Wednesday, May 14, 2008

ETA and the Management of Revolution in a Bureaucratic World

Modern revolutionary movements--whether separatist movements like those in Sri Lanka, Kosovo or Tibet, irredentist movements like those in Ireland, political movements like those in the Philippines, or ethnic/religious/colonialist movements like those in Iraq--have shifted in tactics to suit the conflict management model of international relations in vogue today. See Larry Catá Backer, On Negotiating With ETA, Law at the End of the Day, July 2, 2006.

At the core of these tactical changes are an astute combination of dialog and violence. Dialog is used when it is likely to increase a perception of moderation and reasonableness. Violence is carefully staged to make it appear that the opposition is in the wrong. This is usually easy to accomplish--through the use of human shields, by carefully targeting police and military targets', or by striking political figures. Children are one of the greatest efforts of well managed acts of violence. Positioning them to ensure their murder is one of the greatest, most visually compelling tactics of successful guerilla violence in a world in which the reporting of the violence is a far greater force than the violence itself. These tactics are wedded to a well targeted public relations campaign designed to spotlight the evils of the opposition and veil the evils of the revolutionary vanguard. The media can be counted on to be complicit in this facade building as long as the events--violent and non-violent alike--are appropriately staged. But so can states. Dialog is also a means of seeking to manage the conflict--to postpone violence or to better manage and limit its scope to those targets the loss of which can be sustained with little effect on the power of political elites to hold on to the apparatus of state. States seek to wear the revolutionaries out through endless dialog that might suppress or contain violence. Their own resort to violence is constrained by the rules that make states appealing in the first place. Revolutionaries use violence as a means of destabilizing states enough to gain advantages in endless negotiations through which small concessions eventually might lead to capitulation. While the masses are educated in the fantasy of dialog leading to compromise, states and revolutionaries use voice and violence to effect total victory or substantial collapse of the opponent within the constraints of a set of rules increasingly legal and bureaucratic. Everybody wins. . . . .

One of the most profound strategists of this new two faced approach to revolutionary action is Jerry Adams, of Ireland. In a revealing talk in 2006, delivered to a receptive audience at the University of Barcelona, Adams nicely summarized the objects of this strategy. See Larry Catá Backer, Jerry Adams in Barcelona: On the Politics of Self-Determination in Constitutional Systems, Law at the End of the Day, June 8, 2006.
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. But dialog is not something to be left to the politicians, Mr. Adams reminds us. The battle in the political realm requires marshaling 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.

For the Catalans, as for the Basques and Irish, Mr. Adams suggests that violence might well be the only lubricant necessary to animate dialog. This is a lesson that the IRA has been reinforcing to their ETA colleagues, and suggesting to friends of Catalan independence in Barcelona.
Id. This cycle is unavoidable, yet plays out in a context in which the masses are expected to react with wonder every time cycles of dialog and violence turn. It was with this in mind that one confronts the sad little story recycled by the BBC on the continuation of the struggle between the Spanish central government and the Basque separatists commonly understood as organized through ETA. ETA Blamed for Spanish Bomb Death, BBC News Online, May 14, 2008. It seems a car bomb went off outside a police barracks in the Basque region (that is to say, in the Spanish Basque region, French Basques are better behaved). No one claimed responsibility. But people seemed to understand who ought to have set it off.
"No group has said it carried out the attack, but the region's governor blamed the Basque separatist group Eta. Juan Jose Ibarretxe said the group was ruining the name of the Basque people with its campaign of violence. The bomb exploded outside a police barracks in the small town of Legutiano, near the Basque regional capital Vitoria. If confirmed, it would be Eta's first fatal attack since Spain's general election two months ago, and the sixth since Eta broke a ceasefire in 2006. "
Id. All of the calssic elements of the new form of dialog/violence were present. A new elections cycle was set to start in the region, the need to elect more independence minded politicians (or to scare off less appropriately minded politicians) is great, a military target was chosen, and only one middle aged male was killed. "The group said it was behind the murder of a former Socialist councillor outside his home, two days before the 9 March general election." Id. The result was a sort of half hearted condemnation from local officials. ""I want to tell Eta not to ruin the name of the Basque people by using us as an excuse for extortion and murder," Mr Ibarretxe told reporters. 'We're sick of your violence," he added. " Id. But it was a close call, as the report warned ETA. " Some 40 people, including women and children, were in the compound when the bomb went off, officials said." Id.

What to do? Talk, of course. More condemnations will be issued. The press will be somewhat interested, but less so than had women and children been killed. The state might use the violence for its own political effect, but the threat of local violence is more likely to affect local elections than the promises of the far off national capital. The political wing of ETA will renounce the state as the cause of the violence. And more discussion will be had in the hopes that talk will serve as a sort of cease fire while the forces of both sides regroup, appeal to the media, invoke the democratic process (the irony is great here, at least from ETA's part), and the cycle will begin again. All is right with the world.

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