International Papers

The Pain in Spain

A car bomb planted by the Basque terrorist group ETA exploded outside a Civil Guard building on Aug. 4, killing a 6-year-old girl who lived in the barracks and a man waiting at a nearby bus stop. The resumption of ETA’s campaign of violence, which has taken more than 800 lives in the last 30 years, was the last straw for Madrid’s political establishment: Buoyed by popular opinion, the ruling Popular Party and the opposition Socialist Party (PSOE) called a special session of parliament for Aug. 26 to initiate the process of banning Batasuna, widely believed to ETA’s political wing (Batasuna, unconvincingly, denies this charge). Since PP and PSOE control more than 300 of the parliament’s 350 seats, passage is virtually guaranteed. According to the Irish Times, the government would then “present evidence to a special chamber of the Supreme Court to show that [Batasuna] supports terrorism, and the court will decide whether that evidence is sufficient.” If Batasuna were banned, the state would assume control of its finances and possessions, and members would be barred from standing in elections. (The party, then named Euskal Herritarrok, won 10 percent of the vote in May 2001’s Basque elections; see this “International Papers” column for more details.)

In Spain, very few commentators or politicians are willing to risk appearing soft on terrorism by coming out against a ban, but the Economist summarized the arguments against: “The British never banned Sinn Fein, even at a time when its IRA comrades were up to their elbows in blood. That made an eventual political settlement easier. … Silencing their political party might persuade more young Basques that the gun is the only weapon.” A florid editorial in Barcelona’s La Vanguardia raised an ethical objection to restricting political freedoms in the cause of harmony, and attacked members of the two main parties who denounce politicians opposed to Batasuna’s proscription as “cowards” and “accomplices”: “Democracy is a state that transcends mere arithmetic. Despite its recent history [Franco’s dictatorship], this country has an obsessive passion for consensus. What’s worse, the apostles of unanimity don’t hesitate to light their inquisitorial … pyres to burn those who disagree.”

For the most part, though, the Spanish press has daggers drawn for Batasuna. El País took ETA’s threat, announced this week, to “take measures” against any legislators who vote to ban the party, as “irrefutable proof” that the two are linked. An editorial declared, “Any remaining doubts about Batasuna’s connivance with ETA must have been dispelled by the terrorist group’s communiqué. … An outlawed Batasuna, unable to act as a conveyor belt for ETA’s military strategy in the Basque Country, is of no use to the gunmen.” An op-ed in the conservative Madrid daily ABC concurred: “They are not an alliance or a communion of interests or of ideas that is formed one day and undone the next. They are the same thing, they have the same nature and the same raison d’être. They were born of the same mother in the same childbirth, with the same body, the same flesh, and the same blood—bad blood.”