Sortu puts spotlight on Spanish justice system
The unveiling of a new Basque pro-independence party that rejects ETA violence is a major development. Giving its request to run in local elections a fair hearing would reflect well on Spain's courts, given the maelstrom of political feeling that surrounds this issue.
By Guy Hedgecoe
There have been many signs that genuine change is afoot in the Basque Country in recent months, as ETA’s political support has repeatedly urged the organisation to give a clear statement showing it is committed to a non-violent future. For the most part these expectations have not been met, with ETA failing to deliver – most recently in a January ceasefire statement that contained some new resolutions, but ultimately not enough.
But the unveiling on February 7 of a new party, Sortu, suggests that with or without ETA’s backing, the pro-independence landscape in the northern region has changed. Sortu, which means “to rise up” or “be born” in euskera, is a reincarnation of sorts of Batasuna, the party banned since 2002 for its links to ETA and refusal to condemn the terrorist group’s violence. However, while the personnel is similar, this new party has now taken the historic step of rejecting all terrorist violence. This is a rejection that “openly, and without ambiguity, includes ETA,” according to Iñaki Zabaleta, a spokesman for Sortu. These are not just words uttered in a Bilbao press conference. They’re written in Sortu’s statutes.
“This is very significant. I think this was the step people were waiting for,” said Paddy Woodworth, author of a history of the Basque Country and a book about the GAL anti-ETA death squad. “These statutes are so explicit, in their condemnation not just of terrorism but in general. They have produced statues which could have been written by a Supreme Court judge.”
And now it appears a Supreme Court judge will have to decide whether Sortu will be legalised and allowed to run in May’s municipal elections in the Basque region. The government is handing the case on to the state attorney, who is expected to refer it to the Court.
The fact the news of this politically sensitive case emerged the same week that the Supreme Court ordered a retrial of Batasuna’s long-time leader Arnaldo Otegi is highly fitting. Otegi was sentenced to two years in prison in January 2010 by High Court Judge Ángela Murillo for “glorifying terrorism”. However, during that trial, Otegi refused to answer when Murillo asked him if he condemned ETA’s violence. “I knew you wouldn’t answer that question,” she said, a comment that, according to the Supreme Court’s recent decision, betrayed a lack of partiality (and, let’s face it, a good deal of stupidity), and led to the retrial decision.
In its fight against ETA terrorism, Spain’s justice system has not always covered itself in glory, sometimes taking a scattergun approach to making arrests or closing down businesses or newspapers it deemed linked to ETA. Therefore, Sortu will welcome such even-handedness by the Supreme Court in the Otegi case.
Likewise, jail terms handed to four civil guards in December by a Guipúzcoa court for torturing two ETA members marked a change of tack in the handling of these kinds of cases, which in the past have frequently been shelved by judges. Approaching them rigorously can help draw the sting out of the victimhood felt by radical Basque nationalists.
There are plenty who are already dismissing Sortu’s move as a ploy for ETA to get into state institutions and kill again. “The same dogs but with different collars,” as the UPyD deputy Rosa Díez put it. The Popular Party and terrorist victims’ groups also see this as nothing more than a Trojan horse for ETA.
But events of recent months seem to have shown that ETA and Batasuna/Sortu are not one and the same thing. Regardless of the political hysteria that surrounds this new party and the pressures for it to be deemed illegal, the justice system must at least examine its case seriously. And if the prejudices of magistrates such as Murillo are being corrected, Sortu can at least hope for something like a fair hearing as it approaches Spain’s state institutions with a bold set of statutes under its arm.
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Published: Feb 11 2011
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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Tags: Basque, Basque country, batasuna, ETA, otegi, Politics, sortu, spain politics, spanish politics, terrorism