Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Chronicle Of A Peace Process….It’s Legal To Talk, But Nobody Is Talking

There was an important ruling made by the Spanish Supreme Court last week that impacts on the Basque peace process. The court rejected a case presented by a far right wing association called Manos Limpias that the contacts between the Basque section of the governing PSOE and Batasuna, ETA’s political wing, were illegal. The argument made by lawyers for Manos Limpias was that Batasuna has been declared an illegal organisation, and that therefore it is illegal to hold any kind of political conversations with them. The court threw out this claim and established an important principle in the process by declaring that it was not the role of the judges to decide whether such contacts could take place or not, such decisions being the responsibility of political institutions.

The decision is a significant blow to attempts by the Partido Popular (PP) and other organisations in their political orbit, to halt the peace process by judicial means. Also, after so many judicial decisions that seem to be tainted by political considerations, it is a welcome decision by the most powerful court in the country to stay out of the political arena. The PP reacted by declaring that if the contacts with Batasuna were not illegal they were still immoral. The irony of this position will not escape anyone with even a basic knowledge of the peace process attempted by the PP when they were in power; a process which included direct face to face contacts with ETA. Now ETA has always been an illegal organisation, yet this did not prevent the PP from talking to them, and of course nobody attempted to take them to court for doing so.

Meanwhile the peace process has not moved forward, the government has not responded to pressure from the PP to halt it, or to pressure from ETA/ Batasuna to make prior concessions on key issues. On the surface, there appears to be no movement at all from Batasuna towards returning to legality in the way that the government has demanded; by rejecting the use of political violence and accepting the law on political parties that was used to illegalise it in the first place. Police activity against ETA in France has resulted in several recent arrests of activists, and the overall impression is one of stagnation, although it remains difficult to know what might be happening in the background.

Some observers now openly talk about the truce by ETA being ended, and the possible political consequences of such an event. There is also an abundance of judgements being made with the benefit of hindsight about whether the government has done things in the right way. It may still be too early to talk of this happening, but there is a mood of pessimism surrounding the process because it is not clear what it will take to move things forward. The first few weeks of the new year will be crucial to determine whether there really is a possibility of progress, or whether a return by ETA to armed activity is on the cards. If ETA does end the truce then they will undoubtedly want to do it in a dramatic way which demonstrates that they still have the strength to survive as an organisation. Someone has to blink because an indefinite standoff is not likely to happen. Nobody said it was going to be easy.

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