Sunday, July 02, 2006

On Negotiating With ETA: The Successful IRA Strategy for Dealing With States Goes Global

Spanish papers are reporting on the commencement of negotiations between the Spanish government headed by J.L. Rodríguez Zapatero of the Spanish Socialist Party, and the so called political wing of the Basque separatist party--ETA ("Un verano para negociar: Zapatero inicia el diálogo con ETA; Rajoy: no se puede negotiarcon quien tiene una pistola," Que!, June 30, 2006 at 1 available on line at Mr. Zapatero has insisted on three conditions for negotiation ("Zapatero anuncia el inicio de negociaciones con ETA," Que!, June 30, 2006, at 2):

(1) an end to violence (Mr. Zapatero was quoted as suggesting that negotiations would continue, and the will of the Basque people within Spanish territory respected in the absence of violence (“El Gobierno -afirmó- respetará las decisiones que los ciudadanos vascos adopten libremente, respetando las normas y procedimientos legales, los métodos democráticos y los derechos y libertades en ausencia de todo tipo de violencia y coacción” (Id.));

(2) respect for the Spanish Constitution and the law regulating political parties (the Spanish leader was quoted as affirming his attachment to the values, principles and rules of the 1978 Spanish Constitution and to the laws regulating political parties (“Quiero expresar el compromiso absoluto del Gobierno y el mío personal con los valores, principios y reglas de la Constitución de 1978 que ha representado un éxito colectivo para nuestra convivencia”, dijo. Zapatero ha insistido además en que va a mantener la vigencia de la Ley de Partidos ") (Id.)); and

(3) an appropriate recognition of the victims of ETA violence (Mr. Zapatero spoke of a respect for the memory, honor and dignity of the victims and their fanmilies as serving as a grounding for the negotiations ("El presidente del Gobierno ha reiterado que el respeto a la memoria, al honor y a la dignidad de las víctimas y sus familias es una cuestión que debe garantizarse en todo el proceso de diálogo.") (Id.)).

Who could ask for anything more? I certainly wish the Spanish government well in this endeavor. Unlike the French, who have been able to pacify their Basque populations through a consistent policy of suppression and material reward, the Spanish have been unable or unwilling to successfully integrate their Basque populations. Perhaps a combination of inconsistent policy, too much repression and very little reward based assimilation made the difference. In any case, the only way forward appears to be some sort of more loosely based ties between a weaker central government and a stronger regional sub-state. Such a solution, when combined with programs emphasizing the economic values of some form of continued integration may ultimately save the Basque regions for Spain within the stronger embrace of the European Union. Though Ironically, this provides the Basque lands more with symbol than reality of independence. It derives most of its comfort from its ability to to retain its tax revenues, though.

But I am not convinced that negotiating with ETA will ultimately prove successful within the law-based framework that Mr. Zapatero has identified. I fear that ETA has maneuvered the Spanish government into a negotiation in form but a capitulation in effect. I suspect that the Popular Party's Mr. Rajoy may have a point, despite the sharpness of his overwrought demagoguery, when he suggests that the only useful negotiation with ETA is over the terms of its dissolution and the surrender of its arms ("Rajoy dice que no se debe negociar con los de la pistola," Que!, June 30, 2006, at 2).

My pessimism is not ideological. Nor is my dim view of a violence-based Spanish Basque separatism (and I reiterate that the separatism is peculiarly odd given that French Basques remain closely tied to France in a way that at least some portion of the Spanish Basque elite finds unacceptable) based on any opposition to the creation of as many states as there are self-consciously aware ethnic or other national groups willing to strike up their flags, speak their language and eat their regional cuisines within the tight embrace of the European Union (though it is clear that I skeptical of the value of this activity given the willingness to permit autonomy and the power of the European Union). See Larry Catá Backer, The Euro and the European Demos: A Reconstitution, 21 Yearbook of European Law 13 (2002).

