The exhibition at the Memorial Centre should reflect the history of terrorism in Spain, giving a prominent place to the terrorist group ETA because of its violent protagonism over decades, the number of victims and the effect it had on Spanish society at that time. Jihadist terrorism, pending the availability of a specific centre in Madrid, should also have a strong presence, both because of the scale of the attacks of 11 March 2004 in the Spanish capital and because of the permanent threat hanging over European societies which, according specialists’ forecasts, will continue for a long time.
Nor should we forget the other terrorist groups that have operated in Spain, such as GRAPO, GAL, TLL, EGPGC, etc. Both extreme left and extreme right organisations, nationalist or any other orientation must be represented in the Memorial Centre and their victims must be officially recognised. The Memorial Centre must therefore have a historical dimension based on the need to remember tragic events caused by terrorism, but that historical basis must serve to sustain the educational dimension to which the Memorial Centre also aspires. This educational dimension aims to disseminate the past in order to provoke, especially in young people, an attitude of commitment to human rights and the rejection of violence.
The Memorial Centre’s historical and educational vocation must be compatible with the museum’s emotional dimension. A report prepared by the Committee of Experts stressed that ‘a Memorial Centre is a place of remembrance that should provide the visitor, on the one hand, with knowledge of facts and information about their meaning, and, on the other, be a place of reflection that invites us to share in some way the experience of suffering that is recounted there and also to confront the terrorism that caused it’.
The same report adds that ‘a Memorial Centre brings together history and memories to reconstruct facts as accurately as possible and to extract the moral significance of the past for the present. As a result, in this Victims of Terrorism Memorial Centre, there will be an account of terrorism, the cause of victims, and the responsibilities of those who made it possible will be questioned in order to avoid it happening again’.
The FCMVT is the first memorial centre dedicated to the victims of terrorism in Europe and one of only a few in the world. This uniqueness makes it necessary to strengthen ties with other institutions dedicated to victims of terrorism, such as the 9/11 Memorial in New York, but also with others that are not specifically dedicated to terrorism, but to other serious human rights violations.
The work of the Memorial Centre should also include collaboration with organisations that have similar objectives involving the recognition of victims of terrorism, delegitimising violence, reaffirming human rights, and preventing terrorism.
The initial steps for the future permanent exhibition have already been taken. It will feature a life-size reproduction of the room in which the terrorist group ETA held José Antonio Ortega Lara hostage for 532 days, between 1996 and 1997. The ‘cell’ of the prison officer, released by the Guardia Civil, was a filthy, damp, windowless receptacle hidden under a three-ton machine in an industrial building in Mondragón (Guipúzcoa). The dimensions were 3 metres long by 2.5 m wide and 1.8 m maximum interior height.
The replica of Ortega Lara’s place of captivity will be as realistic as possible. From a glazed roof, visitors will be able to observe from above the harshness of the hole in which ETA held Ortega Lara against his will to the limit of his strength. The permanent exhibition will feature another four sections. One is about the contextualisation of violence, along with another focused on the history of terrorism in Spain and in the world. In addition, it will include information on the most widely known jihadist attacks, such as those of 9/11 in New York. There will also be an emphasis on terrorists, on how they acted and on how they stigmatised their victims. There will also be a space dedicated to police, judicial, citizen and political response. The permanent exhibition will include posters with real images and sounds from threats and demonstrations, together with the testimonies of the victims.
In terms of the museum design, the Memorial Centre’s staff were inspired by museums or places of remembrance related to terrorism or the Holocaust in other countries. Inspiration also came from museums in Spain with other purposes, but with architectural characteristics similar to those of the approximately 3,500-square-metre building in Vitoria. Therefore, visits were made to the Museum of Pilgrimage in Santiago de Compostela, to Holocaust memorials in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany, and to memorials of the different sides of the Northern Ireland conflict. Selecting content and observing how pedagogical work is carried out with school visits and workshops is a whole learning process and a fundamental part of neutralising the legitimising discourse of terrorism.