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Civil Action against ETA Terrorism in Basque Country

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Abstract

This study presented in this chapter explores how local and regional authorities, peace organizations, civic groups, and victims’ associations challenged and ultimately delegitimized political violence in Basque country since the 1980s. The chapter demonstrates that civil action, though it was not the only factor in the demise of the armed separatist organization Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), was an engine for political transformation and helped to precipitate an end to the violence by undermining the support for ETA in Basque society. The Basque case holds a number of relevant insights that could be applied to other contexts, including the importance of discursive and normative changes in public attitudes and collective action against terrorism in democratic societies.
1
Civil Action Against ETA Terrorism in Basque Country- Javier Argomaniz
Abstract
This study explores how local and regional authorities, peace organizations, civic groups and
victims’ associations challenged and ultimately delegitimised political violence in Basque country
over the last four decades. The chapter demonstrates that, while not the only factor in ETA’s demise,
civil action was an engine for political transformation and helped to precipitate an end to violence
by undermining support within Basque society for ETA. The Basque case holds a number of relevant
insights that could be applied to other contexts, including the importance of discursive and
normative changes for public attitudes and collective action against terrorism in democratic
societies.
Introduction
The Basque Country in Northern Spain has experienced political violence justified by ethno-
nationalism, right wing ideals, and state security in the last 40 years. Yet the vast majority has
been at the hands of the armed separatist organisation Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA).
1
In their
pursuit of an independent Basque state,
2
ETA and associated groups killed 836 people, injured
2,365 and carried out 3,600 terrorist attacks (Carmena et al. 2013). About 40,000 people received
threats, more than 1,600 had bodyguard protection and tens of thousands (estimations vary from
60,000 to more than 200,000) were forced to leave the region and live exiled’ in other parts of
Spain (de la Cuesta et al., 2011: 40).
ETA’s bloody campaign against the military and the Spanish and Basque police forces caused a
large number of civilian deaths but also gave ETA considerable degree of social control, especially
in some small towns and rural areas (Elorza 2000, Domínguez 2003, Uriarte 2003). Even in the
1990s when the number of attacks were declining, ETA remained an ominous presence in
regional and national politics. Yet on October 20, 2011, after a long and protracted campaign, an
exhausted ETA, desperately out of touch with public opinion and suffering from a dramatically
reduced capacity for action, declared a cessation of armed activity.
The announcement represented the end of ETA’s activities. The broader socio-political movement
that traditionally sustained them, the Movimiento de Liberación Nacional Vasco (MLNV) has
explicitly renounced the use of violence to achieve its aims.
3
A consensus exist now within Sortu
4
,
MLNV’s political party, and amongst the dense network of institutions that form the movement,
that the use of violence was a strategic mistake. Even if there are doubts about whether self-
criticism about their past support for terrorism has gone far enough,
5
the Basque Country is now
1
92 per cent of the total number of terrorist deaths in the 1964-2010 period were caused by ETA and 7
per cent by right-wing groups or the GAL state-sponsored death squads (López Romo et al. 2014).
2
Such state would encompass the Spanish autonomous regions of Basque Country and Navarre and the
Western part of the French department of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques.
3
The MLNV comprises of a number of heterogeneous political organisations; political parties, a trade
union, youth groups and a network of organisations superficially devoted to social issues (i.e. feminism,
environmental, social justice and more) but that in essence have been subservient to ETA’s control of the
movement (Mata 1993, Leonisio 2015).
4
Sortu is part of Bildu, a large coalition of pro-independence parties which won 25% of the vote in the
2012 election to the Basque parliament. Sortu represents former voters of Batasuna, ETA’s outlawed
political wing, which has operated under different names in the past (Herri Batasuna, Euskal Herritarrok
and so on).
5
Interview staff Fundación Fernando Buesa, 1-6-2015.
2
a post-conflict society. Public political debate has slowly but surely shifted from how to end
terrorism to notions of memory, truth, reconciliation and the prevention of future violence (Elzo
2014).
This paper will look at how civil action affected the trajectory of the conflict in this particular
setting. It will argue that civil action against ETA in the Basque case, carried out by community
groups, political parties, local authorities, the regional government and other actors, was
consequential for this outcome. To reach this conclusion data has been collected from semi-
structured interviews with activists, material produced by community groups available online or
in archives, media reports, regional government documents, academic works and surveys and
other forms of quantitative data (such as numbers of terrorist attacks and casualties in different
periods). Triangulation of this variety of data sources has served to mitigate possible
methodological weaknesses such as interviewees misremembering and/or omitting details or the
potential for representatives of the groups to overestimate the impact of their work.
In developing these ideas this chapter is divided in four main sections. The first three address the
different stages in the Basque civil response and describe the network of actors that became the
vanguard of citizens’ contestation of ETA while charting the history and evolution of this
opposition movement. The relationships between these groups are elaborated on and so is the
key facilitating role adopted by local political structures. Their repertoire of contention and
strategies are examined in these sections whereas the impact of their action is discussed
immediately after. The chapter concludes with a summary of findings and the ramifications that
this specific case has for the incipient literature on civil action in conflict settings.
Context
Though a silent and passive majority of Basques have unreservedly rejected ETAs actions for a
long time
6
; before the rise of the peace movement, social responses to violence in Basque Country
constituted isolated events that lacked continuity. This was especially the case in the late 1970s
during the worst period of violence, when ETA attempted to destabilise the Spanish transition to
a democratic regime: 30 per cent of their total death toll comes from this 1977-1980 phase (1980
was ETA’s bloodiest year ever with 92 deaths) and 70 per cent of their killings were committed
from 1977 to 1989 (López Romo et al. 2014).
