There have been quite a few developments in Euskadi over the last few months. In September last year ETA announced a ceasefire, which I wrote about in this post. It was not greeted with any great enthusiasm by Spain, and I hardly expected it to be. A ceasefire is a long way short of a permanent cessation of violence.

However this was followed up in January this year by the announcement that it was permanent, and that ETA wanted it to overseen by the international community:

In a statement released to the Basque newspaper Gara the group said: "Eta has decided to declare a permanent and general ceasefire which will be verifiable by the international community.

"This is Eta's firm commitment towards a process to achieve a lasting resolution and towards an end to the armed confrontation."

The armed group said that the solution to Basque conflict "will come through the democratic process with dialogue and negotiation as its tools."

Guardian, 10 January 2011

I don't particularly want to get involved in a discussion of when it is right to use armed force in the pursuit of political objectives in this post, though I would note that violence is not only done by those fighting against a state, but by states themselves. However I do think it should be of interest to us all how such situations can be progressed from a violence that gets neither side anywhere to the point where it can be resolved by peaceful political means.

As I see it, the main key is for there to be an effective means of political expression for those who either explicitly backed the violence before, or more passively accepted it as being—at least as they once saw it—the only way of achieving their political goals.

But Spain has not been good at allowing this strand of opinion to be expressed at a party political level. Batasuna, the main left-leaning party supporting an independent Euskadi (the EAJ-PNV being a centre-right party) which generally had the support of about 15% of the electorate, was banned in 2003; and other left wing nationalist parties that have been formed since then have been declared illegal. One of the most blatant instances of this was in the 2009 election to the Parliament of the Basque Autonomous Community when D3M and Askatasuna were banned at the very last moment, after the ballot papers had been printed, and their votes were counted as void. There were over 100,000 void votes in total compared with a normal void vote of under 5,000, which amounted to about 9% of the total. As a direct consequence of these votes not being counted the EAJ-PNV was unable to put together a broad nationalist coalition government for the first time in nearly thirty years.


Now a new chapter is beginning to unfold. Earlier this month a new political party was formed, and this is how one article describes it:

Sortu puts spotlight on Spanish justice system

There have been many signs that genuine change is afoot in the Basque Country in recent months, as ETA's political support has repeatedly urged the organisation to give a clear statement showing it is committed to a non-violent future. For the most part these expectations have not been met, with ETA failing to deliver – most recently in a January ceasefire statement that contained some new resolutions, but ultimately not enough.


But the unveiling on February 7 of a new party, Sortu, suggests that with or without ETA’s backing, the pro-independence landscape in the northern region has changed. Sortu, which means "to rise up" or "be born" in euskera, is a reincarnation of sorts of Batasuna, the party banned since 2002 for its links to ETA and refusal to condemn the terrorist group’s violence. However, while the personnel is similar, this new party has now taken the historic step of rejecting all terrorist violence. This is a rejection that "openly, and without ambiguity, includes ETA" according to Iñaki Zabaleta, a spokesman for Sortu. These are not just words uttered in a Bilbao press conference. They're written in Sortu’s statutes.

"This is very significant. I think this was the step people were waiting for," said Paddy Woodworth, author of a history of the Basque Country and a book about the GAL anti-ETA death squad. "These statutes are so explicit, in their condemnation not just of terrorism but in general. They have produced statues which could have been written by a Supreme Court judge."

Qorreo, 20 February 2011

And that, of course, is the issue: whether a new party which specifically renounces violence to the extent that it is enshrined in what we would call its constitution is going to be allowed to participate in the democratic process of elections.

This is how things developed. On one hand, we had one High Court District Attorney make this announcement:

District Attorney says Batasuna and Sortu are two different parties

A new Basque nationalist left-wing party, considered to be the successor of outlawed party Batasuna, is not its continuation despite the fact that they have the same members, a Basque High Court District Attorney said on Tuesday.

In an interview with Basque radio station Radio Euskadi, Juan Calparsoro, District Attorney of the Basque Country High Court, said the new party, that goes under the name of Sortu and rejects violence by ETA, is not a successor of Batasuna.

According to Juan Calparsoro, although both parties share the same members, the "political project is not the same" and they "have said things never previously said."

Spain's attorney general's office will now determine if legal status can be granted to the new party. The government could allow the party to stand or challenge it and ask prosecutors to investigate. Any decision for declaring the party illegal is ultimately up to a special section of the Supreme Court.

