POLITICAL ROUND UP BY MURIEL PILKINGTON – 24th March 2008

ETA celebrates Easter

The car bomb which exploded outside the Guardia Civil barracks in Calahorra, La Rioja, around 2 pm on Good Friday, badly damaged several flats, blasted out the windows of dozens of others, and slightly injured a Guardia Civil. As a result, a couple of hundred people are going to have spend several nights in hotels while the experts decide if their homes are safe to go back to. Are the members of the Basque terrorist group ETA totally blinkered? Can’t they see that TV images of shocked people standing around helplessly among the debris against a background of devastating destruction will only harden people against them, not frighten them? Can’t they read the signs that the last general election sent out? The fact that the moderate Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) lost a seat in the election while the Socialist Party gained two is being interpreted by most political observers as an indication that a majority of Basques are not keen on the idea of independence from Spain. One result is that the party’s general secretary, Iñigo Urkulla, has already decided to shelve a referendum on the issue that Basque Country regional president Juan Jose Ibarretxe has been threatening to hold in October, even though the Madrid government has told him it would be unconstitutional. It has to be admitted that Sr Urkulla’s conciliatory stance could have something to do with the fact that the PNV hopes to become one of the parliamentary allies that José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is going to need to form a majority government. He may also be worried by the fact that the Union, Progress and Democracy (UP&D) party founded last year by Socialist dissident Rosa Diez, who is also a Basque, won more than 300,000 votes nationwide, about 2,500 less than the votes cast for the PNV in the Basque Country. Sra Diez founded her party with the specific aim of combating Basque separatism, and nationalist sentiments in the rest of Spain. She is quite a familiar figure nationally because she was the Socialist Party Member of the European Parliament for several years but resigned after Sr Zapatero announced in June 2006 that he intended to hold peace talks with ETA. Sr Zapatero has since admitted that he was being too optimistic in believing that ETA was serious about the permanent ceasefire it declared in March 2006. He broke off the talks after an ETA car bomb destroyed the Terminal 4 car park at Madrid’s Barajas airport on December 30th, 2006, killing two people. ETA officially ended the ceasefire a few days after the municipal elections on May 27th last year, and last Friday’s bomb was the 17th ETA action since then. Most have involved bombs exploding outside public buildings late at night but ETA has not been able to resist going back to its traditional bullet-in-the-head execution style, killing two plain clothes Guard Civil in the south of France on December 1st last year, and a former Socialist councillor on March 7th this year. The Guardia Civil barracks bombed last Friday is located in the busy centre of Calahorra and the bomb went off at a time when many people were returning from watching the Good Friday parades, indicating that ETA may be planning to embark on the sort of killing sprees it indulged in the 80s – presumably to frighten the government into renewing the peace talks. ETA has been badly weakened by the arrest of most of its leaders both in France and Spain in recent years. But there’s a new generation coming up who seem to have little of the idealism that spurred the 1960s generation to take on the Franco regime, winning a lot of sympathy in the process, most of which ETA lost it stepped up the bombings and killings after Franco’s death. Perhaps the government should go for broke and allow Sr Ibarretxe’s that referendum to go ahead. The Socialists can afford to be magnanimous after their election victory and the results would at least reveal just how many Basques want an independent state which – if ETA had its way – would include the regions of Navarra in Spain and the Pays Basque on the other side of the Pyrenees. That’s a pipe dream if ever there was one, because the French would declare a conventional full-scale war rather than give up one millimetre of their territory. And if the Basques vote a resounding “No” to independence, perhaps ETA, like the IRA, will bow reluctantly to the will of the majority and lay down their arms rather than face a war of attrition on both sides of the Pyrenees. In any event, it is to be hoped that Sr Zapatrero will stick to his vow not to re-open the peace process which even he must realise would be a betrayal of the Basque people’s will as expressed in the last election.

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