Now what? The ambivalence of post ETA Spain

By Laura Alvarez

On the 20th of October this year, Spain saw how the contained outrage accumulated for decades and the tears of helplessness poured by many shifted into a strange feeling that contained bits of happiness, memories of affliction, tasteless relief, all covered by high doses of scepticism.

Politicians refer to this historical moment as democracy’s biggest achievement while citizens are still digesting the magnitude of such big news. They do not entirely believe this is the beginning of the end of ETA, the last terrorist group active in Europe. Some voices from the Civil Society even doubt the reliability of the declaration itself, while others simply do not know how to approach the new political scenario, which feels like a tabula rasa.

A survey published a few days ago in the printed version of the Spanish newspaper El Pais showed that only 31% of citizens believe this is really the end of ETA’s terrorism. Fifty three percent believed it was not, while 18% were not sure about the answer. People’s scepticism is in stark contrast with politician’s satisfaction towards a ‘taken-for-granted’ end of ETA.

Regardless of that, the truth is that ETA’s announcement was not as moving as it had  been expected. Many people did not feel happiness, but sadness, remembering those who died and their families. This was more evident in the Basque Country, where there was no burst of euphoria at all. The contained malaise caused by ETA had slowly grown on all realms of Basque social and political life.

Now it is time to get used to its absence, and it will be no easy task as ETA has historically determined Spanish politics. In the 1980’s it became the major obstacle not only for the full construction of democracy, but also for the peaceful coexistence between territories in Spain.

With the international conference that took place in San Sebastian on Monday the 17th of October, the terrorist group saw a great opportunity to officially drop armed activity. It was a unique chance for them to move on and to retire magnificently. With Sin Féinn’s leader Gerry Adams and ex-Secretary-General of the UN Kofi Annan at the forefront, the event gave the armed conflict an honourable closure. The summit provided ETA’s announcement with a red carpet, bringing it at the front page of many newspapers worldwide.

However, it was only consolidating a peace process that started a few months ago. In January this year the Abertzale Left (Basque coalition of left-wing nationalist groups) openly celebrated ETA’s cease-fire decision, announced in September 2010. The imminent arrival of an official announcement was highly predictable, as lately ETA had been more of a nuisance rather than a support to the nationalist cause.

The demands for peace and cease-fire have increased in the past years, gaining ground even among terrorists who are jailed. This, together with the unprecedented support the Abertzale Left received in the last regional and local elections increasingly weakened ETA. Its announcement of definitive cessation of its armed activity was, in many ways, a death foretold.

In the statement provided to the BBC and to the Basque newspaper Gara, ETA admitted the present was an unprecedented and historical opportunity to obtain a “just and democratic solution to the age-old political conflict.” This means the terrorist group is declaring the end of its armed activity in exchange for a solution to the Basque struggle. They are calling on the Spanish and the French governments to start negotiating for bringing ETA’s prisoners to Basque territory and to meet the Basque region’s demands for self-determination.

Spanish Prime Minister José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero said the country is now experiencing a “legitimate satisfaction” in regards to the victory over violence and terror. The message of the leader of the right-wing people’s party, Mariano Rajoy went in a very similar direction: “democracy has beaten terrorism,” “this is thanks to the amazing effort made by the security and judiciary forces of the state,” “a new era is coming and there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.”

In fact, this is another of the biggest question marks currently arising within Spain’s journalistic arena: will ETA’s announcement affect the result of the upcoming general election? So far that does not seem to have happened. An opinion poll published on the 9th of October in the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia showed the right-wing people’s party would get absolute majority if elections took place today. Whether the worker’s party will play its latest card and use  ETA’s historical announcement as a medal for itself during the next campaign remains to be seen.

Nevertheless,  the bloodshed seems be over, although the political conflict between the Abertzale Left and the Spanish government is still ongoing. The clash of interests regarding sovereignty will continue until a real solution, one able to content both sides of the conflict, is met. And we should not forget about the victims and their families, who in one way or another will have to be compensated. What amalgam of thought will hybridise and mature from this announcement, is for the future to decide.


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