During this late 1970s transition period and the early 1980s, mass shows of rejection of the
terrorist group were scarce (Marrodán 2015, Moreno 2015). As Lopez Romo et al. report (2014:
120) 76 per cent of ETA’s murders in 1979 received no social response of any kind whereas in
1984 the figure was even higher (82 per cent). The few exceptions mainly came in the form of
one-off demonstrations in reaction to high-profile murders that were organised by the new legal
parties emerging in the fledgling democracy.
The first of these demonstrations did in fact occur early in ETA’s onslaught against the new
democratic regime: in 28 June 1978 the Communist party (PCE) held a small rally in the Basque
town of Portugalete in response to ETA killing the same day of the journalist José María Portell.
7
Also in 1978 the nationalist PNV, the communists PCE and Partido del Trabajo de Euskadi and the
socialists PSE-PSOE, together with the leftist trade unions CCOO and UGT, organised the first
major popular protest against all forms of political violence in Basque Country. There were also
in this period some symbolic initiatives from the Basque intelligentsia, the most prominent being
6
For the 2009-2013 period, on average only 5 per cent of Basques either ‘totally support’ or ‘justify’ ETA
whereas 60 per cent ‘totally reject’ it . Source: Euskobarometer, Universidad del País Vasco. For a
summary see: http://www.arovite.com/es/portfolio-items/actitud-ante-eta/ . The historical evolution of
this support is described in the ‘Assessing Impact’ section of this chapter,
7
http://www.eldiario.es/norte/vientodelnorte/primera-manifestacion-ETA_6_365423495.html
3
on 26 May 1980 when 33 intellectuals and artists presented a manifesto denouncing the
violence.
8
These examples demonstrate that political parties (especially the Communist PCE) and socialist
trade unions had an important role in the first few spontaneous anti-violence protests. It should
be noted however that a majority of these gatherings were of rather small size and limited reach.
Furthermore, the larger demonstrations tended to avoid naming ETA specifically or mentioning
the word terrorism’, preferring instead to use more abstract terms such as ‘armed violence’
(Castells 2015). It is not until October 1983 when ETA is first mentioned explicitly in the main
banner of a major demonstration (‘With the People, Against ETA’), this time organised by the
Basque government to protest against the murder of captain Alberto Martín Barrios (López Romo
et al. 2014)
This ambiguity was prevalent in a time when the MLNV mobilisation was becoming dominant in
the streets of Basque Country. While their victims were often ignored, the killings of ETA
members were received with labour strikes and mass demonstrations, where glorification of
terrorism and public incitement to violence were common features. Public funerals would be
organised in their places of origin, serving as rituals to praise and honour the militant and ETA
itself (Casquete 2003) These gatherings had larger turnouts than most rallies organised to protest
about their actions and, in a turbulent period of rapid change; they served not only as a show of
strength to intimidate political opponents but also as a mechanism to provide supporters with a
sense of belonging, security and pride.
The reasons behind these public attitudes are varied and complex: fear of reprisals from ETA and
its sympathisers is arguably the most significant. The agreement with ETA’s political goals -even
if the means were rejected- by part of the population was another obstacle. A key issue is the fact
that blame for the violence was widely distributed (Llera 1992). In other words, this was a period
when political violence was far from being monopolised by ETA: right wing violent groups with
links to the state were also committing atrocities in Basque Country
9
and the police and security
forces had still not been purged of Francoist elements, so they often acted in a heavy-handed
manner and committed frequent and serious human rights abuses (Reinares and Jaime-Jiménez
2000; Domínguez 1998, 2003). Moreover memories of repression by the Franco dictatorship
were fresh and, thanks to their activity during the last years of the regime, ETA was still
benefitting from its anti-Francoist public image. As an illustration, in a 1978 public survey, 48
per cent of Basques described ETA militants as ‘patriots or idealists’ (Linz 1986). As importantly,
when asked to give their opinion about ETA in a 1981 poll, as many as 48 per cent of respondents
refused to answer the question. This serves to illustrate the pervasive climate of intimidation that
existed in the period, to the point that many Basques kept their opinions to themselves for fear of
ETA or for the belief that the majority of Basques supported the militants; a process that came to
be described as a ‘spiral of silence’ (Funes 1998b: 496).
The Emergence of Civil Action in the Peace Movement
This is the context from which the Basque peace movement rose to the fore. The movement
encompassed a myriad of various entities but two specific organisations were especially
significant due to their influence, visibility and trajectory: Gesto por la Paz and Elkarri.
10
8
http://elpais.com/diario/1980/05/28/espana/328312806_850215.html
9
Violent far right groups with links to the police such as Batallón Vasco Español (BVE), los Grupos
Armados Españoles (GAE) o la Triple A murdered 24 people in 1980 alone. See:
http://www.noticiasdegipuzkoa.com/2015/02/01/politica/dias-de-plomo-y-sangre
10
Other relevant groups include Artesanos por la Paz, Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos, Bakea Orain or
Denon Artean. Bakea Orain and Denon Artean are splinter groups from Gesto. Associations such as Bakeaz
4
Gesto por la Paz was born out of an initiative from a religious school (Colegio Calasancio de los
Escolapios de Bilbao) and a Christian foundation (Colectivo Itaca) that was funded and supported
by the Catholic Church.