EITB, 8 February 2011

Meanwhile, in Madrid, the Spanish Civil Guard filed a report recommending it should be banned:

Spanish Civil Guard says Sortu takes orders from Batasuna's ETA

On Wednesday, the Spanish Home Office forwarded a report by the Civil Guard to the Attorney General and State Legal Service about the new leftwing nationalist formation Sortu, its origins and possible links with the outlawed political party Batasuna, with which to appeal to the High Court.

In a statement, the Home Office said that along with the statutes registered at the Ministry by Sortu on February 9th, it had sent several reports concerning the new party so that the Attorney General and State Legal Service could act in accordance with the Constitutional Political Parties Law.

Included in the information on Sortu was a report written by the Spanish Civil Guard which claims that Sortu is "an instrument created by Batasuna" and states that, despite publicly rejecting the use of violence, behind those sponsoring the new party – apparently "clean" and without ties to Batasuna – was the political wing of ETA.

The document created by the Spanish Civil Guard contains evidence that allegedly proves that Sortu is a continuation of the outlawed party Batasuna.

Among the so-called evidence, six documents stand out which were seized during various arrests of ETA suspects. The cited material contains details of the armed group's plan to "create a political group to act as a successor to Batasuna". The Civil Guard claims in its report that Sortu has been born out of a specific strategy of ETA's "following the failure of the previous negotiations" and because of the need to re-enter the political system.

The police report echoes a statement made last Friday by Spanish Home Office Minister and Government Vice-president, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, in which he said it was "evident" that Sortu "is a continuation of the outlawed Batasuna group".

As proof of its continuity, sources in the report cite the contribution of Iruin at the presentation of Sortu, in which the lawyer admitted he had adapted the party's statutes in order to comply with the requirements imposed by the High Court in order to become a legitimate political group.

EITB, 17 February 2011

And, predictably, Spain's Attorney General has indeed recommended it should be banned:

Spain's attorney general to ask judges to illegalize "Sortu"

Spain's attorney general says a new Basque independence party is a repackaged version of the armed group ETA's banned political wing Batasuna and he will ask judges to deny the party legal status.

It is up to a special section of the Supreme Court to decide on legalizing the new party called Sortu, which unveiled its charter last week and insists it rejects ETA violence.

EITB, 19 February 2011

... with the equally predictable result that tens of thousands came out onto the wet streets of Bilbao this weekend in protest:

Tens of thousands rally in Bilbao to ask for legalization of "Sortu"

Tens of thousands of people rallied in the Basque city of Bilbao on Saturday to demand from the government that it allows the newly launched pro-independence party "Sortu" to run in upcoming elections.


Those behind the party, called "Sortu", insist it rejects armed group ETA's violence and hence merits legal status and the right to field candidates in May election. However, Spain's attorney general on Friday said it was merely a repackaged version of Batasuna, a party banned in 2003 on grounds it was part of ETA. It is up to a special section of the Supreme Court to decide on the new party's legal status.

Protesters began marching peacefully and largely in silence through downtown streets in the port city of Bilbao under banners reading, "Toward peace, legalization."

"Hope has begun to enter into Basque society and we want it to be for good this time," said separatist leader Kontxita Beitia at the end of the rally.

The attorney general's office said it would file its request that the court ban "Sortu" by March 11. It is likely that the court will not have enough time to arrive at a ruling before May 22, the election date, which will rule them out from running in the Basque regional polls.

Should "Sortu" be allowed to run it would give separatist politicians access to local and regional government posts and financial benefits that come with them.

Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba on Friday said that the government was prepared to take steps to stop Batasuna candidates from joining other Basque parties should the court ban "Sortu".

EITB, 20 February 2011


It should be said that ten of thousands of people have taken to the streets before in favour of the ban on Batasuna being lifted, and of course these are likely to be the same tens of thousands. But the issue is not really about whether people support one party or the other. The point is surely that left-leaning nationalists should be able to vote for a party that reflects left-leaning nationalist views. There is something Kafkaesque about the Civil Guard citing as evidence:

" ... the lawyer admitted he had adapted the party's statutes in order to comply with the requirements imposed by the High Court in order to become a legitimate political group."

Wouldn't any sane, law-abiding person think it was a good thing to have complied with the High Court's rulings in order to create a party that was within the law?

Not, apparently, in Spain.

The inescapable conclusion is that it simply doesn't matter to Spain whether a party completely renounces violence as a means of pursuing a perfectly reasonable political objective. They will still seek to ban it anyway ... not because of violence, but because they will not tolerate any move towards Euskadi becoming an independent nation.

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Anonymous said...

