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2 August 2007 Edition

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Interview : Begoña Errasti President of a Basque nationalist party, Eusko Alkartasuna

Begoña Errasti

Begoña Errasti

Seeking solutions to the conflict in the Basque Country

At the beginning of July, BEGONA ERRASTI, President of Eusko Alkartasuna, the social democratic Basque nationalist party which together with the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) and United Left (IU) is in government in the Basque Country, visited Ireland and Scotland.
Begoña Errasti met politicians and academics in Ireland to learn about the Irish situation. In Scotland she met with the Scottish Nationalist Party, whose plan to hold a referendum on independence in 2010 allows the Basque people, says Errasti, “to look into an experience that we must support, because it could mean a fundamental change in this part of Europe”.
During her visit to Ireland Begoña Errasti spoke to An Phoblacht’s SALLY GALLAGHER.

What lessons are there for the Basque Country in the Irish and Scottish experiences?
It would be a very narrow vision of life if we thought we had nothing to learn from the experiences of others. We have always kept an eye on the Irish process. In the Irish context the political path was given total priority. The IRA understood from the very beginning that Sinn Féin was the political player and we believe that this is very relevant to the situation in the Basque Country.

Yes but to reach that point the British and Irish Governments took part in the negotiations. In the Basque Country, is it not the case that the governments not only lacked courage to go forward but it eventually withdrew from negotiations?

It is obvious that the British Government took a hands-on approach from the beginning, and in the Spanish case they also did in certain instances. The Spanish Government has met with ETA. Another thing is that Mr Zapatero has not understood that in a political conflict all those involved in the conflict need to be included in the search for peace and, in the Basque case, ETA needs to take part.
We are very delayed in the process. For over a year, the Spanish government did not comply with what it had agreed with ETA i.e. the end of the policy of dispersing the political prisoners away from the Basque country.
But we have also taken into account the fact that ETA has broken its ceasefire, and that has placed us in a very complicated situation, where violence is going to be used once again as the excuse not to look into the root causes of the conflict.
The key is the recognition of the rights of the Basque people. Either Mr Zapatero did not understand this or he has been unwilling to act on it.
At this moment in time I think it is the latter and because of his failure to promote dialogue among the Basque political forces and his government’s lack of respect for the people of the Basque Country, he has indirectly contributed to strengthening the physical force wing, and we all know what that means.
We should not be fooled. Many things that had already been dealt with during the negotiations were fulfilled but there was also the pretence by ETA of making political decisions on its own when it is not in a position to do so.
I am of the opinion that the process in the Basque Country cannot be reversed, that we are going forward despite stops with grim consequences like the current one or the one in 1999, with the failure of the Agreement of Lizarra-Garazi.
But I am convinced that it was vital to reach the situation of four years ago when Eusko Alkartasuna and Batasuna tried to rebuild the dialogue. I am still of the opinion that all the attempts are valid, that the acceptance that is possible to end the Basque conflict through politics. This is the only way for the Basque Country’s national rights to be recognised.
However, this involves the recognition of the Basque Country as a nation and its right to self-determination.

In Spain, the conflict with the Basque Country is still used as a political football between the two main political parties, is that not one of the main obstacles to finding a solution?
Some of the players have not been willing to advance the process. This is not the case with my party, and I am not here to defend the way the Socialist Party and the Popular Party, and even the PNV, have used the process. Four years ago we took a very risky position to try to generate dialogue. The attitudes of those parties have a lot to do with the political use of the conflict. It has been always like this. And I have to denounce the ultra conservative position of the Popular Party, which is one of the obstacles to the process, and also the position of the Socialist Party that did not comply with what was agreed.
For me one of the main mistakes of Mr Zapatero has been that he has prioritised in the process the armed conflict over the political one, and that mistake has been so important in that once ETA ends its ceasefire the peace process ends and the process to achieve a political normalisation also ends, and that is not right.
The end of the ceasefire has created a difficult situation, but we cannot discard all we achieved – there is some work already done in relation to international involvement, and issues that have already been discussed.

The Spanish Government has announced that it has ended all contacts with ETA, what is your opinion about an announcement of that nature?
That is something that I am sure is very difficult to understand from Ireland but many of us do not understand in either. But it does not prevent us from reminding the party in government of its obligation to look for solutions to the conflict. It is their political responsibility to do so. I am sure that this has been the case for the different British governments over the years.

What now?
The duty of a Basque nationalist party is to keep pushing those who deny our rights as a nation into a political cul-de-sac. That is our point of view in Eusko Alkartasuna.

An Phoblacht Magazine

AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:

  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
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