11
On 26 November 1985 the first gesto or ‘gesture’ took place: 200 people
gathered silently in Bilbao to protest against the killings in Donostia-San Sebastián of navy
officers Rafael Melchor García and José Manuel Ibarzabal.
12
Soon similar groups from local
parishes carrying out this same form of protest would appear in other parts of Bilbao and the
broader region. This emerging network started coordinating their efforts in 1986 and eventually
the Coordinadora Gesto por la Paz was formed in April 1987.
13
Gesto por la Paz opposed all forms of political violence. They are best known for their anti-ETA
activism (since they were by far the main perpetrators) but they did also actively denounce the
Spanish state’s use in the mid-1980s of para-legal and terroristic violence
14
and police abuses and
torture. The group attracted a moderate Basque nationalist and non-nationalist audience, was
loosely organised and co-ordinated and engaged in classical mobilisation through marches and
symbolic acts.
As a grass-root movement Gesto was made up of a large number of small local independent
groups across Basque Country and by the 1990s there were as many as 175 groups active
simultaneously at one point.
15
In their 28 years of existence Gesto staged tens of thousands of
protests (in 1996 alone they held 8,150). The group conducted two main types of non-
institutional collective action: a-annual peace marches in January and b-the so-called Gestos, 15-
minutes public gatherings following every politically-motivated killing (either from ETA or state
security forces). In those periods when ETA were holding individuals kidnapped, they would also
meet weekly (every Monday) to demand their release. It is precisely those gatherings to protest
about a series of high profile abductions during the mid-1990s
16
what catapulted Gesto into the
public consciousness:
‘Our high point is in the 93-97four-year period. [..] when we have a visibility and a public relevance
in the printed press. Our messages begin to be well-known. We have an important presence in the
mass media. We have an important relationship with the political class.’
17
At their peak, these public gatherings would occur in more than 160 separate geographic
locations within Basque Country. Attendance figures would range from 15 to 40,000 although
they were much higher following especially dramatic incidents. For example, on 12 July 1997,
Gesto helped to organise the largest mass demonstration in Basque Country’s recent history in
Bilbao, the region’s largest city, bringing together 500,000 people
18
to demonstrate against ETA’s
kidnapping of the Basque local councillor Miguel Ángel Blanco. Their activities served to
systematise the social response to terrorism, improving on the intermittent and ad-hoc public
reactions that had characterised the period before their arrival (Gómez Moral 2013, Urkijo 2013,
Etxaniz 2014, Castells 2015).
or Gernika Gogoratuz had a more intellectual approach, which differentiates them from the activism of the
other organisations.
11
http://www.gesto.org/es/que-fue-gesto-por-la-paz/historia/nace-gesto/primer-gesto.html
12
Ibid.
13
http://www.gesto.org/es/que-fue-gesto-por-la-paz/historia/nace-gesto/primeras-asociaciones.html
14
By the GAL (Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberación) a state-sponsored terrorist group who murdered 27
people during the 19831987 period (Argomaniz and Vidal-Diez, 2015).
15
http://www.gesto.org/es/que-fue-gesto-por-la-paz/organizacion/funcionamiento-
interno/grupos.html
16
These include the abduction of businessmen Julio Iglesias Zamora (1993), José María Aldaia (1995-6)
and Cosme Delclaux (1996-7) and the prison officer José Ortega Lara (1996-97).
17
Interview former Gesto por la Paz member, 23-7-2016.
18
https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=12+Julio+1997+manifestacion+Gesto+Bilbao&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-
8&client=firefox-b-ab&gfe_rd=cr&ei=hhZoV7KYFavS8AeZzYGoBw
5
The impact of this activism is clear when we look at the figures: whereas in 1979 only 21 per cent
of ETA’s killings were accompanied by social mobilisation and 18 per cent in 1984; starting in
1986 this occurred in every single occasion (Lopez Romo et al. 2014: 120). Furthermore, whereas
in the 1976-79 phase only 4 per cent of ETA’s kidnappings received any form of social response
(15 per cent in 1980-85), there was a complete turnaround after the appearance of the peace
movement and, in the period from 1986 to 1997, as many as 82 per cent of them were followed
by a significant public reaction (Llera and Leonisio 2015: 153).
An interesting feature of Gesto’s processes of contention was the use of symbolic communication
and political rituals. Gesto has been especially active in promoting emotional communication
through the use of symbols. It introduced the wearing of el lazo azul (a blue ribbon) pinned on
the chest to demonstrate a connection with the principles of the movement. In addition, an
essential feature of their demonstrations is that they would be silent. This was to symbolise
citizens’ opposition to political violence of any sign and their refusal to be associated with any
particular political party. Their gestos would be organised always at the same time and place and
they served as rituals that dramatised the response but also routinised it, as they were designed
to mirror the repetitive breakout of violence. With these recurrent manifestations of silence, they
sought affective identification and to influence an audience of passive observers. So this practice
was not only about naming and shaming but also acted as a mechanism to make their presence
visible to society.
Therefore, the use of political rituals was not only a form of expressive contestation but did in fact
fulfil a number of instrumental goals: they helped to raise collective awareness about the
movement, strengthened the participants’ compromise and attracted widespread media
attention, which led to more recruits (Gómez Moral 2013, Urkijo 2013, Etxaniz 2014). So the
Basque printed media’s sympathy towards these pacifist groups was crucial in this regard. A key
insight in this work is that NGOs affect the conflict trajectory because they can act as a firewall
against terrorist recruitment by formulating new frames that damage the violent actor’s aura and
prestige within the broader community. The part played by the media is fundamental in this since
they act as a resonance chamber that amplifies their messages.
