, we used terrorism against each other,” reflects Eduardo Mateo Santamaria of the Fernando Buesa Foundation for peace.   

“Those who fired the gun, who placed the bombs are your neighbours living opposite, your family, your own people.”

Breaking the silence

Ane Muguruza, whose father Josu was a lawmaker for ETA's political wing who was murdered in 1989 by far-right militants, also wants to be recognised as a victim.

“They killed my father seven days before I was born and my mother was tortured. My family has suffered state violence in its very flesh,” says the 30-year-old.

“How can we say we're at peace when the state continues taking revenge on ETA,” she asks, pointing to Madrid's policy of keeping ETA prisoners locked up far from the Basque Country.

For the past 18 years, Xochitl Karasatorre has only ever seen her father, a former ETA militant, inside the visitors' room at a prison in France.   

“ETA laid down its weapons and since then years have passed but the situation of the prisoners has still not been normalised,” says the 26-year-old, who did not want to say why her father was jailed.

“It is very complicated to talk about reconciliation when one side has not made any steps towards the other, ” says Joseba Azkarraga of Sare which lobbies on behalf of the prisoners.

A peace activist for nearly 25 years, Edorta Martinez is hoping the younger generation will end the unspoken oath of silence.

“The young people, those 25 and under, are totally ignorant of what happened. They ask questions but these are conversations you have in private,” he told AFP.   

“We must not make the same mistake as with the civil war (1936-1939),” said Martinez of the years in which the violence of the conflict and the ensuing dictatorship was not openly discussed for fear of provoking a spiral of score-settling.

“We must not wait 70 years before looking back.”


Before the series even hit the screens it was already stirring controversy with a furore over promotional posters that placed a victim of the terrorist group alongside a member of ETA being tortured in prison –  a juxtaposition which some argued placed the victim and perpetrator on equal footing. 

Even the author of the book on which the series was based distanced himself from the marketing campaign, which arguably just represented the overarching theme of the drama; that there are two sides to every story.

What to expect: 

This is not a documentary or even a history lesson on the armed conflict that blighted Spain for almost half a century. Rather it tells the fictional story of ordinary people caught up in a long conflict that makes them all victims of the tragedy. 

Where is it filmed?

The series centres on a fictional town in the Basque Country but was filmed in real locations within San Sebastián, Elgoibar, Soraluze and Madrid. 

How to watch it: 

Each episode of the 8-part series lasts one hour with the first two episodes shown one after the other on HBO in Spain on Sunday September 27th, although the channel have yet to announce the time it will be available to stream. Thereafter, one episode will be released each week.

The series will  be rolled out across Europe, the US and Latin America.

For those in Spain who don't want to subscribe to HBO, the terrestrial channel Telecinco will show the first episode on Tuesday September 29th 




Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Discover 13 of France’s most beautiful villages, plus the town the French love the best

Every year, the TV channel France 3 runs a competition to find the best-loved villages in France. It's one of the most popular events of the TV calendar, attracting around 2 million viewers, and it's also a great way to discover some more off-the-beaten track places to visit in France. So here are the 14 finalists for 2021.

Discover 13 of France's most beautiful villages, plus the town the French love the best
Photo: Jean-Pierre Clatot/AFP

The final of Le village préféré des français (France’s favourite village) was screened earlier in the summer, but we reckon that each of the 14 finalists are well worth a visit.

1 Hérisson – Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes

Its name means hedgehog in French, but locals say there will be no spiky welcome for people who come to see the many historic treasures of this village, from the remains of the 10th century castle overlooking the village to its Roman remains and village houses dating from the 13th century.

The village is situated deep in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in eastern France, which is less well known for tourists but well worth a visit to explore its stunning scenery and many excellent cheeses.

READ ALSO 10 reasons to visit Auvergne

Villerville in Normandy is a popular holiday spot, but a lot less busy than nearby Deauville. Photo: JOEL SAGET / AFP

2 Châteauneuf – Bourgogne-Franche-Comté

This medieval village is generally agreed to be one of France’s prettiest, with its limestone houses huddling beneath a 12th century castle.

Situated in Burgundy wine country, it’s also close to the beautiful Morvan natural park.

READ ALSO Morvan: Why you should visit one of France’s most beautiful and least-known areas

3 Île d’Houat – Brittany

This tiny island off the Quiberon peninsula of Brittany is just 4km in length and has 230 inhabitants. There are no cars on the island, which is all the better to enjoy the peace, long sandy beaches and wildlife. The island was classified as a Natura 200 zone due to its unspoiled wilderness.

