12 May 2023
New Opportunities for the Basque Peace Process
"Constructive diplomatic and political initiatives will bring important impetus to the achievement of a permanent and democratic peace settlement in the Basque Country. When all leaders look to the future and work in partnership, everything becomes possible."
This is an important period for the Basque peace process.
There is a resurgent confidence within the Basque independence movement.
The opportunities are tangible.
A few weeks ago, I attended the EH Bildu organised Aberri Eguna (Basque National Day) celebration in Iruñea. It was a huge mobilisation in support of Basque national independence.
It was very important that Sinn Féin participated.
Ireland and the Basque Country have an historic friendship. The solidarity between the Irish and Basque struggles for independence is unbreakable.
This month, on 18 and 28 May respectively, Sinn Féin and EH Bildu face into potentially watershed elections. Both parties share the possibility of making new important electoral advances.
Currently Sinn Féin is already the largest party in Ireland. These elections in the north of Ireland hold out the prospect of our party emerging as the biggest party within local government, and consolidating the historic Assembly result of May 2022.
There are exciting opportunities on the horizon for EH Bildu and the Abertzale Left.
The Basque independence movement has a coherent strategy. Successive political leaderships have shown great courage and foresight. Groundbreaking decisions have created the peace process and changed the political context. Preparing for government in the future is now a priority for EH Bildu.
But the party recognises clearly, like Sinn Féin in Ireland, that it cannot achieve Basque independence on its own.
There is a need to maximise political unity among Basques.
I said in my speech at Aberri Eguna that the aim of self-determination and national democracy must always sit above political rivalry.
It makes sense that those who are genuinely committed to a better society for all Basque people should develop alliances and work more closely together across the political spectrum and within civic society.
A broad nationalist consensus was essential to bring about the conditions for peace in Ireland, and to secure the Good Friday Agreement, (GFA).
These achievements required that individual parties looked beyond the electoral context, towards the bigger national, democratic picture.
Of course, no two political situations or independence struggles are the same, but there is a compelling strategic logic across the spectrum of Basque national and democratic opinion to explore the potential for expanding common ground and shared political objectives.
Irish unity is now within reach. But Irish republicans and other progressives and democrats need to agree the strategic and political detail of how we achieve and win a unity referendum, and then commence the transition towards reunification. That process will necessitate increased engagement among the broadest cross section of political and civic opinion which supports democratic, constitutional change.
Recently an excellent conference in Belfast brought back into focus the important role played by both the Irish and British governments, the USA, and EU in helping to deliver the Irish peace process, and how the GFA was forged as a peace settlement and a framework for managing future democratic change.
No peace process can be advanced by one side alone.
The PSOE led coalition has been good for politics in the Spanish state. It is first progressive Spanish government, including a coalition of left-wing parties since the fall of the 2nd Republic in 1939.
Whilst the shadow of Franco’s regime continues to contaminate political institutions and civic society in Spain, and conservative forces and a new, extreme right wing pose threats to the democratic process, this coalition government, with the parliamentary support of Basque and Catalan MPs, has led the way in helping to implement new political strategies and social democratic based public policies.
The Basque peace process has been strengthened as a result, but more needs to be done.
It is to be welcomed that all political prisoners have been returned to the Basque country, but now they should all be released; and those in political exile should be allowed to come home.
These are humanitarian priorities. Their resolution will build confidence and inevitably create a basis for political progress, and new possibilities.
That is why intensified dialogue to develop common positions across the Basque national and democratic political spectrum and civic society is so important at this time.
The same potential for real progress also exists in Catalonia, but positive commitment there is also needed from all sides.
It is time to finally resolve the historic political division between Spain and Catalonia, and the Spanish state and the Basque country.
The distinct national rights and identity of Basques and Catalans require to be fully recognised, with new political agreements, and a recognition of their right to self-determination.
My comrade Arnaldo Otegi put it well in his speech at the Aberri Eguna mobilisation.
“The Basques are neither Spanish or French. We are Basques.”
Self-determination and constitutional change for Ireland, the Basque country and Catalonia are significant European political questions which deserve to be democratically addressed.
The GFA provides the mechanism for how national democracy will be achieved in Ireland. It is a reference point.
A negotiated international accord on self-determination and constitutional change between Spain and the Basque and Catalan people represents the pragmatic way forward.
The experience of the Irish peace process proves that when there is sustained engagement, trust and goodwill among all parties then positive outcomes will follow.
The EU can fulfil a constructive role in relation to both the Basque Country and Catalonia.
Last week in Brussels, I said that the denial of national democracy in Ireland, the Basque Country, Catalonia, and Cyprus should supported as pan European priorities by left, democratic and progressive parties.
European democracy will be strengthened not weakened by the EU committing to pro-actively encourage negotiated solutions on these issues.
Spain’s Presidency of the Council of the EU in July can become a gateway for the international community to contribute towards a new phase of the Basque peace process.
Constructive diplomatic and political initiatives will bring important impetus to the achievement of a permanent and democratic peace settlement in the Basque Country.
When all leaders look to the future and work in partnership, everything becomes possible.
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An initiative for dialogue
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Contributions from key figures in the churches, academia and wider civic society as well as senior republican figures