Gesto’s persistent, committed campaigning had to face severe obstacles, especially at its origins.
Access to public space for contestation of ETA’s violence was a challenge during the late 1970s
and early 1980s. As previously described, this is due to the fact that the MLNV has traditionally
maintained a tight control of the street as a political space, keeping their sympathisers constantly
mobilised through demonstrations and public acts (Aulestia 1998, Tejerina 2001, Casquete
2003). This was done to amplify their social and political influence but also to compensate for
their comparatively disappointing electoral support. The MLNV developed an activist culture
with high political socialisation and the public arena was saturated with their own repertoire of
contentious action.
So part of what makes this civil resistance so important is that it is articulated by occupying public
spaces; spaces that were in the past controlled by the MLNV for their own political expression.
Thus, these civilian groups undermine the MLNV’s attempt at achieving complete domination of
the public arena: they challenge the MLNV’s use of the street as a mechanism for social control
and contestation. This demonstrates how the performative dimension of nonviolence action can
have strong instrumental underpinnings whether they are intentional or not.
In the mid-1990s, Gesto and other civic groups hard-won space was challenged when they started
facing aggressive counter-protests by the MLNV. These counter-protests were part of a broader
strategy by ETA introduced in the mid-1990s
19
to compensate for the deterioration of their
19
This new Oldartzen (To charge) strategy was designed to ‘extend the suffering’ to those within Basque
society who disagreed with their project so that they would be forced to demand from their political
representatives a negotiation with ETA.
6
military strength and the cracks that were appearing in their attempt to control society. This new
strategy relied on broadening their target selection to increasingly larger swathes of Basque civil
society including local politicians, judges, civil servants, journalists and academics (Sánchez-
Cuenca 2009). ETA’s own assassinations and the policy of organised harassment and persecution
(Kale Borroka) carried out by their hardline supporters produced an asphyxiating atmosphere of
intimidation, especially for those who publicly opposed their violence and political project
(Intxaurbe, Ruiz Vieytez and Urrutia 2016).
Peace campaigners would then have to face rival protesters lining up in front of them, holding up
their own banners, separated by the police. Often the situation would be tense. Participants in
demonstrations against ETA would be repeatedly threatened, intimidated, insulted and
physically assaulted (Funes 1998a, Calleja 2006, Rodríguez Fouz 2010, Gómez Moral 2013,
Etxaniz 2014). Due to unbearable pressure, Gestos had to be called off in a number of sites. The
following quote from a Gesto member (Cuesta 2000: 198) is very illustrative:
Those were tough times. We had to suffer the counter-demonstrations. They would stay just two
meters away from us. In a small town like Zarautz this means you would have opposite you a
cousin, a neighbour. There were parents at the Gesto who had children on the other side, shouting.
They would threaten and insult us. [..] Other Gesto members had their shop windows smashed. In
that period we suffered death threats and chases through the streets. When the event was over,
they would follow us with their Euskal Herria Askatu [Freedom for Basque Country] banner to our
home or the pub where we had a drink after the gathering. People were scared because fifteen
minutes in front of them is tough. They had the nerve to take pictures and then they would make
signs with them. People were intimidated, they were afraid. They would identify you in your day-
to-day life and that’s hard to bear, you need to be prepared. Some would say that they were sorry
that they support us and defended the same principles but that they could not go. Some people
would start trembling the day before the event, those who would be at the front’.
In parallel to Gesto’s work (but protected from MLNV’s reprisals), a new actor was quickly
becoming the other leading Basque pacifist organisation of the period -even if they actually self-
defined as a ‘mediation movement’-. Elkarri, born in 1992, had its roots in the MLNV and their
original members were activists who shared ETA’s objectives but became disenchanted with its
violence for different reasons: moral -it was wrong- or instrumental -it was ineffective-. Soon
membership expanded to include other political options and eventually the organisation
gravitated towards the moderate nationalist parties
20
.
Elkarri’s approach was based on propagating the notion that in Basque Country terrorist violence
was a reflection of a pre-existing political conflict caused by long-standing historic grievances felt
by the Basques regarding the fulfilment of their national rights (Ruíz Soroa 2008). As a result,
they regarded the reaching of a settlement between ETA and the Spanish governments as the only
path towards peace in Basque country. Such discourse was further developed with the
progressive introduction of new frames: the idea of empate infinito or ‘permament tie’, the notion
that ETA would never be defeated by Spanish counter-terror policies and therefore a political
solution was the only possible path to peace; or tercer espacio (third space) the idea that a
majority of the Basques rejected terrorism but desired to end it through a negotiated approach.
In contrast to Gesto, Elkarri was a highly professionalised, technocratic and hierarchical
organisation.
21
Both Gesto and Elkarri embraced collective action but Elkarri focused on
promoting their political agenda by lobbying political parties and the MLNV. They did so mainly
20
Mainly the popular and dominant Partido Nacionalista Vasco (PNV) or Eusko Alkartasuna (EA). That
said, some Elkarri members were also leftist Izquierda Unida and Socialist party voters (Interview former
Elkarri member, 25-5-2017).
21
Although both organisations are better known for their stance against all forms of political violence,
they also campaigned for the social rehabilitation of ETA prisoners and their transfer to prisons closer to
Basque Country.
