In the last few months the abertzale (left wing Basque Independentism) movement has publicly expressed their commitment to continue their claim for independence exclusively by democratic means. That refers to a willingness to end ETA and terrorism in the Basque country.
This process has been influenced by many factors, ETA has never been weaker, Spain’s police fight against ETA has proven very successful and its supports within Basque society are fewer than ever. On top of that, in the international scene Spain is perceived as a democratic country and to pursue political claims through terrorism is not understood or tolerated any more.
This has set the goal of independence of the Basque Country further than ever before in the last several decades. Also, the whole process might have been influenced by the events happened during the last year in Catalonia showing the progresses towards independence that have been made through democratic means.
Back in March the Declaration of Brussels was presented. In that declaration 21 leaders specialised in conflict resolution and peace processes, amongst them 4 Nobel Prizes, from South Africa and Northern Ireland, appealed to ETA to declare a permanent and verifiable ceasefire and offered their mediation in the conflict. While this should have been celebrated by Spain, this declaration was largely ignored by the Spanish media and Government.
ETA has declared ceasefires in the past that have been broken but this time there seems to be a difference, especially now that the abertzale movement is committed with democracy. Four days ago, ETA made a statement and committed themselves to the Declaration of Brussels, appealing to the international mediators to cooperate and analyse the steps to take towards a permanent and verifiable ceasefire. This was preceded by a video sent to the BBC a few days ago where they announced a ceasefire.
The Spanish, on the other hand, have so far replied to these statements aggressively, claiming that this ceasefire doesn’t mean anything, that they are not interested in international mediation (link in catalan) and that they will not enter any kind of negotiation with ETA. All the Spanish expect is a unilateral dissolution of ETA without any concessions.
International opinion, like the Financial Times, have expressed that even though it’s not surprising that the Spanish government disbelieves ETA’s announcement a verifiable and permanent ending of violence should lead, for instance, to the legalization of the abertzale political parties which would, at the same time, make it more difficult for ETA to continue its activity by withdrawing its remaining supports.
However, there’s an explanation for why the Spanish seem so reluctant to cooperate to end the armed conflict. Spain have not hesitated for a second to use the presence of terrorism to their political advantage to continue their colonialist task and this has reported many votes to the Spanish parties which have, for instance, used the victims to their political benefit.
As perverse as it sounds, Spanish politicians have been benefiting greatly from the armed conflict and have set the conflict in a very comfortable scenario since they’ve passed laws to illegalize abertzale political parties, shut Basque newspapers down (the Egunkaria case has recently finished, everyone was absolved, but the damage is done), initiatives that have been unseen for a long time in Western Europe. They have also spread the idea that all Basque independentism (and even moderate nationalism) equals supporting terrorism. All this has led so far to an unnatural Spanish nationalist government in the Basque Country through a coalition of PSOE with PP since a significant percentage of Basque voters have been left without a choice to vote.
The Spanish are aware that an eventual ending of the violence will expose the conflict to democracy, an uncomfortable situation for them. A first consequence of the ending of ETA would be to never again be in the Basque government and eventually the real possibility in the short to midterm of The Basque Country’s independence from Spain by democratic means.
The international opinion is starting to realise that behind this attitude there is not so much the reluctancy to negotiate with terrorists but the perverse unwillingness to cease the violent conflict so as not to stop the political advantages this situation yields Spain.
As an example of double standards by the Spanish Government when it comes to terrorism, a few weeks ago the Spanish government paid several million euros ransom to Al Qaeda and freed some captured terrorists in exchange for 3 aid workers kidnapped in November 2009 in Mauritania (link in Catalan). This was criticised because all that money will go straight into funding terrorism and also collides with other countries’ policies, such as France, which refuse to pay ransoms in these cases.
This will set a dangerous precedent and become a threat anybody traveling or living abroad holding a Spanish passport. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated example, there are other similar cases which have happened recently where the lack of negotiation skills and firm attitude form the Spanish Government have set dangerous precedents in dealing with international terrorism.
Therefore, Spain seems to have no problem bending to terrorist demands when they don’t interfere with their internal politics. Let’s hope that both sides make an effort to end the conflict so that this time ETA’s violence is finally ended. I think international mediation such as the one offered by the signers of the Declaration of Brussels should be accepted since it can be a key factor to guarantee that, at last, all political claims are channeled through democratic means from now on in the Basque Country.