6 April 2006 Edition
ETA ceasefire: Interview with Batasuna spokesperson, Pernando Barrena
Finding lasting solutions for Basque Country
On Thursday 23 March, in a move showing the determination of the Basque pro-independence left movement to initiate conflict resolution with the Spanish and French states, ETA called a permanent ceasefire. So far however, the response of the Spanish government has not been as positive as expected, as Batasuna's main interlocutor, Arnaldo Otegi has been imprisoned after being charged in relation to incidents that took place at a demonstration he addressed.
Here, Batasuna spokesperson, Pernando Barrena, talks to An Phoblacht about the objectives, hopes and possibilities opening up in the Basque Country.
An Phoblacht: What are the priorities in this new process?
Pernando Barrena: Our key priority is to establish a process of conflict resolution. The agreement should rest on the basis of peace and respect for the Basques' right to decide their own future in a context where the views of all political, social and trade union organisations in the Basque Country are incorporated.
The Spanish government tends to present the situation as if "peace" simply means to "cease armed struggle in exchange for the release of prisoners". The establishment of a formula for the release of all political prisoners is key,; otherwise there is no possibility of any kind of process.
Batasuna considers that the only way to measure the degree of commitment and determination of the Spanish government to this process is to assess their level of respect for the right to self-determination of Basque men and women.
Local elections will take place in the Spanish State next year. Do you expect the Spanish government to end the ban against your party?
The banning of Batasuna is, at this time, a hot potato for the Madrid administration, as they need the Basque pro-independence left to be legal so they can take part in negotiations.
Batasuna's position on this issue is simple: they created legislation (the Party Act) designed to ban our party and now they must abolish that legislation. We are not talking about concessions here, but about respect for fundamental civil and political rights, rights which are being violated by Spanish legislation promoted by the Popular Party and the Socialist Party, which is currently in government.
Do you believe that the Spanish and French states will accept the right to self-determination for the Basque people and which one would be the model to follow?
I believe that a declaration by the Spanish and French states recognising the right of Basque people to decide on this is fundamental, and would be a great step towards the resolution of the conflict. I am convinced that Zapatero and Chirac will arrive at a Basque version of the Downing Street Declaration but, at the same time, in order to reach the current situation in the North of Ireland, the Basques would have to follow the example of Québec and we would have to work daily towards the national construction of our country. We cannot expect a day D and hour H for this. It is the common work of those who support self-determination in the Basque Country that will be key to bringing Madrid and Paris to negotiations.
From your point of view, how important has been the example of the Irish peace process?
The Basque pro-independence movement has been monitoring the Irish process for many years, thanks to the good relationship we enjoy with the republican movement. We have received constant political advice and we have come to know the risks of this kind of process. The Downing Street Declaration is key to raising the "limits" of the Irish peace process. In the Basque case, the Spanish and French governments need to establish a similar framework to guarantee they will not interfere with the decisions that the Basque may take in the future.
Conflict resolution processes are long and tortuous. Do you believe that those in conflict in the Basque Country will be patient enough?
We need to be patient. The consequences of armed conflict, which has its roots centuries ago cannot be solved overnight. Nevertheless some groups have been especially victimised due to the situation in our country- prisoners, their families, etc. and they have an understandable sense of urgency in finding solutions.
We need to advance slowly but surely, with patience and yet understanding the need to find a political resolution procedure as soon as possible. The speed of the process is not the focus. What we are really looking for are lasting solutions.
In the Irish case, republicans have highlited and criticised the anti-agreement elements within the British system who are trying to undermine the peace process through espionage, imprisonment and judicial processes. Republicans have resisted these provocations, keeping the focus on their political objectives. Do you believe that the Basque pro-independence movement could face a similar situation?
I believe this is already happening. Despite the Spanish government saying that they support a resolution process, it is evident that some of the state agents- judges and intelligence apparatus, and media, have a particular agenda focused on thwarting this process.
Each of the pro-independence movement spokespersons have been brought to the special court. The political macro-trials continue, as does the dispersal of political prisoners.
We have learned from Irish republicans that our strength should be based on internal negotiation, on taking cohesive decisions, and on keeping on the road in spite of provocations.
Despite attacks by the Spanish establishment, we are determined to progress into conflict resolution. Our challenge is to pursue ETA's permanent ceasefire announcement with a permanent political offensive towards peace, territorial unity and self-determination for the Basque Country.
After the ETA statement, how does Batasuna assess the imprisonment last week of Otegi, and his subsequent release only following the payment of €650,000?
This is a clear attempt to sabotage the process of conflict resolution. In the past, the Spanish government has stated that with a ceasefire everything was possible; now, once this is a reality, the state's answer is the imprisonment of Arnaldo Otegi.
What is Zapatero going to say to those heads of state who gave him an ovation at the last EU meeting: that his answer to ETA's ceasefire has been the jailing of the main interlocutor within the Basque pro-independence movement? This type of attitude creates distrust and also foretells dirty tricks by the PSOE and Zapatero, to which those of us who are looking for a scenario of peace and resolution for Euskal Herria can only answer with determination and strength.
What do you expect from Ireland?
We are indebted to the republican movement for its support, and we only hope we can walk this road together. This is a time of new opportunities for Basques, the result of many years of political progress, and it is important to say to Sinn Féin supporters that they have the right to enjoy the excitement and hope that the decision of the Basque pro-independence movement has brought to the Basque Country.
Apart from the help of the Republican Movement, the Irish Government could become an important point of reference to help in the advancement of the process. They have enough experience to be able to give advice to both sides. They could act as mediators or even as guarantors of future agreements. We intend to approach them and many other international agents that we consider could play an important role in this process of finding lasting solutions for the Basque Country.