Saturday, March 08, 2008

Spanish General Election 2008....The Day Of Reflection

I had to abandon a post I had written for this blog yesterday. I wrote a piece which compared the closing days of this campaign to the sombre and tense finale to the last election campaign in 2004. In it I celebrated the awful tedium of having an end to the campaign that was not overshadowed by terrorism or even by the attempts of some to gain political advantage with it. Then came the assassination yesterday of Isaias Carrasco by ETA and in a single moment my post no longer seemed to fit.

Carrasco was killed outside of his home. He was a member of the PSOE and had previously been a councillor for that party in the town where he lived, Mondragón. In the last municipal elections he was number six on the party list and they only achieved four councillors, so he was not currently on the town council. He worked for the company that runs toll roads in the region, and although he was entitled to have a bodyguard he had decided not to; presumably thinking that as a low profile political figure he would not be high on ETA’s list of targets. Sadly, it is precisely that condition that made him an ideal target for an ETA that is currently not in a condition to aspire to more “important”, but better protected, targets.

The election campaign finished with the shooting, and ETA managed with this single act to put itself back at the centre of political attention. There was not much more campaigning to be done, today is the mandatory “day of reflection” before voting takes place tomorrow. The political parties met yesterday afternoon and agreed a joint statement of condemnation. However, the unity of the parties was at best a formal one. I expected the Partido Popular (PP) to at least make a token attempt at extracting some political advantage, and so it turned out. The PP representatives at the meeting turned up with a couple of demands that they knew had no chance of being accepted; a permanent rejection of any negotiations with ETA and the revocation of the parliamentary resolution that permitted the last attempt to seek a negotiated solution. It was a small, but telling, piece of political theatre. A little sign of what they would surely have attempted had the victim been a member of the PP rather than the PSOE.

With political activity prohibited on the day of reflection, the timing of the killing left few options for those whose only desire in such cases is to hold the government responsible for all terrorist actions. The Asociación de Victimas del Terrorismo (AVT) initially called a demonstration for today which would have brought out all the fur coat clad señoras to shout “Zapatero dimisión” at anyone still prepared to listen. Clearly someone reminded the AVT that today is the day of reflection and they cancelled the mobilisation. Instead we got another PP satellite organisation, the Foro de Ermua, calling a small demonstration last night in Madrid’s Plaza de Colon. Take a look at one of the pretty banners someone took with them:

I don’t want to be too pessimistic, but the outlook on terrorism in Spain is not at all hopeful. The pincer movement formed by an intransigent ETA locked into its time warp of “armed struggle”, and an opportunist PP seemingly determined to use terrorism as its main instrument for seeking political revenge leaves little room for optimism. We hear a lot about ETA’s weakness and how they are on their last legs; the targeting of Carrasco is indeed a demonstration of their weakened state. However, it is also a demonstration of just how easy it will be for them to go on killing – the state is not capable of protecting all the potential targets all of the time. The myth that ETA can be defeated by police pressure alone is attractive to many, but I know of no comparable case where it has actually happened. For all the political rhetoric ETA is not about to disappear, and we could be in for a long period of low intensity terrorism. As usual, those who pay the price of this sad situation are not those responsible for it, instead ordinary people like Isaías Carrasco fulfil that role.

As for ETA themselves, I wonder whether it even makes sense to try and understand where they think they are going. They have the option, much as they like to pretend it doesn’t exist, of taking what we might call the “Aralar alternative”. Aralar is a breakaway party from ETA’s political wing Batasuna, and it pursues the objectives of radical Basque nationalism in a legal, open manner. They are able to do so, nobody prevents them from operating. ETA knows that this option exists, but is not ready for life as the smaller nationalist cousin to a dominant Partido Nacionalista Vasco. Take away the threat of the use of armed action and you have a party which loses the possibility to dominate politics in the Basque Country. Some day it has to happen, the only question now is how many more pointless killings there will be on the way.


Tom said...

Galling as it seems, someone needs to set it up so that ETA can announce they're going legal and claim all the praise. That's what they did with the IRA.

Then again, Sinn Fein voted on that decision. As Batasuna is illegal, it's pretty much impossible for them to have a meeting of all members to decide something like this. So, a first step has to be legalising the political parties again.

Graeme said...

Well there needs to be a mechanism, but most of all there needs to be a genuine willingness on the part of ETA to do it. The legalisation of Batasuna is politically impossible now without ETA taking a step well beyond temporary truces. I agree with you on the law that made them illegal, but in the end the decision that counts is ETA's, not Batasuna's.

Anonymous said...

I'm still amazed why people are so obsessed in comparing IRA's peace process with a possible future one of ETA. Do you really believe in such analogies between both cases?. Have you ever tried to compare both cases taking into account history, language, actual degree of independence?.
I don't give a shit about basque country being independent or keeping as it is (part of a semi-federal state in which it belongs to the "first-world-comunidades-autonomas"). I mean that I don't have any interest and I don't think nationalism can do any good for us.
I'm pretty sure that the Bundesländer would love to have the same degree of freedom as Basque country an Catalonia have.
I'm fucking tired of the romanticism of the pseudo-opressed by the horrible Spain.

Graeme said...

There's no obsession anonymous, just a belief that it may be possible to achieve a negotiated way out. You don't need to have the same history or language for that to be a possibility. I get a little tired of those in Spain who were happy to compare with the Irish situation when the peace process wasn't working (that proves you can't negotiate with terrorists!) but then deny any possible similarities when it does work.