From Socialist Voice, January 2011


The Spanish government and ETA’s ceasefire

The refusal of the Spanish government to accept the terms offered by ETA for a ceasefire does not bode well for the future of the Basque peace process. These terms—based on the Northern Ireland peace process—included an immediate and permanent cessation of all hostilities, the monitoring of the process by an international commission, and talks with Basque separatist representatives to discuss a greater autonomy for the Basque Country (Euskal Herria). ETA also called for an end to the harassment of separatist activists by the state security forces.
     Official reaction to the ETA announcement reflected the belief that the security forces have gained the upper hand on the armed Basque separatist organisation, which is in no position now to pose conditions or make political demands. Attention is drawn to the fact that the incidence of street political violence in the Basque Country fell from more than 1,000 instances in 1996 to 74 last year. Based on the reaction of Spain’s political leaders, unconditional surrender is the only ETA announcement that will now satisfy the Spanish authorities.
     President (Taoiseach) Zapatero of the ruling neo-liberal Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) said that the possibility of talks with ETA was nil. Vice-President (Tánaiste) Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba was clearer: he said that ETA’s announcement was not what the government wanted to hear. Judged on ETA’s ceasefire record, he said, the use of the word “permanent” was meaningless. ETA declared a ceasefire in March 2006 and nine months later caused, without forewarning, an explosion in Barajas Airport at Madrid, killing two workers. The word Rubalcaba wanted to hear, and didn’t, was “irreversible.” He rejected ETA’s proposal for an international commission to monitor the ceasefire, saying that this was a role for the Spanish security forces only.
     According to the chairperson of the Spanish Parliament, José Bono, the only acceptable message from ETA would be that the organisation was dissolving itself and handing its weaponry over to Spanish state security. Regarding negotiations with this “terrorist organisation,” he said: “The Government of Spain doesn’t talk to criminals.”
     Although Batasuna welcomed ETA’s declaration, many of its members were disappointed that its limited nature places their organisation in a quandary. Batasuna (Basque separatism’s illegal political wing) and ETA are related to each other much as Sinn Féin and the IRA. Batasuna’s leadership, and notably the former activist Arnaldo Otegi, realise that the armed struggle has failed and that participation in the political process is the only viable way forward. They wish to put forward candidates in the municipal elections to be held later this year and in the Spanish national elections next year. However, their association with the physical-force organisation ETA debars them from the political process.
     ETA is therefore coming under increasing pressure from Batasuna to unequivocally and definitively reject violence in pursuit of their stated common aim: the establishment of a socialist Basque state. Batasuna’s members are not hopeful that their application for legitimate political status, based on the latest ETA truce announcement, will be successful.
     The question is often asked, Why is the Spanish government unwilling to adopt the “Northern Ireland peace process model,” as adopted by ETA, to resolve the Basque imbroglio? Their official spokespersons are not altogether wrong when they say that the two cases are not comparable. For we are dealing here with two contrasting ideologies, two contrasting methods of managing a multinational bourgeois state: a loose federal association of self-governing units (analogous to the German “länder” model) or a rigidly centralist model, as in multinational France.
     Sinn Féin talked to the British government at a time when the decentralisation of state power was seen, pragmatically, to be the key to a stable political order in multinational Britain. The devolved Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly were side-products of this thinking.
     Official state ideology in multinational Spain, however, is based on the French model, with a denial that the Basques, Catalans or Galicians are separate nations. Unlike the situation in the “United Kingdom,” the answer to attempts to assert the national rights of these nations is intensification of the centralist power of Madrid. The fear of the ruling elite is that any perceived threat to, or diminution of, full Spanish sovereignty in the Basque Country would set a very dangerous precedent for the other regions of Spain that harbour an unresolved national question—most notably for Catalunya, Spain’s richest region, where a combative nationalist government has recently come to power.
     In that context, Batasuna’s present quest for political legitimacy appears to be a forlorn one.

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