What to make of Batasuna, the banned Basque nationalist party, in its new calls for an end to ETA terrorist violence against the Spanish state, on the back of calls by some of ETA’s founders for the terrorists to lay down their arms? (Note: news of a possible new ETA attack – the first for nearly a year – could yet ruin this move to peace.)
The Basques have been unhappy with their lot in their part of northern Spain / southern France for centuries, with the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) paramilitary group launching a number of terrorist attacks in both Spain and France for the last 40-odd years. They had a certain amount of success, assassinating the Spanish Prime Minister – and potential successor to Franco – Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco in December 1973 and so arguably helping bring the fascist Franco regime to an end. But the majority have been terrorist attacks plain and simple, killing a mixture of civilians, police and soldiers often indiscriminately: in all, ETA terrorist attacks have ended the lives of 817 people.
The Basques were certainly not fans of former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar – the Bush crony who took Spain into Iraq against the people’s wishes. He repeatedly refused to enter into any kind of dialogue, taking the old line of not giving in to terrorists and oppressing the ordinary, apolitical Basque people in the process via a mixture of suppression of free speech (banning the Basque newspaper “Euskaldunon Egunkaria”) and political expression (the banning of Batasuna), and even state-organised torture of suspected terrorists and “terrorist sympathisers”. As we all know, Aznar initially blamed the Madrid bombs of March this year on ETA, despite the lack of evidence. Aznar was chucked out at the polls by a nation fed up with its government’s lies, and the Spanish people were slandered as a result.
New Prime Minister Josï¿½ Luis Rodrï¿½guez Zapatero effectively came to power on a promise of peace – both in Iraq and at home. To achieve this, the ETA problem must be addressed – will he take advantage of this new call from leading Basques, or adopt the “we don’t negotiate with terrorists” line which has only served to irritate more people in the Basque region by depriving them of the right to vote for a largely respectable party, or try a move towards discussions – following the British lead of talks with Sinn Fein, the IRA‘s political overlords?
Why shouldn’t the Basques have negotiations? British negotiations with terrrorists, or “peace talks” have worked in Northern Ireland – at least in as much as there hasn’t been an attack on mainland Britain by any Irish paramilitary groups for the last three years – why can’t they work in Spain?
More to the point, where the hell is the EU involvement in both these disputes? With any negotiation of this sort, a middle-man is a major help: US involvement in the Northern Ireland peace process was very useful – if only for its symbolic power, letting the Irish nationalists know that they wouldn’t simply have a settlement imposed upon them by their British overlords. Couldn’t the EU step in to help sort out the Basque/Spanish dispute?
If the initial reason for bringing Europe together as a community was to prevent another war on the continent, surely Brussels should think about getting involved in extinguishing such smouldering conflicts as have been going on in northern Spain and Northern Ireland for all these years?
(For more on the Basque dilemma, I’d strongly recommend Julio Medemï¿½s superb documentary ï¿½La Pelota vasca: La piel contra la piedraï¿½, or ï¿½Basque Ballï¿½ ï¿½ a brilliant, dispassionately objective look at the conflict with interviews with participants and observers from all sides.)