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News from the Basque Country

The success of Amaiur reaffirms the end of ETA, at the price of radicalizing Basque politics

One of the consequences of the electoral victory of the Basque separatist coalition Amaiur has been the reinforcement of the more politically oriented sectors of the abertzale (radical separatist) left, at the cost of the "military" (i.e. violence-oriented) sectors, which are now on the wane. On the other hand, the pro-sovereignty front now holds itself up as one of the four pillars of Basque politics, reinforcing the nationalist front but at the same time threatening the hegemony of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV). This may have destabilizing effects if Amaiur, using its parliamentary representation, attempts to bend the limits of the Constitution, breaking the consensus that still exists on the existing framework of regional government.

The PNV will sooner or later face the dilemma of whether to rebuild with Amaiur the pro-sovereignty Basque nationalist front of the 1998 Lizarra Pact (which could only happen on the basis of a separatist program), or to opt for an alliance with one of the two major Spain-wide constitutional parties, the Popular Party or the Socialists, with a moderate program focused on developing regional autonomy. Both in the local elections in May, and now, the PNV has done better in Bizkaia with its traditional regional-autonomy line than in the other two Basque provinces, with more radical leaders and rhetoric.

Amaiur's first move has been to offer to the PNV (and to Navarre's Basque separatist party NaBai) the formation of a common parliamentary group to defend in Madrid "the rights of Euskal Herria" (the "Basque Homeland," i.e., the three present Basque provinces, plus Navarre and the Basque territories in France); beginning with the "right to decide," that is, to hold referendums on independence. The PNV leader Iñigo Urkullu has refused the envenomed invitation, saying his party goes to Madrid to defend not just ideas of ethnic identity, but everything that affects the interests of the Basques.

In statements from prison published in the daily El Correo, the abertzale leader Arnaldo Otegi does not answer the question of whether he believes the armed struggle has served any purpose, but he does reaffirm that the commitment "of ETA and the abertzale left" to the end of violence is "unilateral and independent of the attitude of the states" (Spain and France). In exchange, he insists on defending the validity of the claims made at the recent San Sebastián Conference, which included the negotiation of a sovereignty program. But now without the threat of going back to bombs and bullets if their proposals are not listened to.

Thus, and in view of how things have been working out in practice, it seems inconsistent that Otegi was sentenced to 10 years in prison for belonging to ETA, just at a time when he separated himself from the organization by means of the "Bateragune" proposal for which he was placed on trial, based on the idea that armed violence had become a handicap to the cause he defends.