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A new Batasuna

The pro-independence party will have to prove it has cut all ties to ETA before it is taken seriously

Arnaldo Otegi, the spokesmanfor ETA's political wing Batasuna, was released from prison on December 2 after a court found him not guilty of glorifying terrorism at a Basque separatist rally in 2004, during which he gave a speech proposing a negotiated settlement to ETA's decades-long terrorist campaign for an independent Basque Country.

The day prior to his release, the EU Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg once again backed the Spanish government, by ratifying a 2007 ban on political parties and independent candidates linked to ETA from participating in elections in the Basque Country. The two events took place amid what seems to be a power struggle between ETA and Batasuna over leadership of the campaign for Basque independence.

ETA has yet to declare the verifiable ceasefire, as requested by Batasuna, but says that it has not refused to do so. The fact that there is widespread discussion among senior figures from ETA's past suggests that the leadership of the organization is divided over the issue. This delay is affecting Batasuna, which has been obliged to work hard to come up with ways to show that it has cut links to ETA, in the hope of being able to take part in next May's local elections. But Batasuna has been careful to avoid taking any action that would formally represent a break with ETA, and the long history the two organizations share.

Batasuna's latest initiative in this regard is an announcement that it intends to create a new party with statutes that respect the criteria laid down by legislation covering political activity, principally to do with non-violence. If Batasuna has not done so yet it is because it is hoping that ETA will announce, once and for all, that it is laying down its arms, an event that would underscore the credibility of a new Batasuna's commitment to non-violence. But until ETA does so, all Batasuna can do is to keep talking about an end to violence and hope that this puts pressure on ETA.

The cautious response to Batasuna's approach, even by the Basque Nationalist Party, is justified by experience. Unlike Aralar, the grouping that split with Batasuna in 2000, Batasuna has refused to condemn ETA violence, while at the same time looking for legal loopholes that would allow it to field candidates in elections.

Any party that emerges from the ruins of Batasuna, and that seeks legality, will have to prove to the courts that it has no links whatsoever to ETA. The Constitutional Court has made clear that for Batasuna to be taken seriously, it must unequivocally condemn violence. The problem is that the party has so far failed to do this. Its latest announcement talks about "rejecting violence and the threat of using it." This explains the government's skepticism: either ETA splits with Batasuna, or Batasuna splits with ETA.

That said, it would be absurd to deny that progress has been made. At the same time, it has to be accepted that the progress that has been made is the result of the main political parties sticking together. The strategy now must be to maintain that unity, while at the same time recognizing that banning Batasuna is a temporary measure that can be lifted as and when the party breaks with ETA for good, and recognizes that as the group's political wing, it holds joint responsibility for the death of more than 800 people over the last 40 years.