Eta's political wing to form new party that shuns violence


THE SCENE in Bilbao’s massively imposing Euskalduna congress centre yesterday morning left many people present wondering if they could believe their ears.

Former leaders of the banned Basque radical nationalist movement, Batasuna, spelt out the statutes of a new radical party, still unnamed, that rejects terrorism, and specifically ETAs terrorism in pursuit of Basque independence.

They did so in clearer and starker terms than anyone could have imagined even a few months ago, and very few people expected even now.

Iñigo Iruin, a lawyer who has defended Eta prisoners for decades, has sat alongside leaders of the terrorist group in negotiations with the Spanish government. Yesterday he said the new party would expel any member who was involved in any act of violence, or who justified any use of violence for political ends.

He added the statutes explicitly stated the new party’s rejection of violence “openly and straightforwardly includes Eta”.

Yesterday’s meeting was choreographed to show Mr Iruin spoke with the support of a compelling majority of influential Batasuna figures.

This suggests that, if Eta should break its current ceasefire, it will find itself absolutely isolated in Basque society – an unprecedented position for the group.

If the statutes are as Mr Iruin has described them, it will also be very difficult for the Spanish interior ministry to refuse to legalise the new party when the application is presented in Madrid tomorrow.

It will be even harder for the Spanish courts to endorse such a refusal, without appearing to act from blatant political bias.

Batasuna has been moving in this direction over the last two years, and for much longer in the case of some leaders. It had, however, remained in thrall to a hardcore within Eta.

The group appeared unwilling to completely abandon terrorism, even when the police had destroyed its capacity for effective actions.

So while the party was expected to make a bid to register a new brand before next May’s crucial local elections, most observers thought the language of its statutes would be so bland and ambiguous that the courts would still be in a position to ban it.

This remains the favoured option of the opposition, the conservative Partido Popular (PP), and of a big section of the ruling Socialist Party (PSOE).

But by presenting statutes that could have been written by a supreme court judge, Batasuna has suddenly pitched a fast ball onto a very awkward spot on the government’s court.

They say a bird never flew on one wing, but the Basque radical movement has kept this atypical peace process airborne all on its own.

Its rearguard in Eta almost grounded it with long delays and equivocal statements, but Batasuna has evidently realised that it must, if necessary, drop this excess baggage.

Yesterday’s move puts Batasuna back within reach of the democratic process.

It is hard to see that there is any good reason left why any democrat should still be trying to block its grasp.