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Urkullu’s caveats

The Basque premier believes that the end of ETA is possible, providing there is unity and good sense

For the first time since he was named as the lehendakari, or Basque premier, Íñigo Urkullu met for talks with Prime Minister Rajoy this week to discuss the political situation in the region, over a year after ETA announced it would end its terrorist activity, albeit stopping short of its dissolution. After decades in which violence had a decisive influence on life in the region, Basque institutions, parties and other collectives must now adapt to this new situation.

The sections of the Basque radical left with the strongest connections to ETA must make the biggest adjustments, given that until recently they considered themselves to have the right to intimidate and eliminate their political rivals.

Since the electoral campaign, Urkullu has been arguing that his priorities are the economic crisis and the consolidation of peace. Only after progress is made in both these fields will he bring the subject of self-government to the fore, as expressed in his stated objective of a “new political status for the Basque Country.” However, the Catalan drive for independence could affect that plan. But to that end, the lehendakari has issued a caveat: there will only be such a change if there is consensus that at least equals that which supported the Gernika Statute, which was passed during Spain’s transition to democracy in the late 1970s and granted the region certain “historic rights.” That provides a guarantee against any hasty initiatives.

With regard to the end of ETA, Urkullu said this week that there is an opportunity to end the problem once and for all via parliamentary means, provided that there is unity across the political spectrum. That was a warning against the ambition of ETA and its former political wing, Batasuna, to make the dissolution of the group dependent on a negotiation process away from parliament and political concessions, such as the removal of Spain’s security forces from the Basque Country. He has also made an implicit invitation to parties such as the PP, Bildu and UPyD to get on board with the process toward peace and coexistence that is underway in the Basque parliament.

The reticence of those parties to do so is a reflection of the sectarianism that continues to dominate the relations between parties, and which has spread to the numerous associations of victims of terrorism. Anything that fails to fit within a pre-conceived, idealistic model — for example, regarding conditions that should be met for the legalization of the izquierda abertzale pro-separatist radical left — is rejected outright by a large sector of that movement, which condemns it as treachery or collusion. This, in turn, paralyzes initiatives that are shared by all the parties.