Spain: Is An End To Eta Imminent?

“The insurgents in Iraq are very violent, but you defeat them not just through military effort,” Ms. Rice told reporters traveling with her on Sunday. “You defeat them by having a political alternative that is strong.” Now, she added, Iraqi leaders are “going to have to intensify their efforts to demonstrate that in fact the political process is the answer for the Iraqi people.”

These words from US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, which are extremely welcome as the daily death toll in Iraq only continues to emphasise the need to break the spiral, also has a resonance somewhere nearer home: in Spain, where tomorrow the Spanish parliament are to debate a motion which may be a major step in bring the epoch of ETA inspired violence to an end.

But not everyone is happy.

Spanish Premier Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero assured yesterday he is ready to “make political effort” to reach peace in the Basque Autonomous Region “if there is a chance”. Zapatero denied the government is in contact with ETA, describing as hypocrites those who accuse him of creating false hopes.

Peace is “closer and closer” the Spanish Premier said. “There are more people who want peace, and fight for peace”, he stated. Afterwards he denied the government was negotiating with ETA.
Source eitb24

“On Tuesday the infamy will be complete,” conservative columnist Alfonso Uss?a commented in La Raz?n yesterday. “Spain is falling apart and slipping through our hands.” More importantly People’s Party opposition leader Mariano Rajoy (the successor to Jos? Maria Aznar has accused Mr Zapatero of “betraying the dead”.

Zapatero’s crime: wanting to find a political alternative in the Basque Country that is strong enough to bring about the final abandonment of arms by ETA.

Indeed Zapatero’s position is much better than Rice’s: Spain’s home-grown insurgents are effectively defeated (yesterdays four bombs were more a show of weakness than a show of strength). The problem is now to bring about a political resolution of the Basque situation which makes it impossible for even the most resolute of ETA’s supporters to continue. Achieving this is not easy.

In some ways there is an effective deadlock with Zapatero demanding a formal abandonment of arms before any talks with pro-Eta political party Batasuna, and Batasuna demanding political ‘concessions’ as terms for making an explicit condemnation of violence.

So Zapatero is taking a risk. Something is needed to break the log jam. I think he is right to take this risk, and I admire him for it. More lamentable is the opposition view that, effectively, there is no need for a political process to accompany the military strategy.

Perhaps the longest lasting consequence of the March 11 tragedy in Spain is the recognition that faced with all the challenges of international terrorism, the Basque dispute is something which can be ill afforded. A solution is possible, Zapatero is right to go for it.

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About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

11 thoughts on “Spain: Is An End To Eta Imminent?

  1. It’s nice to see Zapatero taking this step. Too many people in Spain have swallowed the Francoist delusions of a unitary Spain. It’s good to see Zapatero throwing this off.

    Hopefully, Zapatero is serious about ending some of the provocations, like the splitting of Alava and the ridiculous linguistic policies in Navarre.

    One more nice result of the defeat of the post-fascists in the Spanish elections.

  2. Hektor, Zapatero seems, to me, serious in his will to find a better structure for Spain. That does not means he can achieve it. The opposition is strong even in his own party. And while I am no sure of your meaning, the case of Alava and Navarre have their own roots and little relation to central government. To be sure a PP government would foster a worse situation.

    DSW

  3. Hi Antoni,

    Nice to see you back :).

    “serious in his will to find a better structure for Spain. That does not means he can achieve it.”

    I completely agree. But let’s take it one step at a time first. Getting Eta out of the picture would be a big big step, if he can pull it off. It is probably hard for people outside Spain to realise just how important this will be in creating a climate which is sufficiently relaxed to address all the other issues.

    That nothing here is going to be easy is illustrated today (and in addition to those four bombs at the weekend) by the Gridlock in the Basque parliament itself where votes are tied 33-33 (with the ‘quasi Batasuna’ deputies abstaining) over attempts to agree a chairman (speaker) for the parliament.

  4. “Nice to see you back :).”

    Thanks.

