Geopolitics

After ETA Ceasefire, New Worries As Basque Separatists Make Political Comeback

A controversial Basque nationalist coalition scored big in last month’s local elections. Is the political success of separatists, which follows ETA’s decision last year to call a “permanent ceasefire,” a recipe for lasting reconciliation, or the seeds of

A Basque student rally for independence (www_ukberri_net)
A Basque student rally for independence (www_ukberri_net)
Sandrine Morel

At last week's swearing in ceremony in the Basque city of San Sebastián, the new mayor – Juan Carlos Izaguirre – wore a pin on his jacket lapel calling for official reconciliation with imprisoned members of the notorious ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna), the separatist terrorist group.

Izaguirre, elected as the head of the third largest city in this autonomous region, is an independent member of Bildu, a Basque political grouping that was officially launched just this past April.

Bildu (meaning "gather" in Basque) is a political coalition made up of established separatist parties – such as Alternatiba and Eusko Alkartasuna – as well as several hundred independent politicians like Izaguirre who are politically aligned with the nationalist Abertzale Left movement.

This coalition has made it possible for the heirs of Batasuna, considered the political wing of ETA, to stage a comeback. Spain's Supreme Court banned Batasuna in 2003, calling the ETA-affiliated organization "anti-democratic."

In Spain's May 22 local elections, the Bildu coalition performed well in the Basque region, winning more than 25% of the vote to finish just behind the moderate Basque Nationalist Party (PNV). The PNV, however, failed to reach an alliance agreement with the Basque Socialist Party (PSE), essentially splitting the vote and allowing Bildu to win a total of 106 council seats. In San Sebastian, Bildu managed to finish first even though the PSE had governed the city for 20 years.

The elections also gave Bildu control of 59 out of 86 city councils in Guipuzcoa, the Basque Country's most radical province. It will also have control over the province's purse strings. Guipuzcoa has an operating budget of approximately 800 million euros.

Madrid watches with wary eye

The Spanish government is clearly uneasy about the election results, particularly as far as Guipuzcoa is concerned. Prior to the election, Bildu had been banned because of its alleged ties to Batasuna. But on May 5, the official kickoff for election campaigning, the Constitutional Court of Spain lifted the ban (6-5), allow Bildu to run its candidates.

Why is the Spanish government so worried? Not only will Bildu now manage about one billion euros worth of budget funds, it will also have access to confidential information, including tax data.

"In the past, whenever people close to ETA worked in public institutions, it made it possible for ETA to get information about its potential targets," says Florencio Dominguez, managing director of Vasco Press news agency.

Some observers fear that key projects, including the construction of a high-speed railway line connecting Madrid and San Sebastian, will be abandoned.

Maite Pagazaurtundua, president of the Foundation for Victims of Terrorism, says that "Bildu's victory in the local elections puts an end to all the work done by the regional government to delegitimize ETA." The person spearheading that effort was Francisco Javier "Patxi" López, a PSE politician who currently serves as the Basque region's president.

"Bildu is going to find arguments to justify violence, to demand imprisoned ETA members be pardoned, and to advocate for impunity," says Pagazaurtundua, who views Mayor Izaguirre's pro-ETA lapel pin as a dangerous omen.

During a press conference, the new mayor of San Sebastián declared he would take down a "No To ETA" banner that currently hangs on the city council building's facade. Izaguirre called the banner "meaningless."

Under pressure from Abertzale Left leaders, who are hoping for permission to participate in 2012 legislative elections, ETA announced a "ceasefire" in September 2010. It later declared that the ceasefire would be "permanent, general and verifiable." And in April, ETA stopped extorting "revolutionary taxes' from Basque area company directors.

"But the separatist organization is still refusing to disband and surrender its weapons," political expert Dominguez says. "Bildu has a new political agenda. First of all, Bildu wants imprisoned ETA members to be gathered in Basque prisons. It also wants to launch political negotiations that could lead to self-determination."

Bildu responds to their critics by saying the coalition's electoral success means ETA no longer needs to resort to violence. Saying the era of terrorist attacks is now over, Bildu spokesman Pello Urizar says it is high time to launch a process of normalization and democratization in the Basque Country.

"We are fighting to make it possible for all Basque political groups to have the same rights," he says.

Read the original article in French.

photo - www_ukberri_net

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