ETA was the other side of the Spanish state coin. The Spanish constitution allows the military to keep the integrity of the state - that is, it is legal in Spain for tanks to go into Barcelona or Bilbao should the Catalans or Basques vote for indepenedence. So, when ETA said that Spain would never allow the Basques to declaire independence by a peaceful democractic vote - they were right and every one in the Basque country knew this. It was then a difference of opinion if it was worth having an armed conflict about someting which is, for the time being, a largly hypothetical constitutional debate.

So, now, ETA have seen they're actually counter productive and yes, the Spanish state has beaten them, we have a pro independence (to add to the other three or so, PNV and EA etc) and it still isn't good enough.

It makes you think that the Spanish would pefer to have ETA rather than peace. And that's it. The Basques now see they are stronger without guns than they are with them.

I guess, the Spanish 'deep state' would wish ETA will come back. They're just fishing about for excuses now. If people who served in Franco's government (the former leader of the Galician autonomous communuty to name just a few) then surely, some people who also have a violent path, or who don't personally, can also come into the mainstream democratic process.

Spanish hypocricy.

MH said...

I suppose it's fairly obvious that my sympathies are with those wanting an independent Euskadi, Anon. But whatever might or might not have justified the violence before, I agree with you that it serves no purpose now and despair at the actions of ETA in recent years which did nothing but harm to the hopes for a peaceful settlement. But attitudes are ingrained on both sides, and even though intransigence by the Spanish authorities is wrong, it is understandable.

You say: "So, when ETA said that Spain would never allow the Basques to declare independence by a peaceful democratic vote - they were right and every one in the Basque country knew this."

But "never" is a word that is usually inappropriate, for using it gives no-one any hope of resolving the political conflict. I agree that it is unlikely that Spain will willingly allow independence; but if the desire for independence can be expressed through the ballot box, then it becomes less likely that Spain will resort to violence to stop Euskadi becoming independent. It may well still be "legal" under the Spanish Constitution for them to send in troops and tanks against thousands of unarmed civilians ... but can you imagine them actually doing it? I can't. At least not while Spain remains a democracy and is part of the EU. So that part of the equation has become as redundant as the use of violence by ETA. We have to reach the situation where armed violence on both sides is out of the question.

I could probably write a whole post on the positive steps that are being taken in the international community to resolve the situation. Especially the work of Brian Currin which resulted in the Brussels Declaration of March 2010. He was himself quite upbeat about these latest developments, as in this article, filmed just after he gave evidence to a committee at Westminster last week.

The crux of the matter is that now the Spanish (and French) have largely won the military struggle against ETA, they perhaps think that the political aspiration for independence has similarly been defeated, or can similarly be defeated. For that reason, they might not see the need for international help. But it would seem that things are happening behind the scenes, and I think there are good reasons for optimism.

A lot will depend on the Spanish Supreme Court decision. It is sad that things will be kicked into the long grass until after the municipal elections in May, however the much more significant election will be to the Basque Parliament in 2013. So when Brian Currin spoke of a two year timescale, it seems clear that legitimization in time for the 2013 election is the more realistic aim.

Unknown said...

Great analysis. The Spanish State may have the legal means to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Basque voters, but public opinion is the single most powerful force in the world- far more powerful than their imperialist constitution. In practice the Spanish State won't be able to keep the Abertzale movement down now that it is fully committed to peaceful and democratic means. Violence gave the Spanish State an excuse to violate democracy- the excuse will now be alot harder for them to find or justify.

MH said...

People might find this website useful for keeping track of events from the perspective of the broad nationalist left:

The video in "Recent Videos" from Al Jazeera (made in the middle of January this year) is quite informative.

Anonymous said...

For more background on the [predominantly] South African-N Irish-Basque mediatory arch formed around Currin, see the hour-long subtitled documentary 'Pluja Seca' from Catalan Television (TV3). Interesting also the history of SAfrican global peace paradiplomacy leading up to its engagement with the BC:

Anonymous said...

MN - I hope you're right but I don't share your optimism, nor do the Basques I speak to.

The Spanish Cortes said that Ibarretxe's peaceful 'free association' plan of 2004 was uncostitutional - and that was short of independence and it asked for a referendum before hand. The Spanish state will procrastinate and not coply with any international ruling. They will be backed at the UN by France and Russia and China for obvious reasons.

They will use the 'uncostitutional' argument over and over - giving the impression that independence is some dodgy thing. In this they will be backed by the British Labour party. Elunied Morgan Labour MEP said as so a few years ago when she also ridiculed the idea of Welsh and Scottish independence 'because Spain won't allow it'.