    “I completely agree. But let?s take it one step at a time first. Getting Eta out of the picture would be a big big step, if he can pull it off. […]”

    I agree on the need to make steps, even if only one at a time. I have the feeling that last year 11M attentates have been a hard reverse for terrorists in Spain. That it took away a lot of support for terrorist acts that had been going on since the “Transici?n”.

    What worries me now is that Rajoy has not been able to shun out Aznar party puppets. The PP seem to go for an “I want it all and I want it now” strategy that is bound to fail. It is sad because there are people in the PP that in my view would be better as allies to Rajoy. Some times even Fraga is more atuned to the times. Piqu? in Catalonia has done a better work than I would have credited him. And in Madrid Gallard?n can position himself a the PP future, if he can escape from the burden that are been put on him by Aznar wife and Aguirre.

    Now if Maragall stops having exceedingly genial ideas…

    DSW

  5. He’ll find he’s just feeding their intransigence. Why would they depart from the shining example offered by the IRA?

  6. Hi Antoni,

    I agree that it will be a hard slog, but I’m glad Zapatero is trying to achieve it.

    What I mean about Alava, is the strange setup where a small part of historical Alava is actually administered by a neighboring province. It seems like a deliberate provocation, as do the ridiculously tortured linguistic rules for Basque in Navarre. While the Navarrese linguistic rules are decided at the level of the province, the central government leadership does have some influence on the line their local parties follow.

    It’s pretty clear that the Aznar approach did not creating good feelings toward the Spanish state among Basques and was actually counterproductive to Spanish unity.

    The Irish and Basque examples are somewhat different, because the Basques actually have a government. For me, the continuing existance of ETA comes from the deep sense of grievance that many Basques have toward the Spanish state, that people like Aznar (who though not a Francoist himself, believes in the Francoist position toward the ethnic minorities in Spain), did nothing to alleviate and everything to stoke.

    At every opportunity, Aznar denigrates the political leaders of the Basque country. Every attempt to foster Basque language and culture is resisted by the PP. He also provided cover for residual Franco sympathizers at many points. Look at the squawk about moving “Gernika” out of Madrid or the Catalonian archives. Look at the way they do nothing to support identifying the graves of Republicans in the Civil War. This isn’t the politics of compromise – it is the politics of domination.

    I think Zapatero understands this and genuinely wants to compromise. I think some sort of deal can be made that will see the disappearance of ETA, and then it will be much easier to settle outstanding problems in the Spanish political system vis-a-vis Catalonia and the Basque country.

  7. I’m struggling with the comparison between Rice’s strong government statement and the general ETA situation.

    Surely, two of the main factors for the demise of ETA and other minority conflicts in Europe are the fading of grass roots’ support for extremism and a relaxation of goverments’ desire to dominate. After all, with or without greater autonomy, the regions are now part of a greater whole, which emphasises their commonality with their “mother” country rather than their differences. Or, put another way, in Europe, the insurgents are being defeated by their governments being weakened.

  8. “Or, put another way, in Europe, the insurgents are being defeated by their governments being weakened.”
    Sounds very interesting.
    I tried to formulate something similar on my blog concerning Scottish independence: “What I do not understand is that in Scotland (and comparable regions/nations) there is so little enthusiasm for the idea of Europe as natural ally combatting the power of the national elites”
    Stuart Dickson of the scottish blog “Independence” reacted: “The Scots and Welsh tend to be more friendly towards our fellow Europeans than the English, but I am afraid that the EU does very little to make itself more attractive to us.

    We are becoming distinctly cool on the EU, although the SNP still strongly advocates entering the Euro-zone.
    20-30 years ago supporters of Scottish self-government looked upon the (then) European Community as an ally in our campaign, but the hoped for support just never came through.
    Scotland needs a little friendly goodwill from mainland Europeans on its path to independence.”
    (http://www.fransgroenendijk.nl/reactieding.php?id=512_0_1_0_C)
    PS: some two months ago incidentally (I was looking for a text on Catalonie for a geography test!) I stumbled on an Aznar comments claiming the social democrats not even using a national political program anymore; leaving everything to the *regions*.

