Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

21 January 1999 Edition

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Peace is still a long way off

Basque journalist Teresa Toda reports on the continuing difficulties in kick-starting the Basque peace process

Deep inside, nobody really thought things would roll easily in the Basque Country after the Lizarra-Garazi Agreement, ETA's ceasefire and last October's elections. And so it is: the new road towards a real solution to the so called ``Basque problem'' - a solution opened up so clearly by that Agreement, which was signed by the nationalist parties PNV, EA and independentist Herri Batasuna (HB), nationalist trade unions and over 20 different organisations - is riddled by pitfalls, dug by those who identify peace only with the absence of ETA violence, not with a situation that solves the problems that gave rise to armed struggle.

The Spanish Government, the conservative Popular Party (PP) that supports it, the socialist PSOE, and the mainstream Spanish media are trying very hard indeed to make things difficult. They are stalling to see if the Agreement falls to pieces and then they would step in to implement their ``solution''. Things may not be so clearly blueprinted, but it certainly looks like it.

A touchstone of the real will to approach a process of negotiations is the transfer of Basque political prisoners to prisons in the Basque Country. All Basque nationalist groups, and the majority of the Basque population, according to recent polls, consider that the transfer should be inmmediate, and not as a consequence of negotiations. But José María Aznar's Government in Madrid declares again and again that transfers will depend on the progress made in the ``peace process'', and on the prisoners' personal attitudes, thus making this the only issue in a negotiating agenda with ETA.

Basque society is reacting to such rock-bottom attitudes. The wave of solidarity with prisoners and their families led to a huge demonstration on Saturday 9 January in Bilbao, when well over 100,000 people filled the streets to demand respect for the prisoners' rights, including, of course, the right to be close to their home towns. That demonstration was jointly called by the three main nationalist political parties, PNV, EA and HB, something that had not happened since 1976.

The political issues

And that is what really worries Aznar's Government, his party and the PSOE: the firms steps towards united actions by Basque nationalist forces. The fact is that the nerve of the ``Basque problem'' is now being openly touched and ETA's ceasefire has made the Spanish nationalists' lack of arguments quite evident. All they did before was condemn violence and stage anti-ETA fronts; they now have to face up to the underlying political issues (that is, the Basques' right to self-determination, very simply stated) and their response is very negative: limits to a nation's rights are set by the Spanish Constitution and that is untouchable; they demand that Herri Batasuna ``condemns all forms of violence'' before sitting down to talk to them, and want the other nationalist parties to do the same.

What they are referring to are recent petrol-bomb attacks launched against different targets - state facilities, police and banks, mainly - as well as to anonymous letters and pamphlets directed to PP politicians reminding them of their responsibilities in the issue of prisoners and their families, letters which have been taken as ``threats'' by the addressees, who blame Jarrai, the independentist youth organisation, for sending them.

That line has been taken up by the Spanish media, magnifying the attacks, treating them as they used to treat ETA's actions. As in a well-rehearsed choir, Spanish forces and the Spanish media have begun requesting that the parties bound by the Lizarra-Garazi Agreement explicitely condemn such actions and cut their relations with HB until HB ``condemns''. Without much success, it must be said, for, in spite of some declarations by PNV and EA, talks and relations among all the Lizarra-Garazi groups have continued, as well as contacts between the new Basque Government (PNV and EA) and HB.

Nevertheless, the Spanish media and politicians saw in the situation they themselves whipped up the posibility of trying to break up the Lizarra-Garazi Agreement and all it means, particularly as IU, a state-wide left-wing coalition that signed the document, has serious internal doubts and strong external pressures to break away from its proposals. The media campaign is very strident against Basque nationalism, which is systematically presented as anti-democratic.

A complicated issue

Known in Basque as kale borroka (street struggle), petrol-bomb attacks have been frequent over the last few years in the Basque Country as a form of reply to State repression. During 1998, however, as the new circumstances were being shaped, the number of such attacks diminished, but kale borroka did not wholly disappear.

According to independentist spokespersons, that form of struggle reflects the legitimate exasperation of sectors of Basque society in face of the State's attitude and the maintenance of State violence, in prisons and elsewhere. But, at the same time, at this stage of the incipient process, such actions are in fact creating tension among those who are working together to open up new political scenarios and possibilities, that is to say the Lizarra-Garazi forces.

In that sense, several spokespersons have pointed out that, although such a form of struggle may be fully legitimate, it is necessary to reflect on the side-effects it has at a time when political confrontation between the Spanish State and the Basque Country is ``at its highest point of the last decades'', in the words of Rafa Diez, secretary general of the indepententist trade union LAB and one of the four people that form the official delegation of Herri Batasuna for contacts with the Spanish Government.

As for the ``peace process'' itself, it must be said that HB MP Arnaldo Otegi has stressed that, for the moment, there is no such process, as the Spanish Government has yet to show its full disposition to it. Up to now, there has been only one face to face contact between the Herri Batasuna delegation and Government officials. Over and over again Herri Batasuna says it does not represent ETA, and reminds Aznar that if he really wants to talk to ETA he should go straight to them. Nobody doubts he knows how to go about it, so... the next move is his.

An Phoblacht
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