Tuesday, September 7, 2010
A Good News Story
Attending a press conference in 2006 with Arnaldo Otegi, leader of Batasuna, who is currently in prison
The announcement of a ceasefire by ETA on Sunday came after a long process of dialogue and internal discussion among Basque activists.
This dialogue also involved this blog and other Sinn Féin representatives. Sometimes the discussions were held in the Basque country, sometimes in Belfast and on a number of occasions in recent years senior Sinn Féin representatives travelled to Geneva for meetings with Basque representatives.
Given the experience of the 2006 cessation – which ended in mutual recrimination in December 06 after 9 months - there will be those on the Basque and Spanish sides who will be sceptical and cautious about Sunday’s statement and this is understandable.
But caution should not be allowed to encourage preconditions to dialogue. Caution should not be allowed to block progress.
In the Irish peace process we saw how games of scrabble were played around the use and interpretation of some words and some of these became pre-conditions which were then used to delay progress.
Some parties tried to exploit for self gain the uncertainties that accompany every peace process. They put their own party interests above those of the process.
Others, particularly within the British military and intelligence establishment, actively tried to subvert the process. And although they succeeded on several occasions in collapsing it, the process has proven more durable and stronger than they envisaged.
To succeed a credible process between the Basque people and the Spanish state has to respect democratic mandates. The electorate has the right to choose the party it wants to represent it and this decision should be accepted and respected by the Spanish government.
Sunday’s statement did not come out of the blue. It was the culmination of years of debate and discussion and strategising among Basque activists, and in the opinion of this blog it is a significant development and a genuine attempt to resolve the conflict. It has the potential to bring about a permanent end to the conflict with the Spanish state.
Many in the Basque country look to the Irish peace process for inspiration. And much of what has been attempted there in the last decade has been modelled on our experience.
Toward the end of last year and into this year an impressive internal process of strategising took place among Basque parties, trade unionists and political activists. This involved thousands of activists. The debate was about agreeing a new political strategy.
In February a conference of the Abertzale Regional Assemblies (Abertazle Left), which includes the banned Basque party Batasuna, agreed a new broad front approach. This too draws heavily from the Irish experience.
The new strategy commits Basque participants to ‘exclusively political and democratic means’ and seeks to achieve political change ‘in a complete absence of violence and without interference’ and ‘conducted in accordance with the Mitchell Principles.’ This strategy finds its echo in the weekend statement by ETA.
In its video message ETA confirmed ‘its commitment to finding a democratic solution to the conflict. In its commitment to a democratic process to decide freely and democratically our future, through dialogue and negotiations, ETA is prepared today as yesterday to agree to the minimum democratic conditions necessary to put in motion a democratic process, if the Spanish government is willing.
We also convey this to the international community and call on it to respond to ETA’s will and commitment in order to participate in the building of a durable, just and democratic resolution to the centuries-long political struggle.’
Of significance is the fact that Abertzale Left in its response to the ETA statement is describing that initiative as a ‘unilateral and unconditional cessation of military operations indefinitely’. It also speaks of its recognition that it continue to develop initiatives, making ‘commitments and compromising’ in order to make progress.
The Abertzale Left position would suggest that the Basque parties understand the need to build on this initiative. There is also a heavy responsibility on the Spanish government to grasp this opportunity for peace and progress. It needs to be far sighted, to think strategically and to ignore those voices that seek a resolution in terms of victory and defeat.
The international community too has a role to play just as it did in the Irish peace process and is currently doing in the negotiations on the Middle East which commenced last week.
There are dangers ahead. No conflict resolution process can be risk free for its participants. But the benefits of succeeding far outweigh the dangers of failure.