Last June, 4, around 1 million people, called together by the Terrorism Victims Association (AVT[i]
) and some other civic organizations, packed the streets of Madrid[ii]
to protest against the so called peace talks that Socialist government leaded by José Luis R. Zapatero have offered to the leftist - terrorist Basque organization ETA.
Madrid has seen many similar demonstrations in the past to protest against Basque terrorism, which has murdered up to one thousand people in the last 30 years. What makes this one different is that, for the first time in years, the march has not gathered people from both majority democratic parties. Now, the protest has been supported only by one of those parties, the conservative Partido Popular of former Prime Minister Aznar, whilst now ruling Socialist party has kept apart and has opposed to the march and even has criticized the leaders of Partido Popular and of the Victims Associations because of their lack of will to stop violence and reach peace. It has led Spanish society to a breaking-off atmosphere never seen before in the recent democratic Spanish history.
After a long period of steadiness in the fight against terrorism, specially internal, thanks to Government of Partido Popular, which almost led ETA to its complete disappearance, President Zapatero and his left-wing allies of Esquerra Republicana de Cataluña (ERC) and Izquierda Unida (former Communist Party) have turned around. They showed before their strong penchant for the appeasement policy with regards terrorism, when removed Spanish troops from Irak, changing the position of former Partido Popular government and its leader, José María Aznar, firmly aligned with the Bush – Blair policy against international terrorism. Although this change of principles might have proven wrong in the international play field, it was at last an electoral promise of Socialist Party during the polls campaign of March 2004 – but the dramatic change of the internal counterterrorist policy held by all the former governments, including the socialist governments of 80’s and first 90’s leaded by Felipe González, and the introduction of the appeasement principles in this matter, mean a breaking-off point hard to understand not only by the victims of terrorism, but also by the main part of the population.
To understand this is necessary to have a look on the position of Prime Minister Zapatero and his ruling party in the Spanish Parliament. Socialist party, which reached a relative majority in the last polls of March 2004, is kept in the government only because their alliance with the radical party ERC, the Catalonian leftist nationalist party which, with less than the 3%[iii]
of total nationwide votes and just 8 representatives in Spanish Parliament, has become the critic ally both in Catalonian and Spanish Parliaments, guaranteeing majorities to Socialist Party in exchange for political influence. This has pushed Socialist Party out of the moderation tracks towards a radical left wing government model.
The leader of ERC, José Luis Carod Rovira, is a former member of the extinct Catalonian terrorist group Terra Lliura
(Free Land), a Stalinist organization which pursued the independence of Catalonia. Before the polls of March 2004, but after the regional ones in Catalonia by which he entered in Catalonian Government, Carod Rovira held a meeting in Perpignan (South France) with the chiefs of ETA. Media filtered the contents of this meeting, in which is said that ETA committed itself not to bomb in Catalonia, and in exchange ERC would press Spanish Government to accept the ETA claims, including the main one, which is the independence for Basque Country.
The polls of March 2004 put Carod Rovira in the best way to reinforce his position and to fulfil his commitments agreed in the Perpignan meeting: thanks to his 8 representatives, he has been able to support Zapatero and his Government, and in exchange he has been reaching more and more commitments from him in the benefit of nationalist cause in general and ETA in particular.
One of those benefits consisted in the non-execution of the Political Parties Law against the political branch of ETA, called Batasuna. According to this law, approved by former Partido Popular lawmakers, the Government, by means of the General Attorney, is able to ban any Political Party which could be supposed to back terrorist groups. But, in the regional polls held in Basque Country in April 2005, Batasuna took part with a blank brand called Communist Party of the Basque Land (PCTV), and in spite of the evidences linking it to ETA, Spanish Government did not hindered the candidature of PCTV to the polls in any way.
After that, Zapatero’s Government presented to the Parliament an initiative to start peace talks with ETA, making benefit of what Zapatero called a tacit truce that ETA could have declared. However, ETA itself has been setting low power bombs all over Spain even during the last weeks, demonstrating that they are operative and willing to put the gun on the table as a negotiating argument. Blind to the evidences, Zapatero is still defending the possibility to end up Basque terrorism by dialogue and with no need to pay political prize for that.
Yesterday, ETA has openly shown[iv]
its point of view on that all through a letter published in Gara – the left wing newspaper which backs Basque nationalism. In the letter, the terrorist group claims responsibility of the last bombings, confirms its will to start peace talks with the Spanish Government, but denies any possibility of truce – i. e. the gun is still on the table and reiterates its final goal of achieving the independence of Basque Region from the rest of Spain.
Mariano Rajoy, leader of conservative Partido Popular, has asked Zapatero to recognize that ETA has not changed its goals, nor its strategy in the last 20 years, and that only the steadiness policy carried out by previous Government has achieved real results in the fight against terrorism. No official response has been issued from Zapatero’s Government yet.
Let us hope that Government will listen to the street voice and will turn back to the firmness policy based both in legal and police efforts – otherwise, Spain will fall in the trap and will go to the talk with the terrorists’ gun on the table.