In breaking news
this morning, ETA, the armed wing of the Basque separatist movement in
Spain, has declared a “permanent ceasefire”, promising “to start a new
democratic process in the Basque country”.

ETA is regarded by many countries as a terrorist organisation and has
been responsible for numerous bombings and killings, including most
famously the assassination of Franco’s prime minister, Luis Carrero
Blanco, in 1973. A previous ceasefire broke down in 1999 and ETA
returned to violence, although recent bombs have not resulted in casualties.

The parallels with the peace process in Northern Ireland are extremely strong, and as The Guardianreports
this morning “the renouncement of violence by the IRA – with which ETA
has had a long relationship – [is] thought to be a major factor” in the
ceasefire. Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams has regularly visited Spain and last
year called on ETA to work for peace.

Like Ireland, the Basque country is traditionally conservative and
predominantly Catholic, but the Basques fought with the left in the
Spanish Civil War because of the strong centralism of the Spanish
right. The return of the left to power in 2004 has led to renewed
decentralisation – most obviously in Catalonia
– and opened the way to possible negotiations with ETA. Prime minister
Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who cautiously welcomed the ceasefire,
has previously promised to hold talks if ETA renounced violence.

The right, however, is still hostile; according to the BBC, “opposition
leader Mariano Rajoy said the ceasefire was a pause and it did not
amount to a renunciation of criminal activity.” Peace in Northern
Ireland has been a bipartisan project; it was a Conservative government
under John Major that started talking to the IRA. It’s doubtful whether
resolution of the Basque conflict will happen until both sides of
politics come on board.

Peter Fray

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