THE BASQUE terrorist group Eta has clarified the status of its current ceasefire, declared last September. The group announced on Monday that it is “permanent, general, and verifiable by the international community”. This is welcome news on the face of it, especially for those who have spent many grim years on the group’s long list of so-called “legitimate targets”. One must hope that Eta hardliners have finally and irrevocably bowed to the desire for peace among their erstwhile supporters in the Batasuna party.
The statement is also good news for those Basques who assert that their people constitute a nation, with the right to define its own relationship with the Spanish state. This right was recognised by many Spanish democrats prior to the transition to democracy from Franco’s dictatorship in the late 1970s. Basque nationalists feel aggrieved that this question was taken off the table, under pressure from former Francoists, during negotiations in that period.
Their aspirations are legitimate as long as they are pursued by democratic means. But Eta’s cruel terrorist campaign stained those aspirations with the blood of hundreds of individuals, long after democratic channels for pursuing independence had opened up. Far from being the great defender of the independence project, the group has long been the major barrier to pursuing it. It was formed in the late 1950s as a thoughtful, courageous and youthful group resisting the dictatorship and those origins were worthy of a better and much, much earlier conclusion than its current reluctant and miserable exit from the Basque drama.
Whatever legitimacy there may have been for armed resistance to the dictatorship, there has been no justification for Eta’s brutal escalation of terrorist attacks once Spain moved towards democracy. Yet that democracy was also tarnished by the use of death squads against Eta suspects in the 1980s, and by a persistent culture of torture within the Spanish security forces.
The dismissive response of the Spanish prime minister to Eta’s statement reflects public opinion. The group has broken “permanent” ceasefires before. No Spanish government will pay any significant price for peace to a weakened and discredited organisation. Nevertheless, it would be a grave error not to engage with the new mood for peace among those Basque radicals who, until recently, supported Eta. Bringing Basque prisoners back to the Basque Country and facilitating the legalisation of Batasuna would be a good start.