Breaking links with Eta


THE SPANISH supreme court’s decision not to legalise the new Basque party Sortu raises disturbing questions. By the narrowest of margins – nine to seven – the judges accepted arguments presented by legal teams for the government that Sortu is a “continuation” of the banned Batasuna party, and therefore a political front for the terrorist group Eta.

Though draconian in nature, the Political Parties Law (2002), under which Batasuna was banned, has been upheld by the European Court of Human Rights. And most Spaniards and many Basques consider that Batasuna could not have a right to political participation while Eta was denying others the right to life.

But the circumstances are very different now from 2002. Eta has been on unconditional ceasefire for six months. More importantly, Sortu’s statutes are radically different from Batasuna’s, though many of the people leading the party are the same figures who refused to condemn Eta even when it committed horrific atrocities. These statutes are unambiguous in their rejection of political violence. Any member of Sortu who fails to reject putative future acts of violence by Eta must be expelled.This is an unprecedented development for the radical pro-independence movement known as the Izquierda Abertzale, or “patriotic left”.

It is very understandable that many Spanish democrats are distrustful of this new departure and it should certainly be subject to legal scrutiny. But the legal teams opposing legalisation failed to show any documentary evidence linking Sortu to Eta and relied entirely on the opinions of senior offices in the security forces. With all respect to those opinions, other intelligence sources indicate that the remaining hardliners in a greatly weakened Eta are outraged by Sortu’s new politics and that the internal debate in the Izquierda Abertzale over the last five years has been traumatic, but decisive.

Senior members of both leading Spanish political parties, the PSOE and PP, argue that Sortu should be left twisting in the wind until it achieves something that may not be in its power: the final dissolution of Eta. Such strategies create a dangerous, but hardly irrational, conviction in broad sectors of Basque society that it suits Madrid’s interests to permanently exclude the Izquierda Abertzale from Spain’s institutions. It would surely be wiser to permit Sortu to participate in next May’s elections. Should Eta return to its old ways, and Sortu fail to act according to its own statutes, the law still provides for a new and rapid prohibition to take effect.