7
through the organisation of citizen forums, press releases and meetings with political
representatives. Unlike Elkarri, Gesto did not formally support any particular political solution to
the conflict but reaffirmed the principle that any political project could be developed in a
democratic Basque Country without resorting to violence (Alonso 2007). They also disagreed
with Elkarri’s original stance that collective rights are as valuable as individual human rights. In
practical terms, this led to an unintended division of labour: Gesto was more social, Elkarri
institutional (Funes 1998a, Gago Anton 2012). Gesto rallied and organised those who already
opposed ETA’s violence, Elkarri fostered contacts between Basque political parties and helped to
set the foundations for the MLNV eventual shift towards the renunciation of violence.
It should be noted that these organisations were operating in a more favourable political context
than the immediate past. During those years there was a strong political unity amongst all the
main Basque parties on the question of terrorism. The foundation of this consensus was the Pact
of Ajuria Enea. Signed in 1988, this political agreement brought together all major Basque political
forces (with the exception of MLNV’s main party Herri Batasuna). In a show of unity, the
signatories agreed to the common goal of eradicating terrorism from Basque Country and
rejected any form of collaboration with any political party that endorsed and supported violent
action. In practice this led to a political and institutional cordon sanitaire around the MLNV.
Furthermore this crucial agreement contributed to the solidification of democratic practices in
the region and gave a strong impetus to social mobilisation (Llera and Leonisio 2015). In addition
to the wave of rallies and demonstrations jointly organised by Basque political parties
themselves, the Basque government would assist with funding some of the work by peace groups.
It soon became a pattern that major demonstrations would be backed by both peace
organisations and the Ajuria Enea parties. This shows how institutional support -or at least
implicit approval- can be very beneficial for non-governmental organisations in those contexts
where the local authorities enjoy broad legitimacy.
The Constitutionalist Turn
In the late 1990s a new stage opened where we witness the rise of a civic movement that did not
stop at simply protesting against violence; it also promoted a new political narrative. These
organisations were run by a group of Basque intellectuals and political figures to campaign not
only against ETA but also against what they saw as an ambivalent and indecisive attitude by the
moderate nationalist parties in power. It was widely felt that the regional government could do
much more to supress the MLNV’s violence that was routinely and disproportionally suffered by
politicians, businessmen, journalists, academics, artists and other public figures from the non-
nationalist camp. They clamoured for the authorities to defend the legal democratic order by
using the tools of the criminal justice system to protect citizens’ human and political rights, which
were routinely being abused by ETA and their sympathisers.
The roots of the movement are found in the massive public mobilisation that came as a reaction
to the murder of Miguel Ángel Blanco. Blanco was a young town councillor from the government
party (the centre-right Partido Popular) who lived in the small Basque town of Ermua. ETA
abducted him on 10 July 1997 and threatened to kill him within 48 hours unless the government
re-allocated all ETA prisoners to jails closer to the Basque Country.
22
The Spanish government
rejected the ultimatum and, despite a huge popular response, Blanco was murdered on 12 July.
The murder became a tipping point in the social contestation of ETA (Sabucedo, Rodríguez and
López López 2002; Sáez de la Fuente 2011). Public revulsion led to massive demonstrations as
22
The Spanish government had implemented since the late 1980s a prison policy of dispersion for ETA
prisoners according to which they would be divided and transferred to high-security prisons across the
Spanish geography. The measure was introduced to facilitate dissension within the group and individual
disengagement but has attracted criticism for infringing prisoners’ right to serve their sentences near
their home place. See: http://noticias.lainformacion.com/espana/la-politica-de-dispersion-un-arma-del-
estado-contra-eta-que-sigue-cuestionandose_F8w9ULGUrxZCYIWIxeL872/
8
more than 6 million people across the country took to the streets.
23
This cathartic public reaction
came to be described as the Espíritu de Ermua, Blanco’s hometown becoming the epicenter of the
response with daily gatherings and vigils to demand Blanco’s release during the ultimatum.
The Espíritu de Ermua crystalised in a new wave of civic groups: soon after the events, the Foro
Ermua was born. Founded by a small group of activists and college professors, the Foro’s
objective was to keep citizens mobilisation alive and to promote a political alternative to the
dominant Basque nationalism. Their main contribution is the elaboration of a political narrative
for change that was adopted and developed by the other organisations that would soon join them
in the civic and victims movement (Martínez Gorriarán 2008: 110). This narrative was based on
the principle of ‘constitutionalism’ understood as the defence of liberal democracy and their
institutions from the excesses of radical nationalism (Savater 2001, ¡Basta ya! Iniciativa
Ciudadana 2004, Martínez Gorriarán 2003).
Arguably, this incipient civic movement would have never developed in full had it not been for
the growing division between Basque nationalist and non-nationalist political parties that came
with the signing in September 1998 of the Pact of Lizarra. Supported by Elkarri, the Pact
formalised an agreement between the main nationalist parties and ETA to establish a political
bloc and advance towards independence in return for the end of the armed struggle. This
development was interpreted as a reaction by moderate nationalist parties to the huge wave of
popular mobilisation against ETA that had been sparked by Blanco’s murder, which they saw as
a threat not only to ETA but Basque nationalism as a whole.
