Basque terrorist group ETA announced last Thursday that it has “completely dissolved all its structures and declared an end to its political initiative”, almost exactly 50 years after claiming its first victim. This announcement, which was followed by a ceremony in the town of Cambo-les-Bains, in south-west France, officially marks the end of a terror campaign that has claimed more than 800 lives. The announcement made via a letter to Basque organizations, dated 16 April, is according to ETA, &a new opportunity definitively to end the cycle of conflict” between itself and the Spanish central government. To that end, the group has also taken the step of acknowledging the &suffering caused as a result of” its 50 year struggle with the Spanish authorities.
This latest development comes a month after the group issued an official apology for the suffering it had caused and asked for the forgiveness of its victims and their families. Although the group’s apology was long overdue, this moment in recent Spanish history should be celebrated, when viewed in the context of the bloody and indiscriminate nature of this group’s attacks over the years. Lest we forget, ETA was founded as a response to General Francisco Franco’s persecution and oppression of Basque nationalists. It evolved from a student organization to a terrorist group in the 60s. Long after General Franco’s death in 1975, it continued to wage its violent campaign against the Spanish government in the name of Basque separatism and the aim to establish an independent state that encompasses several regions in both France and Spain. Despite the failure to achieve this objective through violent means, the group persisted. Caught in the middle of the bloodshed were Spanish civilians who became victims, despite not being the primary target of ETA’s terrorist attacks. As a result, the group lost much support among Basques and other Spaniards. But another contributing factor to this, was Spain’s return to democracy, which brought autonomy for the Basques who to this day enjoy a significant say over their own affairs, in stark contrast to the Catalans—whose push for secession has grabbed more attention internationally in recent times. Owing to that and the arrest of senior members of ETA over the past two decades, the group’s influence has waned considerably and may have factored into the decision to officially apologize and disband altogether.
The dissolution itself, though, is only an initial step in the right direction. And judging by the reaction of the victims and families so far, much work needs to be done to truly heal the “deep wounds within Spanish society born out of ETA’s campaign of violence. That much is evident when you consider some of the statements issued in response to the Thursday announcement. The terrorism victims’ group Dignidad y Justicia (Dignity and Justice) for example, has stated that nearly 400 of those deaths remain unresolved and it has called on the authorities to reopen the cases. Just last year, the president of Dignidad y Justicia, Daniel Portero spoke to the European Parliament of how “there will be no end of ETA as long as there is not justice for all.” Mr. Portero’s views, it is fair to say, are shared by many. And the recent move by several dozen Spanish intellectuals and relatives of victims of Eta to present a petition on Change.org calling on the group to offer information about its unresolved crimes, only reinforces that notion. How ETA and the Spanish authorities set about meeting the challenge, will determine how successful they’ll be in “building the guarantees” for a more stable future for Spanish society as a whole.
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