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At last an end to
ETA's violence in Spain



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991
Comments to

March 5, 2006

LONDON - A thousand days has passed without a killing by ETA, the Basque terrorist movement- the only homegrown one active on European soil now that the IRA continues to turn its back on violence. Setting ETA an example it cannot ignore, the IRA and its political wing Sinn Fein has never been so politically potent. How long do we have to wait for ETA to declare the truce that could take it in the same direction?

The Spanish prime minister, José Luis Rodríquez Zapatero, told parliament on February 15th that " I am convinced we have never been so close to the end of violence…we may be at the start of the beginning of the end of ETA". But the opposition, the Popular Party - whose former prime minister José Maria Aznar is still smarting at losing the last election and refuses to acknowledge his below-the-belt attempt on election eve to blame the massive bombing in the Madrid railway station on ETA rather than Al Qaeda- maintains its total refusal to countenance a deal with ETA.

The anti-ETA sentiment is much stronger in Spain than anti-IRA feelings ever were in Britain. The PP and its friends can still mobilize vast demonstrations against dealing with ETA as they did two weeks' ago under the guise of supporting the victims of ETA. Whereas the British prime minister Tony Blair always had the support of the opposition Conservatives on the substance of his Irish negotiations (and before Labour had supported Conservative prime minister John Major in the same way) the raw division between left and right in the Spanish parliament has now become so bitter that some observers talk of Spain's political temperature as returning to levels not seen since the civil war.

Following Zapatero's remarks ETA released a communiqué to a Basque radio station calling for "dialogue and negotiation". It said suggestively this was the "only solution". It laid down three conditions to make this possible: Giving Basques in Spain and France the right to decide their own future; a change in the current political status of the region; and the involvement of all political forces in negotiations.

No wonder the government is optimistic. None of these demands is insuperable.

The government's trump card in any negotiation is that it knows from previous electoral and referenda results in the Basque region that a majority never votes for platforms that demand a break away from Spain. Thus on point one it can always call ETA's bluff, just as Blair did with the IRA. Once Blair had conceded that the Northern Irish could have self-determination, the IRA had no leg to stand on but it could boast to its constituency that it had won a sweet victory. The fact that it could never win a Northern Ireland referendum on the matter is beside the point.

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Point two is also easily solved. Although Aznar has always argued that the Basque country has more autonomy than any other region in Europe this is probably not so. Scotland, for example, has long had its own educational system and judiciary. When the Pan Am jetliner was blown up by Libyan terrorists over Lockerbie a special Scottish court was agreed to on Dutch soil to try the Libyans. No Basque court today could wield this degree of independence. Moreover, more recently Scotland has been given its own parliament and has opened its own diplomatic missions overseas.

The latter provision, if given to the Basques, would make the PP's hair stand on end. But 'why not?' must be the answer given to the Basques. None of such concessions would mean the end of Spain. One of the advantages of membership of the European Union is that soft borders not just between states but also within states become so much easier both to digest politically and to implement administratively.

It is the third demand of ETA that is perhaps the most difficult to achieve. As long as the PP stands aloof and it becomes increasingly militant on the issues it only adds an unnecessary element of tension to the negotiations. Its rhetoric is over the top. "You have betrayed the dead," said PP leader Mariano Rajoy, speaking of Zapatero's conciliatory policies.

Someone has to start talking to the PP. Both Blair and President George W. Bush are ex comrades in arms of Aznar. Both know that the PP's claim that Al Qaeda did the Madrid bombing is so much nonsense. Both know that a Europe without a civil war in its midst is a political bonus in the age when the West is determined to win the worldwide battle for democracy. I think if the PP calms its opposition ETA will take the fateful final step towards peace.


Copyright © 2006 By JONATHAN POWER


I can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172 and e-mail:


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