Basque group fails to sway Spanish court on legal status


THE SPANISH supreme court has refused to register the new Basque pro-independence organisation Sortu as a legal political party.

The court accepted arguments put by State legal teams that the newly formed party is a surrogate for the banned Batasuna, and thus subordinate to the terrorist group Eta.

This is the eighth time the court has excluded a Basque party from the democratic process since the 2002 Political Parties Law, banning of organisations associated with political violence or which refuse to condemn terrorism.

For the first time, however, the court’s decision is not unanimous: nine judges voted against legalisation, with seven in favour, three of whom will publish their opinions. This reflects deep divisions in the judiciary and public opinion about radically different elements in the Sortu case.

Sortu’s leaders had made no attempt to hide their links to Batasuna. Indeed their case was presented in court by a veteran lawyer from that movement, Iñigo Iruin, who has represented many Eta prisoners since the 1980s.

But Mr Iruin argued that Sortu’s statutes represent an unprecedented break with the Batasuna-Eta link, since they reject the use of violence as a political instrument, which “openly and straightforwardly includes the violence of Eta”.

He added that Eta’s bombing of Madrid airport in 2006, which ended a promising peace process with the Spanish government, had provoked a long and deep debate in the movement. He said that, should Eta violate its current ceasefire, Sortu’s statutes obliged members to reject any future attacks by Eta, and anyone who failed to do so faced expulsion from the party.

Nevertheless, the court agreed with the case, made without any hard evidence by government lawyers, that Sortu’s new “tactical distance” from Eta is “cosmetic, rhetorical, and manipulative”.

Sortu can appeal the decision to the Constitutional Court. However the hearing would be unlikely to be heard before the deadline for registering for participation in May elections.

For many Basques, well beyond the ranks of Sortu, the court’s ruling is seen as one more instance of the chronic politicisation of the Spanish judiciary, and as the continuing disenfranchisement of a significant sector of the Basque electorate.

Divisions have even emerged in the PSE, the Basque sector of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), in power in Madrid and in the Basque autonomous government. PSE president Jesús Egiguren, who is known to have been targeted by Eta for many years, recently accused prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of “lacking the courage” to legalise Sortu.

Mr Zapatero is under great pressure from the right-wing Partido Popular to make no concessions to Basque radicals.

Some strategists in the PSOE want to keep Sortu illegal until it demands, and delivers, the final disappearance of Eta. Cooler heads, however, fell this might mean moving the goalposts once too often, and driving the radicals back into Eta’s embrace.