Basque to the Future


It's hard to see the Basque terrorist group ETA's announcement of a permanent ceasefire as anything but good news, but it seems a bit premature to break out the champagne as well. First, of course, nothing is really "permanent" in politics; since the separatist group hasn't indicated any plan to lay down arms, "permanent" can't really mean anything but "until we change our minds," and in the group's currently weakened state, foreswearing violence may just be a way of milking their short-term inability to carry out effective attacks.

ETA now says it wants to seek a "political process" toward Basque independence. The problem is that there's very little reason to believe that such a process will actually give them what they want. Before the Batasuna party—ETA's Sinn Fein—was banned in 2003, it typically pulled in 10 to 20 percent of the Basque vote, and while there's popular sentiment in favor of greater autonomy in the Basque country, the most recent polls suggest that fewer than a third of Basques actually want full-blown independence—and the rest of Spain remains pretty adamantly opposed, as suggested by the Spanish parliament's overwhelming rejection last year of an independence proposal. (For those who think the rest of Spain shouldn't have any say, bear in mind that there is a significant population of non-ethnically-Basque Spanish citizens in the region; some fear they'd find themselves suddenly reduced to a second-class status under an independent, nationalist Basque government.) So the question is: What happens if ETA gets its "political process" and finds that it doesn't fare any better with democracy than it did bombing schools?