New drive to end ‘last armed conflict in Europe’
Demanding a permanent end to Basque separatist terror in Spain, international figures have urged lessons from successful peace processes elsewhere. But locals doubt there's a formula.
During a campaign that has lasted more than four decades, they have plotted to blow up the King of Spain, the Bilbao stock exchange and have killed over 800 people, including police, politicians, ordinary people and tourists.
Now ETA, the armed Marxist terrorist group that wants the Basque region to splinter off from the rest of Spain, is on what it describes as a 'permanent ceasefire'.
But this is not enough for the international community, who have this week called a conference to put pressure on ETA to lay down their arms forever.
Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general, is leading the effort, saying: 'We believe it is time to end, and it is possible to end, the last armed conflict in Europe.'
He is accompanied by major figures from the Northern Irish peace process, including Gerry Adams, once an active leading member of terrorist group the Irish Republican Army (IRA), now a mainstream politician.
Adams, along with Bertie Ahern, who led the Irish government side of those peace negotiations and Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair's chief of staff during the crucial years of bringing an end to Northern Irish terrorism in Ireland and the UK, is urging the Basque separatists to embrace electoral politics and compromise their goals.
But the local politicians have doubts about lessons from elsewhere.
'These foreigners coming to the meeting, thinking they are in Northern Ireland or South Africa, don't have any idea about the Basque situation,' said one senior leader of the conservative Popular Party.
Worse, the Spanish national and regional government is not co-operating. Officials have boycotted the meeting, doubtful of success and mindful of earlier false dawns.
Splintering splinter groups
Unfortunately, developments in Northern Ireland since the peace process have demonstrated some potential pitfalls. The IRA, via its political wing Sinn Fein, may have renounced terrorism and become part of mainstream politics, but splinter groups like the Real IRA have continued their sporadic killings and bombings and pose an ongoing threat.
Spain's political analysts say that as Batasuna, the political allies of ETA, ponder how to become acceptable as a political party, they have lost leverage over the increasingly young and extremist rump of ETA members who remain active terrorists. So a cosy political agreement brokered by the international delegation may still leave some rogue elements willing to kill again.
- Are you surprised that some European separatists are still using violence, even in the 21st Century?
- What risks do the Spanish politicians think they would be running if they took part in this conference?
- How would you persuade the remaining ETA terrorists to renounce violence? Plan a campaign to get them to put down their arms.
- Research some more examples of separatist groups and campaigns – what motivates them to take such extreme paths, even using violence? Is it different from nationalism?
Some People Say...
“Peace is a skill that can be taught, just like war.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- Why do these bigwigs think ETA should listen?
- ETA is said to be running out of steam. Doing a deal and ensuring a peaceful future for the Basque region, along with the added prosperity or 'peace dividend' that comes with an end to violence, could be a way for Basque political groups to do better in the region's politics and further their separatist arguments more effectively than through terrorism.
- Are the locals right that they don't understand this situation?
- Well, one commentator has dismissed the efforts as 'peace process tourism' but one of the visitors, Jonathan Powell, says frankly that it was a lack of knowledge and interest in the history and historical grievances that helped the Blair government finally solve the Northern Irish terror problem: they had no baggage so could be practical and focus on the future not the past.
- This stands for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, which means freedom and a homeland for the Basque people. ETA has been using violence for four decades and killed over 800 people.
- The Basque Country is a region mainly in coastal northern Spain but overlapping with the south west of France. Its largest city is Bilbao. The Basque people have official recognition within Spain as an ethnic group (there is a Basque language and cultural tradition) with an autonomous regional government.