By Jarlath Kearney 23/03/2006 DAILY IRELAND
The decision by ETA to call a permanent ceasefire reflects confidence in the Basque people’s ability to achieve self-determination, a leading member of the party Batasuna told Daily Ireland last night.
Urko Aiartza, of Batasuna’s international department, said the Spanish and French governments had “lost the battle” against growing support for self-determination among Basques. Mr Aiartza was speaking in Belfast just hours after the historic ceasefire was announced in the Basque Country. “Batasuna welcomes this decision taken by ETA and considers that it is a very important, valiant and courageous decision,” Mr Aiartza said. “It was clear from the statement that ETA will do whatever it can to promote the opening of a peace process in the Basque Country.
“However, the key point of the peace process must be the recognition of the right of the Basque people to decide their future,” he said. “It is clear that the new position of ETA is going to help to create the opening of a new scenario where there is no more excuse to avoid dialogue in the Basque Country, and that is very important. “The process for the resolution of the conflict in the Basque Country has been opened mainly by Batasuna during the last year and a half. “Batasuna has been working consistently to create the conditions to start a peace process, a negotiation process, where at least a new democratic scenario can be achieved in the Basque Country.”
Mr Aiartza said there was a growing, broad-based consensus that the status quo had failed in the Basque Country. He called on the Spanish and French governments to respond positively to the ETA announcement. “It is clear to the main forces in the Basque Country that the current model doesn’t work, that the autonomous community model doesn’t work for the resolution of the conflict. The key point is the right of the Basque people to decide their future. “Despite being banned and being persecuted, Batasuna has been able to promote a process to establish round-table dialogue with some Basque political parties and establish agreements with some labour, trade union and social organisations about a basic democratic argument.”
Mr Aiartza said this growing consensus explained why the Spanish and French governments had increased repression against the Basque left in recent years. Among those now held on political charges are activists in Batasuna and campaigners for political prisoners. Two Basque prisoners have died in Spanish prisons in recent weeks, prompting major demonstrations. “It is clear that the Spanish government is afraid of Batasuna and the Basque left entering a new political scenario in a strong position,” Mr Aiartza said. “That is why they are now trying to weaken the position of Batasuna with the arrest of some of the leaders. “We are now encouraging the Spanish and French governments to formally recognise whatever decision is taken by the Basque people and political parties themselves. In the current context, it is time to stop this kind of harassment.”
Mr Aiartza repeatedly stated his party’s belief that a cross-party consensus supporting self-determination in the Basque Country was becoming unstoppable. “ETA’s statement comes as a reflection of the reality of Basque society, that there is now enough force at this time in the Basque Country to promote a democratic process where Basques will decide their own future. “The Spanish and French governments are trying to stop and postpone the inevitable — the right of the Basque people to exercise self-determination,” he said. Mr Aiartza said that, while Basque political leaders would welcome dialogue with the Spanish and French governments, such a development was secondary to the achievement of Basque self-determination. “For us, dialogue involving the French and Spanish governments is not the most important issue at the moment,” he said. “For us, the most important issue is the recognition by the Spanish and French governments of whatever decision is going to be taken by the majority of the Basque society and Basque political forces. “It is in the hands of the Spanish and French governments to respect that decision [on self-determination] and, of course, to negotiate the implementation of that decision but never the contents of that decision. That is a very important and key point. “We recognise that, after all of the Basque forces and society agree a proposal, then the representatives of the Basque Country will have to discuss with the Spanish and French governments how to implement that decision but never the contents democratically agreed by Basque society.”
Mr Aiartza welcomed the international solidarity that Basque independence campaigners had received. He pointed to Ireland and South Africa as examples of places where political prisoners had been released as part of conflict resolution.
He highlighted other consequences of the Basque conflict that would have to be addressed — such as victims, demilitarisation and political exiles. “You can’t believe in resolving a conflict without resolving the issues of political prisoners that are the result of the political conflict,” he said. “So it is clear for us that any resolution of the conflict requires the release of political prisoners and the coming back of all the political exiles. That’s a key point for the resolution of the conflict. “It is not possible to have a real peace and democratic process in the Basque Country without the release of the political prisoners. “But the most important thing is that, if you don’t resolve the key points of the political conflict, you are not going to resolve the consequences of that conflict.
“We are very confident of the feeling of the majority of the Basque society that really the solution of the conflict must now pass through that point. “There is enough force and strength in Basque society. ETA’s statement is clearly a call to Basque society to participate in that process, and it is call to the Spanish government and the French government to respect that process. “ETA clearly believes there are now conditions to promote a democratic process in the Basque Country. We shall see if the Spanish and French states are going to recognise that democratic process,” Mr Aiartza said.