  9. The problem is that real power in the EU is still with the national governments – representative regions have no seat at the table. So Spain can completely block any European intervention in the Basque issue, and everyone goes along.

    For Scotland and Wales, Ireland is the model. Poor, denigrated, but it joined the EU as an independent country, and suddenly it is a modern prosperous country. Southern England and especially London historically have drained the lifeblood out of the Celtic fringe and even the north of England. Being independent would give them more bargaining power and almost surely increase their standard of living, especially if they joined the euro at the same time.

  10. “I’m struggling with the comparison between Rice’s strong government statement and the general ETA situation.”

    I’m not sure she’s talking about strong government in the way you interpret it. She refers to a strong political alternative, meaning one with sufficient support to have real authority. I think she is talking about what Weber would have called legitimation.

    To get a ‘legitimate’ government in Iraq you need Sunni participation, to get this you need to talk to people, and persuade them to give up using arms. This is the comparison. The PP is objecting to what Rice is recommending for Iraq.

    “fading of grass roots’ support for extremism”

    This is not central to your argument, but in fact this isn’t true in the Basque situation: support for Batasuna has remained remarkably constant – at around 150,000 votes – over the years. This is one of the reasons the talks are needed to break the deadlock.

    On the ‘regions’ question, I think historically the nationalists have tended to see the EU as a way of ‘escaping’ from centralised state control.

    At the same time in places like Catalonia, Scotland and the Basque Country nationalism tends to split the left, with one part of the official left party identifying with nationalist sentiment. This then puts pressure on the ‘national’ left party – as in the UK and Spain. Blairs interest in devolution might well have something to do with this.

    “Aznar comments claiming the social democrats not even using a national political program anymore; leaving everything to the *regions*.”

    On Aznar, see Antoni’s comments earlier. Aznar and his ‘republican guard’ are adopting what appear to be ‘sect like’ characteristics: believing and advocating things which are really far removed from reality.

    They of course continue to parade the idea of ETA involvement in March 11 (and indeed an incredible 33% of those interviewed in a strong PP area like the Community of Madrid – not the city – were found to continue holding to this).

    They also suggest that Zapatero is ‘dismembering Spain’. This gives a real headache for the more moderate (and less Martian) current PP leader Rajoy, who would like to get back to reality.

    The big bottom line here is that there is a real ‘hard right’ from the Franco era still buried inside the PP somewhere, and while some in the PP would like them out, that might mean the craetion of a new party, a split right, and long term electoral advantage for the left.

    “The problem is that real power in the EU is still with the national governments”

    This is certainly true, but it is interesting to note that changes are taking place. Schr?der seems to have agreed to seek changes in the way the Constition is interpreted in order to cater better for Germany’s federal structure, and Zapatero is now incorporating regional government delegations in the Spanish one where appropriate. Little beginings, but more could come.

  11. The Scots and Welsh tend to be more friendly towards our fellow Europeans than the English, but I am afraid that the EU does very little to make itself more attractive to us.

    This is what I called “emphasising the similarities” 🙂

    I’m not sure she’s talking about strong government in the way you interpret it.

    You mean Dr Rice’s words are ambiguous? Shock! Horror!

    I have noticed that the less self-confident a people is, the more self-confidence it demands of its government. The Netherlands 20 years ago is a perfect example: then, the Dutch hardly noticed they had no governance. Today, they seem to demand much more “strength” from their politicians.

    So, I think Condi’s words could be taken Occam-ly, and are probably true when read so. The trick is to keep government strength the reciprocal of the people strength – or something like that. ‘Cos we know where it leads when they are both strong, don’t we? (Sorry, Edward. Couldn’t resist.)

    support for Batasuna has remained remarkably constant – at around 150,000 votes

    Is this a good indication of grass roots support for extremism? NI suggests not.

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