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