The terror campaign waged by Basque separatists continues. Last week, a car bomb in Madrid killed three people, including a supreme court judge, and wounded 70 others. A few days later, another bomb went off in Barcelona; fortunately, no one was killed when it exploded, although several people were injured. The Spanish government has vowed not to give in to the separatist demands. It should not. The Basque region enjoys prosperity and autonomy. Only a small group of extremists wants more than that, and its willingness to target Basque moderates is the proof that they, not the government in Madrid, are the villains in this situation.
The ETA, Basque Homeland and Freedom movement, resumed its terrorist campaign at the beginning of the year after a 14-month ceasefire. During that period, the ETA negotiated with the government, but Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar’s refusal to discuss the ETA demand for independence for the Basque region gave the ETA the excuse it needed to break off the talks.
The deaths of Judge Jose Francisco Querol Lombardero, his driver and his bodyguard brought the number of ETA victims for the year to 19. Last month, the group killed a prosecutor, a military doctor and a prison officer. They may look like “military targets,” but the truth is otherwise. The group is increasingly ready to target anyone who disagrees with its methods, including Basque moderates. The method of the most recent attack — a remote-control blast at one of Madrid’s busiest intersections at rush hour — was further proof of the ETA’s callous disregard for human life. The blast set fire to a crowded bus and injured 60 other people.
The attack received international condemnation. The Spanish people demonstrated against the ETA across the country. But the protests will have no influence on the group’s behavior. It believes it has a mission to fulfill and it is not willing to abandon the use of indiscriminate terror.
The campaign has had an impact. A survey released last week showed that terrorism is now Spaniards’ number one concern, surpassing even unemployment. That is the first time in the history of the polls that terrorism has been cited as the country’s greatest problem.
But if the ETA believes it can bomb its way to Basque independence, it has miscalculated. Virtually the entire country — the government, press and political parties, including the opposition — has closed ranks against the ETA. This show of unity has stiffened the prime minister’s resolve. Mr. Aznar said there would be no “surrender in the face of threats or guns.”
Basque grievances are long-standing. The Basque country, located in northern Spain and southwestern France, has given Spanish central governments headaches for centuries as the locals clung fiercely to their independence. There have been a number of attempts to come to terms with the Basques; some have enjoyed success. In 1980, the Basque country was made an autonomous region. The local government, which has been run since 1980 by the Basque Nationalist Party, has the right to collect taxes, teach the Basque language in schools and operate its own police force. The region is one of Spain’s richest.
The ETA was founded by radical students in 1959; its terrorist campaign began nine years later. During that time, more than 800 people have been killed. Yet it is estimated that only about 30 percent of the Basque population supports ETA demands for independence, and many of these supporters oppose violence. Radical Basque parties that demand a referendum on independence only win about 15 percent of the vote in Basque areas at election time. Even the Basque Nationalist Party, which Mr. Aznar’s government has accused of sympathizing with the group, has publicly denounced ETA terrorism.
If the Spanish government has the upper hand in political and moral terms, it has failed nonetheless to halt the terrorism or break the group. Ranking ETA officials have been arrested, but it seems as if the ETA is still able to attack whomever and whenever it pleases.
There is little doubt that the ETA will continue to spread fear and outrage. That is the only option it has. It is hoping that panic will move the government to negotiate. There is little chance, however, that it will bend the will of the Spanish government or the Spanish people. The Basque country is not like Kosovo, East Timor or Northern Ireland: No central government is denying citizens their rights or acting in a way that generates international outrage. For once, right and wrong is easy to sort out. Sadly, that does not mean that any solution is forthcoming.
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