I'm not as optimistic as you are MH.

I also think Spain would send in the tanks but will make sure that there will be no need to be so blatant about it. They've outlawed one party and not a whisper was raised in Europe - they can do it again.

The Currin plan is going nowhere - the Spanish have refused any international mediation.

MH said...

The subtitles are in Catalan, Anon 21:58 ... though that did make it a bit easier. Shame, as most of the interviews were in English and the voice over masked what they were saying. But I got the drift.

MH said...

Is the glass half full or half empty, Anon 08:26? I wouldn't say the plan is going nowhere. It is slow, but it is very carefully choreographed and, so far at least, no-one has put a foot wrong. And yes, the International Contact Group is not mediating, it is facilitating. But has said it would be ready to mediate if called upon to do so, though Spain doesn't think it needs it.

What has happened is that Sortu has effectively divorced itself from ETA's violence, so the key now is recognition of Sortu as a legitimate political party. The ball is in the Spanish court, literally. But although Spanish courts have been known to make blatantly political decisions, it does appear that Sortu's "statutes" (what we would call constitution) are very well defined so as to give no legal grounds for refusing to legitimize it. Crucially, Batasuna was declared to be a terrorist organization by the EU ... but it is almost impossible to imagine the EU doing this for Sortu, meaning that the Spanish would find themselves isolated if they held out. The Spanish State is in a very tricky financial position and will need all the help it can get from the EU, so it will not be in a strong position to hold out. So I am fairly confident that behind the scenes international pressure will help get Sortu recognized.

Assuming it is, the pro-independent left will have a political platform. Now I agree with you that Spain isn't going to allow the Basques to hold a referendum on independence, but there would be nothing to stop the Basque Parliament declaring independence if that was the will of a majority of its members. That is what Reagrupament tried to do in the Catalan election last year. They failed, but the Spanish didn't stop them. They can't stop people standing for election on whatever platform they choose.

Now obviously Sortu won't get a majority if they are allowed to stand in the Basque Parliament election in 2013. They would get 15%, maybe 20% on a wave of optimism. So everything will depend on the EAJ-PNV. They can expect to get at least 35% of the vote (and smaller parties like Aralar and Eusko Alkartasuna might expect some 10%, though a lot of their vote is likely to shift to Sortu). So if EAJ-PNV come out in favour of independence there is a very real chance of them making a unilateral declaration of independence.

... to be continued

MH said...

... continued

What happens then? Well, maybe the mere threat of doing it will convince the Spanish to let them have a referendum. But I think that might be unlikely. So if UDI is declared, what do the Spanish do? Send in the tanks? I doubt it very much. The key is the Basque Autonomous Community's financial arrangements within Spain. They collect their own taxes and only send Madrid a negotiated sum to pay for the central services Spain provides, such a defence. In other words, the Spanish have no economic hold on the BAC ... they can't starve it of money by refusing to pay for schools, hospitals and pensions. Day-to-day life can continue normally. The BAC is the richest part of Spain, so there is no question of them losing out financially.

So yes, there'll be a huge political standoff, things will be tense, and there'll be a lot of arguing and sabre rattling; but nobody will be prepared to escalate that to the point of violence. My guess is that the EU will then become the main mediator. A plan will be put in place to hold a confirmatory referendum within about six months, maybe on the same 55% basis as with Montenegro's independence from Serbia. And Spain would not be able to "veto" their membership of the EU ... that was always a red herring.

Now I'm not saying that will happen. It's only one possible scenario, and I must stress it's my own. The bigger strategic question is what happens in Navarre. UDI might make it very much harder for Navarre to become a part of a newly independent Euskadi. The Basques in the BAC might first want to use the peace settlement to formally re-unite with Navarre, as this is specifically allowed in the Spanish Constitution if a majority in Navarre vote for it in a referendum. The northern part of Navarre is overwhelmingly Basque, though the southern part is more Castilian. Those who want a united Euskadi see Pamplona as the seat of government, though that may be an offer designed as an incentive for them to say yes.

But as things stand now, it doesn't look like there'll be a majority in Navarre that would vote to join the BAC. In the 2007 election, the main party with 42% of the vote was the UPN, which is strongly against union. The Basque nationalist parties in coalition (NA-BAI) only got 24% of the vote, although this was a marked improvement. Perhaps the mood will change as a result of a peace settlement, but it might take a good few years.

Anonymous said...

