The future of ETA and the democratic question

Pedro Ibarra
Pedro Ibarra

Pedro Ibarra

The latest communiqué from ETA (10 January 2011) is the inevitable response from a violent political organisation that cannot yet accept that it must - silently - shut up shop. On the one hand, it is convinced that its history is coming to an end, among other reasons, and above all, because "its" civilian organisation, the left-wing nationalist movement, has decided to cut links with it. The left-wing nationalist movement has carefully and calmly decided to focus exclusively and to all intents and purposes on peaceful political means. However, ETA cannot resist the idea that it could "monitor" the fulfilment of the democratic process (which it sees as a process leading towards self-determination and independence). Hence the last sentence in the communiqué, in which they say they will continue their struggle until the end of the process.

There is no doubt that not even they believe that final phrase/statement. It is a piece of revolutionary rhetoric for the benefit of those around them, or perhaps for their own benefit, or perhaps even for a small number of them; it is a concession to an intransigent internal minority. It seems quite obvious that ETA will not attack again, regardless of what happens in the process. But not attacking is one thing, and saying that they will never do so again is another thing entirely. We are entering the realms of rhetoric. Nobody, including the Government and undoubtedly the left-wing nationalist movement, believes that they can turn back. ETA will do nothing, regardless of whether its associated political parties are legalised. The most probable scenario is that after they are legalised, it will release another communiqué announcing its final dissolution, this time without any literature. At that point, they will say that thanks to them, the process is headed for its final victory and they are therefore relinquishing the struggle permanently. The levels of ignorance, arrogance and self-delusion that sectarian armed organisations (which is what ETA has been for many years) display in their communiqués have no limits. That is the situation. In this case... fortunately.

When considered in more detail, both the communiqué and the process begun by the left-wing nationalist movement established two separate scenarios for the conflict some time ago. First, there is the problem of ETA (which is in no way a political conflict). The problem is how to create an agreement for it to dissolve, which it would not even be strictly necessary to formalise. This is the real scenario that is now beginning to develop, and it is highly likely that within it, ETA and the Government will be putting out feelers aimed at the definitive end of the conflict.

It would be no problem at all for ETA:

  • providing that the situation makes it clear that they are withdrawing of their own volition, and
  • providing that commitments are made by the government on the gradual reincorporation of prisoners and exiles to civil life.

And the Government would not have too many problems:

  • providing that the contacts do not appear to be simply symbolically linked to political concessions,
  • providing that the Government is also able to show how ETA has been defeated, and
  • obviously, providing that all the contacts take place in the strictest secrecy.

The other conflict, which is a political conflict, is the one involving the legalisation of the left-wing nationalist movement. This is the only conflict arising from, but today not linked to, the entire long history of the violent conflict in the Basque Country. It is the reason why processes and scenarios of inter-party discussions focused on establishing new legal and political frameworks for the Basque country are not on the political agenda under any circumstances, even in the medium term.

The new statutes of what is also the new left-wing nationalist movement, in addition to their political declarations, are grounds - or should be - for great satisfaction. This means that we can at last look to the future with justified optimism.

First, because they mean the end of violence in its social dimension. The end of the violence that was supported, or tolerated, or understood, by significant sectors of society. Our rejection of ETA's violence was undoubtedly based above all on its consequences; the deaths and pain it causes. It is no less true to say that violence, while it was not supported directly, was justified and encouraged by some sectors of our community and our fellow citizens. This created a great deal of anxiety, and a profound feeling of unease. We rejected these positions both in themselves and also because they embodied a society - our society - with a political culture, a minority but one that was debased, disturbing, and perverse.

The new statutes are not merely words. They are actions - and in this case, striking actions - which point to the beginning of the end of the violence. First, although they do not guarantee it, they are an extremely important tool for ending ETA's real violence. Second, because they guarantee the disappearance of the political culture of violence in our community.

The second reason for satisfaction is that we are able to say that all the political alternatives in this country, including the largest group of pro-independence socialist Basque nationalism, will be fully entitled to operate in the political realm, vote for their candidates and exercise political power where they have been elected to do so. If these statutes began an irreversible process of ethical and political regeneration in society, it is now clear that they also enable some extremely pressing democratic requirements to be met. The exclusion of the left-wing nationalist movement from the political arena was open to criticism. Now it is also impossible. The left-wing nationalist movement, must be, can be and will be legalised. It must be registered and active like any other political party. If this does not happen, democratic legality will be seriously violated. Let us consider the democratic legal requirements. According to the Supreme Court, a political organisation is not the continuation of any other organisation that has been declared illegal when the new party, regardless of the previous political history of its members, declares in its statutes that it is different in fundamental aspects from the preceding organisation. In specific terms, the previous organisations were prohibited because they failed to condemn the violence by ETA. The current group is radically different from its forerunners because it condemns the violence by ETA, with all its consequences and in all its aspects. And it should therefore be and will be legalised.

Now let us briefly turn to a question from the past. The demand that the left-wing nationalist movement review its past, and engage in self-criticism of its foundations and its tolerance of violence is undoubtedly worthy of respect. It is understandable that if it remained silent about the past, this could be seen as a type of highly reprehensible contempt for the victims of violence. These demands and possible criticisms of the left-wing nationalist movement are perfectly understandable. But they have little to do with the question of democracy. Failure to meet these demands does not under any circumstances provide justification for its prohibition. Democracy demands that a party should be legalised based on what it says it is and how it acts as a consequence in the present and the future. Good or bad memories, old friendships and kindness have nothing to do with legalisation. An example that has been repeated ad nauseam, but which remains appropriate is that (some of) the founders of Spain's People's Party and those following them collaborated with the violent dictatorship of general Franco and (none of them) ever condemned the dictatorship. Nobody is suggesting that their party should be made illegal.