The Pact was seen with shock and dismay by non-nationalists (or ‘constitutionalists’ – advocates
of the state’s Constitution) because it came at a time when social support for ETA was at an all-
time low with criticisms of Blanco’s murder surfacing even within the monolithic world of the
MLNV (Martínez Gorriarán 2003, ¡Basta ya! Iniciativa Ciudadana 2004). Furthermore the Pact
formalised a formal strategic alliance, for the first time, between democratic nationalism and a
still active terrorist organisation. And even if ETA declared a ceasefire as the Pact was announced,
ETA’s youth support groups
24
in charge of the Kale borroka maintained their levels of activity; as
an illustration, only in 1998 and 1999 there were 879 acts of harassment, aggression, severe
beatings and sabotage (de la Calle 2007: 436).
These circumstances brought about increased political tension and the formation of a nationalist-
constitutionalist cleavage that was unheard-of in Basque politics, which resulted in fears about
the ‘Irelandisation’ of Basque country: the creation of two distinct and opposed groups within
society à la the divided community found in Northern Ireland. The fears of a spill-over from
existing political factionalism into broader social polarisation did however not fully come to pass.
Mainly because of ETA’s frustration with the ‘slow’ speed of political change, which led them to
break the truce on November 1999, so the collaboration between democratic and radical
nationalism came to a halt a year later. This process did however have a deleterious effect in the
former political unity against ETA, which took a long time to return to something resembling the
halcyon days of the Pact of Ajuria Enea.
So it is in that period when a very small group of Catholic priests founded Foro El Salvador
25
to
protest against the terrorist violence, the dominance of the nationalism ideology in the hierarchy
of the Basque Catholic church and the church’s neglect of non-nationalist victims (Vitoria
Cormenzana 2009). Also in 1999 the most prominent entity of the civic movement, Basta Ya
(Enough is Enough!) was formed to put the discourse of the Foro Ermua in practice through
mobilisation and public campaigns: ‘[Foro Ermua] is passive, very passive. And Basta Ya is much
23
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11183574
24
Operating then under the name of Jarrai, a youth organisation within the MLNV network (Elzo and
Arrieta 2005)
25
http://foroelsalvador.blogia.com/temas/manifiesto-fundacional/
9
more dynamic, more activist. […] It became a mean of expressing the anguish and the necessity
to sustain a resistance’.
26
Rather than waiting for an attack to happen to protest, Basta Ya would seek to take the initiative
with the organisation of massive demonstrations. Formed around a small and tight leadership
(veterans from the Foro Ermua and the pacifist movement), and relying on the work of large
number of -often anonymous- volunteers operating informally under a very loose structure, Basta
Ya was behind some of the most spectacular acts of the period. Their activism was also
controversial for their partisanship (in contrast to Gesto’s apolitical approach) which attracted
censure by the nationalist press.
Starting from their first major demonstrations in 19 February 2000, Basta Ya brought together
local politicians, intellectuals and thousands of citizens to protest against ETA several times.
During 2001 and 2002 Basta Ya celebrated concentrations in Bilbao and Donostia-San Sebastián.
In addition they organised periodic press conferences, workshops and contacts with
international human right organisations, the UN and the European Parliament. Unlike Gesto, civic
groups would choose in occasions to demonstrate in areas with a strong MLNV presence,
including Batasuna’s local offices, signaling their complicity with ETA and symbolically pointing
the blame at them for the violence. They therefore introduced a more confrontational approach
to civil action.
In fact, Basta Ya’s approach fits Bejan’s concept of ‘mere civility’ described in the Introduction.
Unlike Gesto’s more traditional maximalist view of civility where political disagreements are
papered over with the practice of silent demonstrations, Basta Ya is locked in a political contest
with the MLNV and the nationalist political establishment. In this case, opposition to violence
does not entail avoiding political disagreements and partisan debates.
Indeed, some of the Basta Ya’s actions had a strong performative dimension to signal the existence
of an unjust and intolerable situation. Martínez Gorriarán (2008: 139, 144) describes how in one
protest at the President of the Basque Government official residence fifty protesters would cover
their heads with an orange hood reminiscent of the colour in the uniforms worn by death row
inmates in the US. Slowly and silently walking in circle for thirty minutes, they held signs with the
names of those collectives (local councillors, journalists, judges..) threatened by ETA.
Here, we must remember that public opposition to ETA has had serious personal costs for many.
Public activism could result in being ostracised by the individual’s former social network and, in
more serious cases, suffering persistent harassment and becoming a victim of violence. High-
profile members of some civic groups were murdered, many others received death threats, found
their name in ETA lists of targets and were forced to leave the region. In fact two supporters of
this movement: José Luis López de la Calle (journalist and founder of Foro Ermua) and Joseba
Pagazaurtundúa (Basque policeman and Basta Ya member) were assassinated by ETA (Alonso,
Domínguez and García Rey 2010). The leader of Foro Salvador, the priest Jaime Larrínaga, was
coerced into exile following harassment and death threats. This in a context where more than a
thousand of ETA opponents (including representatives of these civic groups) have required 24/7
bodyguard service for years.
27
The situation has been described by some as ‘ideological cleansing’
(Calleja, 2006) and, regardless of whether one agrees or not with this particular label, there is no
doubt that -to varying degrees- this certainly has been ‘high risk collective action’.
Civic groups traditional allies and collaborators were victims organisations created to protect
the rights of victims of terrorism and address their needs. The largest victims association in Spain
is the Asociación Víctimas del Terrorismo (AVT) founded in 1981 in Madrid but most Basque
26
Interview former Basta Ya member, 21-7-2016.
