The Spanish government has launched a twin attack on radical Basque nationalism. On 26 August Parliament passed a law making parties which do not conform to the Constitution illegal. On the same day a magistrate’s order closed the offices and seized the property of the political party, Batasuna, roughly, the equivalent of Sinn Fein. The law will apply to any future parties or associations which might be in breach of the Constitution. Cultural associations, bodies concerned with the defence of prisoners and with the Basque language, Euskera, have also been banned and many people have been jailed for their membership of such organisations rather than specific individual offences. Political freedoms in the Basque country are more restricted than t any time since the end of the Franco regime. This sweeping attack on political freedom has provoked almost no protest outside the Basque country.
One of the most monstrous aspects of the new legislation is that failure to condemn ETA’s actions will be a crime. The government party, the PP heirs to Franco, has never condemned the crimes of Franco’s dictatorship even as in recent weeks the newspapers have published pictures of newly discovered bodies of murdered prisoners. The Socialist Party when in government created GAL, a hit squad of foreign mercenaries to fight against ETA. GAL killed 23 people, including innocent bystanders, but the victims’ relatives still await an apology from the Socialist party leaders.
The horrific nature of ETA’s recent actions explains public approval for the government’s measures. In early August two people, one a six year old girl died when a bomb exploded outside a Civil Guard barracks in Alicante province. Such tragedies were inevitable once ETA targeted ‘economic targets’ the easiest of which is tourism.
ETA’s campaign of armed struggle long ago exhausted the high ranking military and political targets which once brought it support in the Basque country and beyond. [For example, the killing of Franco’s Prime Minister, Admiral Carrerro Blanco in 1973]. As security measures improved ETA, like other armed movements before it, had to look for easier targets. In the Basque country itself that resulted in attacking municipal councillors. Elsewhere it meant attacking tourism. Such incidents are inevitable given the nature of the ‘economic target’ and they unleashed a movement of revulsion which the conservative government of the Partido Popular was able to exploit. What seems more surprising is that the Socialist Party has supported both the judges’ ruling and the law which will make advocacy of radical nationalism illegal. The main force to the left of the Socialist party, Izquierda Unida, whose core is the Spanish Communist Party are opposed to the banning of Batasuna but support the legal procedures against it, a half hearted position which arouses tensions in its Basque section. The most coherent opposition to the new measures comes from the moderate conservative Basque nationalist parties, the PNV and EU, who realise that the measures are also directed against themselves. Those parties are in practice regionalists, who think that membership of the European Community will transform the situation and will make the clash between Basque and Spanish nationalists redundant. Nevertheless, they are not prepared to renounce their century old principles, brought out on ceremonial occasions, but which could bring them into danger from a change in the law.
The PP can hardly lose from the present situation. Moderate nationalists, a stronger rival to them than ETA can be accused of supporting terrorism, the Socialist Party is now following an identical line, and those radical nationalists who have made critical noises will be forced into line. Radical nationalists will be free to abstain, or they can vote for a moderate nationalist party. Removal of freedom to express their politics legally is likely to bring recruits to ETA, but it is unlikely that ETA can use them in ways which does not discredit it further.