In January the Basque separatist group ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna), announced a “permanent, general and internationally verifiable ceasefire”. On February 7, leaders of Batasuna, a political party that served as ETA’s surrogate and has been banned since 2003, presented the statutes of a new party in a bid to re-enter the democratic game and pursue the goal of independence by solely political means.  With the support of USIP, Teresa Whitfield, of New York University’s Center on International Cooperation, is investigating the reasons for ETA’s long duration and the factors that are contributing to its end.

The separatist group ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna), has claimed more than 800 victims and has long been included on terrorist lists within the United States and European Union. In January it announced a “permanent, general and internationally verifiable ceasefire”. The Spanish government wants nothing less than ETA’s disappearance. It therefore rejected the statement as insufficient, and dismissed the need for international verification.  But the statement was a step forward. On February 7, leaders of Batasuna, a political party that served as ETA’s surrogate and has been banned since 2003, presented the statutes of a new party, Sortu, “to be born” in Basque. The new party, which has clearly rejected violence – including ETA’s violence – is a bid to re-enter the democratic game and pursue the goal of independence by solely political means.

The two developments represent a turning point in the tortuous process towards ETA’s end. With the support of USIP, Teresa Whitfield, of New York University’s Center on International Cooperation, is investigating both the reasons for ETA’s long duration (a counterweight to any sense of triumphalism at this juncture) and the factors that are contributing to its end.  Her project seeks to identify practical lessons that can be learned from the Basque case and applied elsewhere.

Her research illuminates three dynamics that have led to the recent positive developments. The tough policies pursued by the Spanish government since the collapse of an earlier peace process in 2007 have filled Spain’s prisons with Basque prisoners and reduced ETA’s operational capacity to its lowest ebb.  Basque society is unequivocal in its condemnation of ETA’s violence. Finally, members of the former Batasuna, who have long provided ETA with social and political support, are now leading the way towards its end. In this process, still viewed with understandable distrust by many in Spain, an effective role has been played by a small number of international actors, among them Batasuna’s old allies in Sinn Fein and the South African lawyer Brian Currin, who have offered advice and encouragement through a difficult internal transition

But it is not going to be easy. Sortu’s request for recognition will be considered by the courts. It is supported by many within Basque society, including the powerful (and moderate) Basque Nationalist Party, but is vehemently contested by the opposition Popular Party and victims’ organizations. Difficult discussions with ETA itself – regarding disarmament, but also the fate of its prisoners, exiles and “on-the-runs”– will need to take place. At the moment, the government will not countenance anything less than “end state” talks, for which ETA has yet to indicate it is ready. What happens next is unpredictable. It may well prove slower and more difficult than many would like, but a corner has been turned.

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