Nearby is the slightly larger island of Belle-Île-en-Mer if you fancy an island-hopping trip.

READ ALSO The 20 essential maps to understand Brittany

The circular wash house in Auvillar, south west France. Photo: PASCAL PAVANI / AFP

4 Sancerre – Centre-Val-de-Loire (the winner)

This is the heart of wine country and Sancerre is best known for the white wine of the same name. Surrounded by 3,000 hectares of vineyards, the village itself perches on a hilltop around the remains of a medieval castle.

There is also the House of Sancerre visitor centre which tells you more about how the wines are made, and a local goat’s cheese that goes particularly well with a glass of wine.

Maybe it was the wine-cheese combination, but Sancerre was the winner of the public vote and is now officially France’s favourite village (until next year, when the competition starts all over again).

5 Saint-Florent – Corsica

This former fishing port in the north of the island of Corsica shows much of the influence of the Genose who ruled the island before it became French territory in 1768, in particular the large coastal citadel.

It also has beautiful beaches.

6 Rocroi – Grand Est

This village, right on the Belgian border, is arranged in a highly unusual star shape around its 17th century fortress – the only village apart from Palmanova in Italy to have such well-preserved star-shaped fortifications and layout.

It is in the beautiful Ardennes national park and close to Belgium so combines well with a trip over the border to sample beer and chocolate.

7 Le Désirade – Gaudeloupe 

This 21km island lies off the coast of the French overseas territory of Gaudeloupe and has the white sandy beaches and coral reefs common to that part of the world. The island is also criss-crossed with hiking trails which are the best way to see its lush vegetation and diverse fauna before heading to the beach for a cocktail. 

8 Long – Hauts de France 

This village in northern France is located next to marshland which is described as a ‘fisherman’s paradise’. In the marsh you can also see the wild Camargue horses from the Camargue marshes in southern France as well as numerous other wildlife.

It’s also the site of one of France’s first hydroelectric power stations.

The architecture on Corsica shows the island’s Italian past. Photo: PASCAL POCHARD-CASABIANCA / AFP

9 Samois-sur-Seine – Île-de-France

An easy day-trip from Paris, this village borders the Fontainebleau forest and contains the former home of writers Châteaubriant, Alfred de Musset and George Sand. 

As the name suggests, it sits on the banks of the Seine, which offers some spots with a lovely view to enjoy a glass of wine in.

10 Villerville – Normandy 

The neighbouring Normandy towns of Deauville and Honfleur are much better known and, correspondingly, much busier during the summer season, but this small former fishing village perched on the clifftop is just as pretty.

It’s been a favourite haunt for artists over the years including musician Gabriel Fauré, the singer Mistinguett and the playwright Georges Feydeau and if you’re a fan of old French movies you might recognise it as the setting for Un Singe en hiver with Jean Gabin and Jean-Paul Belmondo.

11 Domme – Nouvelle Aquitaine 

This is a bastide, a fortified village from the 13th century that is perched 200m over the Dordogne river. As well as being exceptionally pretty with well-preserved fortifications, the village also has the region’s largest caves with an impressive collection of stalacmites and stalactites.

It’s in Périgord, which is duck country and the local cuisine is heavily based on duck and foie gras and is also delicious.

The village of Auvillar is on the Santiago de Compostella pilgrim route. Photo: PASCAL PAVANI / AFP

12 Auvillar – Occitanie

Auvillar was, until the 19th century, an important river trading post, after which it sank into obscurity. This combination has given it some impressive historic buildings – including the boat masters’ houses in the village centre – which have been well preserved as the village gradually became a backwater. 

It’s still a stopover point on the Santiago de Compostella pilgrim route, so you will see travellers heading though the village on their way to Spain, some of whom do the pilgrimage the traditional way with donkeys.

13 Fresnay-sur-Sarthe – Pays de la Loire

The village forms one of the ‘gateways’ to the Normandie-Maine natural park, this is another fortified village – originally a town build on the hemp trade (cloth, not cannabis). It also has a 9th century castle keep.

14 Saint-Véran – Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur

No, the health minister didn’t get sainthood, this is a village perched in the Alps on the French-Italian border – it’s the highest commune in Europe at 2,042m above sea level.

Unsurprisingly its views are stunning and it is popular with tourists in both winter and summer, especially as the village has kept its traditional centre with a communal bread oven, fountains and church that is a historic monument.

If these have inspired you to do some exploring, you can also check out the shortlists from the favourite village competitions in 2020 and 2019