International Writers Magazine: Comment
ETA'S PEACE FOR REAL?
the 11th of March, 2003 several carriages of four commuter trains
coming into Madrid were blown to bits. It was early in the morning
of a normal working day hence the trains were packed. No fewer
than 200 people were killed and another 2000 were injured. The
Spanish government, led by the conservative Peoples Party
erroneously placed the blame on ETA, the Basque separatist movement.
The methods were
certainly similar to those perpetrated in the past by the so called
freedom fighters, although never on a scale of such human carnage. Not
only was the government mistaken (the horrific massacre was due to yet
another Al Qaeda attack) that in the Spanish General elections that
followed almost immediately, they were toppled by the opposing Socialist
party. Trouble is that Spain, for the first time in 8 years, was left
with a governing minority and the new president, Jose María Rodriguez
Zapatero had no choice but to enter into negotiations with the left-wing
Nationalist parties to form a government.
One of the political parties was the ERC, the Catalonian Marxist republicans
who have always clamoured for independence from Spain. However, because
of these new partnerships, the door was opened to study and redefine
regional autonomy as laid out by the Spanish Constitution of not only
Catalonia but other nationalist regions including Galicia and the Basque
country. For the first time since the transition period from the Franco
dictatorship to democracy in 1978, the Spanish voters have inadvertently
allowed for a redefinition of their Constitution that could eventually
revert to more political freedom for these regions. Many interpret these
new negotiations as eventual independence from Spain, including the
But what about ETA?
The Madrid massacre had sent shock waves throughout the whole country.
Every Spaniard from North to South and East to West condemned the atrocity
out right. Back in the HQ of Batasuna, the illegally declared political
wing of ETA was rethinking its strategy. It is obvious that the magnitude
of such a criminal act had put a damper on any intention of continued
violence that could include loss of life. However, the extortions, street
violence and vandalism continued. The scale of bombings had been tapered
to a few squids placed around the country just to remind the public
that ETA was alive and well. Then, out of the blue, a press report shocked
the nation. The ERC had been secretly negotiating with ETA for a ceasefire.
Where? Not for the whole of Spain but for Catalonia! If you dont
come to Barcelona to blow up supermarkets, well support your freedom
fighting, was the kind of message that came across to the rest
of Spain. To add fuel to the fire, the socialist government in cahoots
with the ERC was in the midst of negotiating Catalonias new rules
Naturally, the Peoples Party, now in the opposition hit the roof;
so much so that their continuous acid rhetoric has dubbed them Spains
moans and groans party.
But Zapatero, up until now has not being doing too badly. We all know
that he pulled the Spanish troops out of Iraq, much to the dismay of
George Bush but the result has been nothing but positive. Iraq turned
into a mess. To add insult to injury, Zapatero then kicked off the so
called Alliance of Civilisations, a sort of worldwide think-tank,
in an effort to quell the world turmoil of Islam versus the rest. Even
Condoleezza Rice conceded that there might be something in this type
of reconciliation to stop the rot. His next move was to snub the UK
in exchange for a new relationship with the pillars of Europe;
France and Germany. We are the real Europe, he said in a
press statement. On the domestic front he has also been gaining Brownie
points. He has introduced womans equal rights (half his cabinet
is female as well as top level jobs in the Civil Service), legalised
homosexual marriages, abolished religious education, brought a clamp
down on domestic violence and passed a law to ban smoking in most public
places. All good stuff! Above all, he continues to lambaste the USA
over most of its foreign policies and this anti-Americanism in itself
has improved his ratings in the opinion polls.
But the sweetness within the honeymoon is beginning to sour. Hes
beginning to upset the status quo that took Spain so long to achieve
since the end of the Franco era.
Several recent moves have not only split Spain down the middle but have
opened the old wounds of the Spanish Civil war. The mere fact of opening
up a dialogue with the Catalans for more autonomy has caused them to
ask for Nation status. This includes the Catalan as the
main language, the removal of all symbols that remained from the Franco
era and above all, the return of the national archives pertaining to
Catalonia and stored in Salamanca, to be returned to the Catalans. All
these demands have triggered off similar ones in the Basque region,
Valencia, Galicia and even Andalusia. They all wish to be different.
The bottom line is always the economic issue. That is, who pays what
to whom from the central coffers!
Turning back to Europe, Zapatero had another setback when his old friend
Schroeder was replaced by Angela Merkel, the new German Chancellor.
Ms. Merkel, in true Thatcherism fashion has informed Europe on no uncertain
terms that Germany comes first, Europe second and Spain, well,
Ill think about it! As for France, the Prime Minister Villapen
is too busy fighting the youngsters and the trade unions on Frances
labour laws to worry about Spain. And the seat of power in Brussels?
Well, apart from a cutback on certain European funds and a few slaps
across the wrists for not complying with many European rules the Spanish
government is now in hot water, for literally causing a power
struggle thanks to protectionism in the energy sector. A possible
takeover by a German power company EON of Endesa, Spains
power conglomerate has been squashed by the Spanish Energy Commission.
Ms. Merkel blew a fuse whilst the EU, once again is studying the options
of applying fines on the Spanish government.
In the middle of all this kafuffle, about two weeks ago, ETA comes along
and declares an indefinite ceasefire. Suddenly, the tables are turned
around. All eyes are once again on Zapatero who proudly announces that
the end to 40 years of violence and murder is as near as it has ever
been. He is forgiven his woes in Brussels and hailed by the 25 European
members plus a few odd ones like Koffi Annan from the United Nations
as the new anti-terrorist hero. France is tickled pink as it could be
a load off their own backs if ETA stopped pestering the Southern borders.
Back home, the Peoples Party, who had been ranting and raving
on how badly Zapatero had handled everything he laid his hands on, now
have to simmer down and for once co-operate with the government to pull
off the end of the strife. Even the Association of Terrorist Victims
so badly hit by ETAs murderous campaign, has mildly applauded
the move as a light at the end of the tunnel.
The question remains: why has ETA suddenly decided to pull out after
so many years of hammering every Spanish government with their criminal
acts all in the name of Basque independence? Are they tired of fighting
a continuing losing battle or have other factors now entered the equation?
One correspondent in the BBC has commented that the European Union philosophy
of a united Europe is in direct contrast to state fragmentation or Balkanisation
which is what ETA always stood for. That is why they consider their
struggle would lead nowhere in the present European climate. But then
how about all these moves in Spain to change the constitution to allow
for more autonomy that is in effect the first step towards independence?
If Catalonia, the Basque country and Galicia were to be given independence
they would automatically lose all European status and would have to
join the queue of other countries waiting to join the EU. Once again,
Zapatero is clever. Well cross that bridge when we come
to it, is in the back of his mind. Getting ETA to lay down
their arms and pacifying the autonomous regions with a simmered down
version of independence without breaking away all together will move
me closer to win the next elections.
The icing on the cake would be that, if this new political approach
allows Batasuna to revert to a legal status, similar to the Sinn Fein
in Northern Ireland, who knows, ETA could have the last laugh after
© James Skinner. April 4th 2006.
Youth in Mass Protests
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