27
Between 1990 and 2011 there were 1,619 ETA targets under bodyguard protection (Intxaurbe, Ruiz
Vieytez and Urrutia 2016: 10).
10
victims have been organised under the Colectivo de Víctimas del Terrorismo en el País Vasco
(COVITE), which was established in 1998.
COVITE has made of memorialisation a key principle of their campaigns by bringing to light
victims experiences as a painful remainder of the costs of political violence. They have also taken
upon themselves the duty to challenge the narratives that traditionally legitimised ETA’s
terrorism.
28
In this task they have often collaborated with those political foundations that started
appearing in the late 90s such as the Fundación para la Libertad.
29
Most of these were established
in memory of well-known ETA victims including the Fundación Miguel Ángel Blanco
30
, Fundación
Gregorio Ordoñez
31
, Fundación José Luis López de la Calle
32
or Fundación Fernando Buesa.
33
It is clear from the above that civic and victims’ groups share similar narratives of the conflict.
They both articulate their political vision around the defence of the Constitution, the Rule of Law
and the protection of political freedoms for all Basques (Martínez Gorriarán 2008). What
differentiates them from the peace movement is that they not only mobilise against ETA but also
the ideology of Basque nationalism, which they regard as the roots of the problem.
So there is an evolution from the pacifism of the eighties to the ‘constitutionalism’ of the nineties.
Of course, this does not mean that peace groups cease to exist when these other grassroots
organisations emerge in the 1990s. They continue with their work so what we see in this period
is a richer and more complex constellation of activists. It must be noted, however, that the sharp
political divisions between nationalist and non-nationalist parties in the late 1990s that had
dissolved the strong commitment against ETA forged in the 1980s did result in the slow but
constant decline of Gesto’s activity and relevance: ‘Once the Ajuria Enea pact collapses the
political conditions are not the same and this is reflected in the difficulties that Gesto has to do its
job.’
34
The democratic unity that invigorated Gesto’s activism dissipated and was replaced with
the political polarisation that encouraged some of Gesto’s membership to leave and join the
Constitutionalist groups (others stayed and collaborated with both).
35
In addition to formulating a strong alternative narrative and strengthening social opposition to
terrorism in a difficult moment for non-nationalists, the other main contribution of the civic
movement is relatively prosaic but critical nonetheless. Due to the presence in their midst (and
connections with) politicians from both parties, the constitutionalist movement acted as a bridge
between the Socialists and the centre-right Partido Popular to encourage a common front against
the late 1990s alliance between democratic nationalists and ETA. Rapprochement in Basque
Country encouraged a compromise at the national level by both parties to reject any hypothetical
peace for independence agreement with the nationalist bloc. The strong consensus resulted in
the 2000 Acuerdo por las libertades y contra el Terrorismo, an accord between these two parties
which strengthened the political response to ETA in a period when it had regained the initiative.
As stated by one of the interviewees:
The pacto por las libertades y contra el Terrorismo would have been very difficult without the existence
of the civic movement. And that is the pact that terminates terrorism. It is what leads to the legal measures
that from the rule of law attack ETA’s milieu that is connected to terrorism’.
36
28
Interview staff COVITE, 28-5-2016.
29
http://paralalibertad.org/
30
http://www.fmiguelangelblanco.es/
31
http://www.fgregorioordonez.org/
32
http://www.abc.es/hemeroteca/historico-05-04-2001/abc/Nacional/nace-la-fundacion-lopez-de-la-
calle-en-memoria-del-columnista-asesinado-por-eta_22311.html
33
http://www.fundacionfernandobuesa.com/
34
Interview former Gesto por la Paz member, 23-7-2016.
35
Interview former Gesto por la Paz and Basta Ya member, 24-5-2017.
36
Interview former Foro Ermua member, 27-7-2016.
11
The pact resulted in the introduction of legislation in 2002 that eventually led to the illegalisation
of MLNV’s political wing, which short-circuited the flow of public funds to ETA units and pushed
the movement to the political wilderness. As we will see next, this legislation had an important
impact on ETA’s future decision to lay down arms.
Despite its prominence, the constitutionalist surge was however short-lived. After strengthening
the social opposition to any form of political collaboration with ETA and encouraging an effective
institutional response to MLNV’s material support for terrorism; Basta Ya was torn apart by the
rapprochement between the Basque socialists and nationalists in 2003 that followed the failure
of Lizarra and, most importantly, the intensifying division in Madrid between the two main
constitutionalist parties (PP and PSOE). The rift grew into a chasm after the election of the
socialist leader José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in 2004 and his decision to initiate negotiations with
ETA a year later, a move radically opposed by the PP. The discord between the country’s two main
parties spilled-over into Basta Ya, which entered into a severe crisis, and in 2007 disappeared. A
few of Basta Ya’s leaders decided then to launch a new political party (UPyD-Unión Progreso y
Democracia) as an alternative to the traditional PP and PSOE.
MLNV’s renunciation of violence and the role of Lokarri
A last stage opened when formal talks between the government and ETA collapsed. The trigger
was ETA’s explosion of a car-bomb in Madrid’s Barajas airport on December 30 2006 that killed
two people. Soon after, in June 2007, ETA announced the end of their permanent ceasefire.
Meanwhile the remnants of the constitutionalist movement had been absorbed by UPyD and
Gesto’s presence and activism was in decline.
