A Recipe for a Spanish Pheasant Roast

Perjantaina, 1. huhtikuuta 2011     0 kommentti(a)
Teemu Sinkkonen
Vanhempi tutkija - Euroopan unioni -tutkimusohjelma

Negotiating with the terrorists is always politically extremely controversial and risky

On 20 June 2006, the Spanish police raided a bar named Faisán (pheasant) in Irún, Basque Country, and detained 13 ETA terrorists. However, the operation was not as successful as it could have been, since some ETA activists were warned about the operation a couple of hours before it started – allegedly by the police itself.

Faisán-bar has now given a name to the political scandal that is shaking Zapatero’s government, since it symbolizes well the dubious governmental actions regarding the negotiations with the Basque terrorists in 2005-2007 that have recently been revealed.

The scandal undermines the already weak socialist rule in Spain and can have a significant negative impact on career prospects of Minister of the Interior Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, who has often been mentioned as the successor of Zapatero in the leadership of the socialist party. More severely, the scandal can also disturb the promising armistice in the Basque Country, if the current policy regarding the ETA changes.

Negotiating with the terrorists is always politically extremely controversial and risky. One should not concede to the demands of the terrorists, because it makes terrorism effective. Furthermore, sitting around the same table with the people that have been killing and wounding one’s relatives, friends and other people within the same society for years, even decades, raises very strong emotions in the public.

Socialist government in Spain took the risk and announced publicly to open the dialogue with the ETA on 29 June 2006. Like several previous negotiation attempts, also this one was doomed to fail. After the ETA killed two persons in an explosion in the Barajas airport in Madrid on 30 December 2006, Zapatero said to the public that the negotiations have been stopped. Suspiciously, it was not until 5 June 2007 that the ETA announced that the “permanent truce” had been cancelled.

The reason for the long lag between the declarations of Zapatero and ETA has recently been revealed in the minutes that a detained head of the political wing of the ETA, “Thierry”, kept along the negotiations with the government that – against the words of Prime Minister Zapatero – took place between the autumn 2005 and spring 2007, that is to say long after the attack in Barajas.

In the minutes it is also claimed that the appointed mediators had promised the ETA several concessions that were against the rule of law. For example, pardoning or lowering the sentences of some terrorists condemned for killing, halting policing regarding the ETA (the Faisán-leak can be related to this) and making judicial reforms in order to favour the convicted group members were promised. How much of these promises were bluff and how much not, is currently investigated by the Audiencia Nacional – high court in Spain.

Experience from negotiating with armed groups, including terrorists, shows that no matter how unethical and politically controversial negotiating might be, political problems require always political solutions. Terrorists might not represent a democratically significant proportion of the society – definitely not so in the Basque Country – but nevertheless they are the key to end the violence. However, negotiating with the terrorists should not mean conceding to their demands, but it should rather show them that accepting the democratic principles, rule of law and non-violent policies are the only way to pursue their goals.

Negotiations with the ETA between 2005 and 2007 are, according to the revealed information, a school book example on how to not negotiate with terrorists. In a sad way it is also a logical chapter in the long history of incoherent and frequently changing policies regarding the Basque-question in Spain.

In the shadows of the scandal, the main question in the air has not yet been addressed: How the Faisán-case will affect the situation in the Basque Country? After the negotiations failed in 2007, the police and the civil guard have successfully detained many hardliners leaving moderates to take over the organisation. At the same the illegalized separatist parties in the Basque Country have been campaigning for a possibility to participate in the local elections of May 2011. This has included pressuring successfully the ETA to give up their arms: Last autumn ETA announced a ceasefire and called some international observers to follow the process and give some credibility to their words. 

Altogether, this combination of coherent policing and local social pressure seems to have been a good policy. However, a sudden change in the Spanish ETA-policy might end the aspirations of the separatists and leave them only one way to pursue their goals: the violent one.

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