Give Me A Crash Course In ... Eta’s dis­band­ment

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - NEWS REVIEW - GUY HEDGECOE in Madrid

What is Eta? Founded in 1959, Euskadi Ta Askata­suna, or “Basque Home­land and Free­dom”, be­gan as a cul­ture-fo­cused group ded­i­cated to the in­de­pen­dence of the Basque re­gion in north­ern Spain and south­ern France. In 1968, it em­barked on a cam­paign of ter­ror­ist vi­o­lence in Spain that would kill over 800 peo­ple, as well as car­ry­ing out kid­nap­pings and ex­tor­tions. How­ever, over the past two decades it has been heav­ily in­fil­trated and weak­ened, due in great part to in­creased co­op­er­a­tion be­tween Span­ish and French po­lice and it has not killed since 2010. What is Eta do­ing this week?

The group has dis­banded. In 2011, it an­nounced a de­fin­i­tive cease­fire and then last year it dis­armed. This week it has is­sued a state­ment ex­plain­ing that it “has com­pletely dis­solved all its struc­tures”. A cer­e­mony in the south of France, in­volv­ing some in­ter­na­tional fig­ures but no Span­ish govern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives, took place on Fri­day, com­plet­ing the process. Is this a big de­vel­op­ment?

Yes and no. Through­out its his­tory, Eta has sought to present each of its strate­gic moves as a ma­jor event, even when their sig­nif­i­cance has been ques­tion­able. Cer­tainly, the end of the ter­ror­ist group’s ex­is­tence comes as a re­lief to many Basques, con­firm­ing it now ac­cepts that the cam­paign for an in­de­pen­dent state must be waged solely in the po­lit­i­cal sphere. How­ever, the dis­band­ment had been widely an­tic­i­pated for some time and many Spa­niards are ex­as­per­ated at the at­ten­tion that is still given to what they feel is an or­gan­i­sa­tion that was de­feated long ago. “They will never dis­band [them­selves], they have al­ready been dis­banded by the state se­cu­rity forces,” said in­te­rior min­is­ter Juan Ig­na­cio Zoido. “They were al­ready beaten.” Did Eta achieve any­thing?

In its early days, Eta was seen as a for­mi­da­ble force of re­sis­tance against the re­pres­sive regime of dic­ta­tor Fran­cisco Franco. But after his death, Spain’s 1978 con­sti­tu­tion granted the Basque Coun­try more au­ton­omy than any other re­gion – it has its own lan­guage, po­lice force, ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem and a spe­cial fi­nan­cial ar­range­ment with Madrid. Eta’s cam­paign of vi­o­lence did not change (or im­prove) any of that. What hap­pens now?

Eta, and its po­lit­i­cal al­lies in the pro-in­de­pen­dence EH Bildu coali­tion, would like to see a re­sponse from the Span­ish govern­ment, for ex­am­ple, in the area of pen­i­ten­tiary pol­icy. Nearly 250 Eta mem­bers are in Span­ish pris­ons, but most are de­lib­er­ately kept hun­dreds of miles away from the Basque re­gion, mak­ing fam­ily vis­its ar­du­ous. Although the Basque wing of the gov­ern­ing Pop­u­lar Party (PP) has hinted at the pos­si­bil­ity of mak­ing con­ces­sions in this area, the govern­ment it­self ap­pears to have ruled that out. Why won’t the govern­ment talk?

It doesn’t re­gard this as a two-sided con­flict re­quir­ing me­di­a­tion or any kind of peace process. For most Spa­niards, this was sim­ply a ter­ror­ist cam­paign, with the vast ma­jor­ity of ca­su­al­ties on one side. Prime min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy is un­likely to go against over­all pub­lic opin­ion, the con­ser­va­tive me­dia and in­flu­en­tial ter­ror­ism vic­tims’ groups and of­fer mean­ing­ful con­ces­sions.

By con­trast, Eta be­lieves this sit­u­a­tion should be han­dled in a sim­i­lar way to that of North­ern Ire­land two decades ago. They, and many oth­ers within the Basque Coun­try, point to state-spon­sored death squads which op­er­ated in the 1980s and other abuses by the se­cu­rity forces. A re­port com­mis­sioned by the Basque govern­ment last year de­tailed over 4,000 tor­ture cases linked to the state’s at­tempts to de­feat Eta, of which only a hand­ful have gone to trial.

With ter­ror­ism vic­tims’ groups say­ing that over 300 of Eta’s killings have still not been re­solved, there is a sense on both sides that although the vi­o­lence has ended, the peace is not an easy one.

Graf­fiti say­ing, “ETA, farewell and may you go with hon­our” in the Basque vil­lage of Agu­rain. PHO­TO­GRAPH: GETTY IMAGES

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