MH @ 14:22/3 - I'd say Sortu are going to back knocked back a couple of years by the Audiencia Nacional because of the 'reject' rather than 'condemn' terrorism formula that the formation currently aligns itself with. This graded distinction is equally as important for state agenda setters as those within the broad Ezker Abertzale movement. The Guardia Civil and public prosecutor are lining up the reports for the AN to judge on in a couple of weeks, so I'd say it's the long grass for the EzkAb. The PNV meanwhile are giving minimum public support to relegitimating the EzkAb - they'll do this when pressed but they ain't going out of their way much since they would rather not have Sortu in the foral elections where the money and power lies (it's the foral governments who send *both* the Basque government and Madrid a negotiated sum). The question for me is not so much what Sortu, or indeed, what the state apparatus do or do not do - although this is palpably important - eyes need to be kept on which end of the pendulum swing the centre-right PNV currently are. Ibarretxe came to power with the sovereigntist PNV Gipuzkoan power base behind him, but the incumbent Urkullu is linked to Bilbao-based banks and Bizkaian PNV regionalism rather than nationalism and much more tepid on any redefining of territorial relations. Like the right-centre CiU in Catalonia, these are the core people to watch in the coming years because they can impact on much larger swathes of public opinion. Now the PNV and CiU aren't historically the best of butties (CiU want the fiscal regime the Basques have) but if a situation were to arise where they were to find it in their common interests to co-operate strategically on territorial and fiscal claims over and above meeting twice a year to fork out the odd couple of million euros to needy schools on both of their northern internal borders ...

Anonymous said...

On a lighter and less political side, this year's Korrika relay race will be held in April.

600,000 people taking part by running a km, sponsoring or organising. It's a 24 hour non-stop relay to raise money to Basque language education. They'll cover about 2,000 km I think over 10 days. Impressive. That's why the Basques are so strong. It's the Big Society with bells on!


There are now similar races in Ireland (an Rith) and Britanny (Redadeg). How about Wales?

Dai Dwl

MH said...

Some interesting points, Anon 18:47.

Let me start by repeating that I have no confidence that the court will not make its decision on political rather than judicial grounds. It seems to be clutching at straws to base an argument over some distinction between "reject" and "condemn". No doubt if they said "condemn" you would refuse to legitimize Sortu because they did not say "utterly condemn" ... and if they then said "utterly condemn" you would reject them for not saying "completely and utterly condemn" ... and then not be satisfied until they added "with bells on" (to pick up Dai Dwl's theme) ... and then not for specifying how many bells!

The point is that if the Spanish authorities play "silly buggers", they will attract more international criticism. People will see that their motives are not to do with violence, but are purely political.


But I do agree with you (and in fact said) that what happens next will depend on the EAJ-PNV because they are a larger party with a larger power base. They will not be too concerned about what happens to Sortu for the May elections. But they need to be concerned for the 2013 BAC elections. (For others who are reading this, EAJ-PNV were denied the opportunity to form a government because votes for some other nationalist parties were declared void. This probably cost about six seats. The current BAC government is a coalition of the Socialist and right-wing Peoples Party, a coalition as improbable as Labour and the Conservatives forming an alliance to keep Plaid Cymru out of power in Wales, or the SNP out of power in Scotland.) The EAJ-PNV will do almost anything to avoid that happening again. So they will have to come out and take sides over the issue of legitimization ... though perhaps not yet.

It's interesting also that you mention CiU in Catalunya, for if anything characterized their approach to last year's elections, it was that they wanted to get back into power much more than they wanted to advance Catalunya's constitutional position. Yes, they will try to get the same sort of financial arrangement with Spain that the BAC enjoys, but I think their chances of getting that are virtually zero. Spain is in so much economic trouble itself that it will continue to use Catalunya as a "cash cow" to help ease its own precarious financial position.

It all begs the question, What is Basque and Catalan nationalism for ... if not to push for independence? At least Ibarretxe tried to move things further forward. That's why getting the pro-independence left into mainstream politics is so important. It's a matter of shifting the perspective to seeing independence as a more important issue than the normal left-right issues of short term politics. The ground is very much more advanced in Euskadi than in Catalunya ... for if that were not true, what else could explain the chalk and cheese left and right wings of Spanish politics joining forces in the PSOE-PP coalition to prevent a Basque nationalist government being formed in 2009?

MH said...

I think these runs are a great idea, Dai. Here's some info on last year's an Rith in Ireland, the next one is due in 2012:

Anonymous said...

It is very easy for you people to speak about this from wherever you are. You certainly have no idea.

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