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With Sortu banned, what now for radical Basque nationalists?

The Supreme Court’s decision to prevent the new nationalist party from running in elections follows an intense and not always helpful debate.


The Basque nationalists who once went under the name of Batasuna have been thwarted in their attempt to be registered as a legal party ahead of the May 22 municipal elections. Their new party, Sortu, was their latest attempt to get back into the political mainstream and give radical nationalists a voice at the ballot box.

After a 10-hour deliberation, the Supreme Court on Wednesday backed the government’s argument that this is simply a continuation of Batasuna, and therefore by association ETA. Sortu can appeal to the Constitutional Court, but by the time that ruling is issued, the elections will almost certainly have come and gone.

The government insists it has handled this by the book, treating Sortu on its legal merits. But this was never a cut-and-dried case. Even the Supreme Court found a decision difficult to reach, as made clear by its marathon deliberation and the dissent of three magistrates. An obvious bone of contention was Sortu’s groundbreaking statutes, which, unlike those of Batasuna, explicitly rejected ETA violence. As Basque expert Paddy Woodworth told Iberosphere when they were presented: “They have written statutes that could have been written by a Supreme Court judge.”

Since its presentation in February, Sortu has also rejected ETA’s plans to murder Basque premier Patxi López, as well as recent kale borroka street violence by Basque nationalists. This all follows a drawn-out and very public attempt by the izquierda abertzale –the radical nationalists who back Sortu– to encourage ETA to put down its weapons. Those appeals have been partially successful, with ETA announcing two ceasefires in recent months: a vague one in September and a more concrete truce in January.

But the political debate surrounding the issue of both the weakened ETA and the new Sortu is painfully shrill. For the Popular Party and the ever-unhelpful UPyD, the argument goes: Sortu is Batasuna, Batasuna is ETA, and ETA are murderers. Meanwhile, in the Basque Country, the region’s Socialist Party leader there, Jesús Eguiguren, has attacked Prime Minister Zapatero for his “lack of courage” in standing up to the dogma of the right.

It’s hard not to feel that the government has indeed sought Sortu’s illegalisation for political reasons. Opening the door to Sortu’s participation in the May elections would also open the government up to renewed charges of appeasing ETA from the PP. Banning the party is the easiest option.

But that doesn’t make it the wisest. Sortu’s behaviour so far suggests it might have something genuinely useful to contribute to a crucial moment in Basque politics. With its previous incarnations having been banned from elections since 2003, a generation of radical Basques are growing up without political representation. With the alternative to that representation taking the shape of ETA, isn’t it time they were given a voice?

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Published: Mar 24 2011
Category: Iberoblog
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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