Rather, I am guided by the words of Gerry Adams, whose recent enlightening talk to the Catalans on the nature of self-determination and autonomy for ethnic separatist movements I reported on in a prior post (See my post, “Gerry Adams in Barcelona: On the Politics of Self-Determination in Constitutional Systems,” June 8, 2006. Mr. Adams had been in Spain to meet with the leaders of the political wing of ETA to prepare them for their upcoming negotiations with the Spanish government, as well as to encourage the Catalans in their quest for greater freedom from the central government in Madrid. I noted an important insight that Mr. Adams offered his Catalan hosts:

“This is the last insight Mr. Adams offered his Catalan hosts: Be firm in the inevitability of your goals, and work for their attainment. All negotiation leading the Catalan people closer to the goal are to be welcomed, but are to be understood as mere temporary measures on the road to inevitable independence. When that road becomes blocked, by the intransigence of those who disagree with the self-determining will of the Catalan people, then violence might help prod the parties back on the road to “peace” that is the fulfillment of the desires of the ethnos seeking to assert a fuller sovereignty. (Id.).”

Applied to the Catalan situation, the insight was irrelevant, though disquieting enough for Mr. Adams’ Catalan hosts. For the moment, the Catalans have no taste for violence. Indeed they have more to lose than to gain by a resort to violence for a formal inexpedience from Spain, especially with the embrace of the new Autonomy Statute. But I believe Mr. Adams may have had his Basque friends in mind when he offered these insights to his Catalan hosts.

Applied by ETA to the upcoming negotiations with the Spanish government, these insights suggest a number of preconditions equal in importance to those specified by Mr. Zapatero for the Spanish state, and include:

(1) independence for the Spanish Basque territories;

(2) the promise of more violence in the event the march toward inevitable independence is impeded; and

(3) an understanding that whatever interim agreement is reached is merely temporary and will be overtaken either by events or by further negotiations leading to independence.

As such, any negotiations this summer with ETA presents something of an unequal bargaining. The Spanish state seek to regularize on a permanent basis the status of the Spanish Basque lands. They probably have a Catalan style autonomy relationship in mind. ETA seeks to capitalize on its past violence by becoming a legitimate political actor without having to pay any price for its prior actions. Recognition by the Spanish state will give ETA the legitimacy it needs to become a member of the Spanish Basque elites and to work openly on the European and world stages for the attainment of its goal—the recognition of the Spanish Basque lands as an independent state. This is an important goal for ETA: legitimacy will permit the organization to raise money, participate in the political and cultural life of Spain (and the European Union) in a way that is denied them now. ETA will be removed from the global lists of terrorist organizations; its members will no longer face possible punishment for acts in violation of international human rights or humanitarian law (though these seem to apply with greater force to state actors than to other organizations engaging in violent acts against non-military targets). And, should the march to independence be impeded at any stage, it can revert to violence, or cause violence to recommence in some other way (the use of “rogue” organization seems to be the method of choice today as organizations like ETA, diversify). But the Spanish government will never get what it wants—the settlement of the Spanish Basque problem somewhere short of independence.

It seems that the IRA model is serving as the great template for ethnically based movements for self-determination. Violence is may the necessary precursor to negotiation. Violence in connection with self-determination movements has limited legal consequences. The rule of law applies only after states are established and do not apply to self-determination movements (only to the states against which they operate). Timing is everything and the ability to disaggregate operations essential—violence, politics, culture all must be seen to originate from different sources (in the way that a single company produces a large number of different brands of cereal, or in this case, different products). Violence gets everyone’s attention; it projects power. But violence only provides the opening for the greater battle—the battle for legitimacy. This latter battle is fought in the media and over control of public opinion (or at least the reporting of public opinion). Jerry Adams reminds us of this:

“The battle in the political realm requires marshalling the media and civil society involvement. Because political communities in democratic states are particularly sensitive to the expressions of popular will (however changeable), it behooves political actors to ensure that this popular will is appropriately expressed. Mobilization of political, social and intellectual cadres is essential if this task is to be successfully accomplished. That was part of the secret of Sinn Fein’s success, especially in the United States.” (Id.).

ETA has a tremendous amount to gain from these negotiations. The Spanish government may have less to gain, but it also may have little choice. The battle for public opinion (and the support of other state actors) requires different tactics than the battle to suppress a military foe. Dialogue itself has become necessary tactic in the war for Spanish Basque independence. Jerry Adams understands the military potential of negotiation. ETA does, too. Actors in the Middle East understand this as well. State actors in Europe and North America fail to understand the military potential of talk at their peril. I look forward to the next stage in the war for Spanish Basque independence as its battles are fought on the fields of cultural and political production.

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