Decoupling Eta


IT IS HARD to say whether Batasuna’s old friends in Eta, or its old enemies in Madrid, are more embarrassed by the remarkably robust rejection of violence articulated in the statutes of a new Basque pro-independence party, Sortu (‘to be born’, or ‘to grow’ in the Basque language, Euskera).

Long regarded as the political instrument of the terrorist group Eta, Batasuna enjoyed the support of many Basque voters before it was banned in 2002. Advocates of the prohibition argue that it has forced the Basque radical nationalist movement to abandon terrorism and has assisted the police in crippling Eta’s operational capacity over the last few years. However, it is also true that a number of Batasuna leaders have been trying to build a peace process along Irish lines since the late 1990s and have been consistently frustrated by hard-liners in Eta. During its current ceasefire, announced last September, Eta has continued to treat its erstwhile political allies with disdain. The group delayed until last month responding to Batasuna’s call for a clear statement of the permanence of the cessation and even then signally failed to fully match the reassuring wording Batasuna had been using for four months.

Batasuna appears to have decided – one might say they are slow learners – that Eta was no longer worth waiting for. Last Monday their veteran leaders presented statutes for Sortu that appear impeccable in their rejection of all forms of terrorism. There had been widespread expectations that the statutes would be vague and ambiguous and that the Spanish government and courts could comfortably declare them insufficient to allow the new party to participate in next May’s local elections. This would have suited the beleaguered Socialist Party (PSOE) administration of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, hounded by the ascendant Partido Popular (PP) on this and other issues. The deeply conservative and Spanish nationalist PP abhors the idea of any Basque independence movement and accuses the prime minister, without evidence, of having done a deal with Eta.

But Sortu’s statute-writers appear to have put so much clear water between the new party and Eta – the organisation’s violence is specifically rejected in their text – that well-informed Spanish observers say there is little option but to legalise the new grouping. This would leave Eta isolated and would re-enfranchise the many Basques who share Batasuna’s goal of independence but want to pursue it by democratic means.