37
Yet the weakening of civil action was also a logical
consequence of ETA’s ebb. ETA’s operational capacity had been greatly diminished to the point
that it became impossible for the organisation to launch an offensive following the break-down
of the negotiations. Despite its best efforts, between 2003 and 2011 ETA’s full death toll was
twelve people in a period in which it suffered wave after wave of arrests.
38
Furthermore, its
domestic standing was now gone. In a harsh post-9/11 and Good Friday Agreement context, when
jihadism had replaced ETA as the main terrorist threat for Spain, the organisation was becoming
an anachronism. The separatist group was on life support, incapable to shape Basque politics and
increasingly being seen by many within the MLNV as an obstacle rather than an asset for their
political goals.
The time was ripe for activists to make one last contribution to the end of terrorism. The collapse
of the ceasefire was the catalyst of a process of contestation within the MLNV of ETA’s hegemony.
While the MLNV’s political wing was banned for their collaboration with ETA, their political space
was being encroached by other leftist pro-independence parties who rejected violence and
attracted Batasuna’s traditional electorate.
39
Desperate to return to institutional politics,
frustrated with the failure of the negotiations, and aware of the impossibility of achieving
independence through violence, high-profile figures from the MLNV (headed by Batasuna’s leader
Arnaldo Otegi) launched a process of consultation involving the base to shift the movement away
from the armed struggle and convince ETA to abandon violence. And at certain points of the
process they turned to Lokarri for assistance.
37
The number of Gesto’s local groups in 2008 had been reduced by about two thirds from their peak in
the 1990s: http://www.gesto.org/es/que-fue-gesto-por-la-paz/organizacion/funcionamiento-
interno/grupos.html
38
From 2004 to 2011 739 presumed ETA militants were arrested: http://www.interior.gob.es/lucha-
antiterrorista-contra-eta-ix-legislatura-2008-2011-
39
Such as Eusko Alkartasuna or Batasuna’s splinter party Aralar.
12
In 2006, Elkarri had decided to split into 2 new organisations: Lokarri and Baketik. The latter’s
impact was minimal but Lokarri became a key actor on its own. Although it was not directly
involved, Lokarri had backed the dialogue between the socialist government and ETA (Gago
Anton 2007). Its failure led to a change of approach as they tried to build public support for a
political solution but far more significant was the opportunity that arose to assist the work by
MLNV critics of ETA’s lack of results and their counterproductive effect on the Basque
independentist movement (Aizpeolea 2013). Thus, Lokarri aided the long process of internal
deliberations which led to the MLNV’s eventual renunciation to violence in two ways.
40
Firstly,
they staged the presentation to of the statutes for Sortu, the MLNV’s new political party, which
adopted ‘a clear and unequivocal position of acting exclusively via democratic and political
channels’.
41
The party’s renunciation of violence led to the MLNV’s return to legal, institutional
politics.
Secondly, Lokarri also contributed to ETA’s end by collaborating closely with international
mediators (Grupo de Contacto Internacional) and especially the South African lawyer Brian
Currin
42
who was advising the group of Sortu politicians behind the so-called peace process’. This
continued the pattern set by Elkarri who had in the past reached out to U.S.-based conflict
resolution experts and to prominent figures in the peace process in Northern Ireland (Whitfield
2015: 6). Eventually the announcement of ETA’s definitive cessation of armed activity came on
the back of a Lokarri-run international conference in 17 October 2011 attended by international
figures (including former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan) and held in the Aiete palace
(Donostia-San Sebastián). In reality the organisation had adopted the decision long before that
date, pressurised by a large majority of the MLNV’s base: an ineffective ETA had finally decided
to throw in the towel.
Lokarri’s work (together with other high-profile foreign personalities) had succeeded in creating
a platform that allowed ETA to announce a permanent cessation of activities without losing face.
Otegi himself acknowledged Lokarri’s contribution in 2012: ‘It is well-known that our
relationship with Elkarri and Lokarri has been stormy and complicated but, being honest, we
need to recognise that their work in this scenario has been positive and constructive. (Munarriz
2012:190).
In May 2013, two years after ETA’s declaration, Gesto voluntarily dissolved, celebrating that it
had achieved its original goal the very instant ETA announced that it was laying down arms. In
March 2015 Lokarri made the same decision.
43
Of the original social resistance movement against
ETA, only COVITE and a few political foundations remain (albeit under-resourced and
undersized)
44
to work towards the deligitimisation of terrorism and to ensure that the victims’
sacrifice is recognised by the political class in the post-ETA scenario.
45
Assessing Impact
Scholars tend to attribute ETA’s defeat to a variety of factors such as the provision of more
autonomy to the Basque region, police and judicial action and French cooperation with Spanish
authorities (Argomaniz and Vidal-Diez, 2015). Collective action by community groups and
40
http://ccaa.elpais.com/ccaa/2014/10/08/paisvasco/1412786123_174749.html
41
See Sortu’s estatutes at: http://www.aelpa.org/actualidad/febrero2011/EstatutosSORTU.pdf
42
Currin had worked on the formation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and was a chair on the
Sentence Review Commission in Northern Ireland in 2004-5.
43
http://ccaa.elpais.com/ccaa/2014/10/11/paisvasco/1413040935_476291.html . Lokarri’s role has
been taken over by Foro Social a network of small groups dedicated to preserve and strengthen the peace
process: http://www.forosocialpaz.org/presentacion/
44
Interview staff Fundación Gregorio Ordoñez, 3-6-2015.
45
Interview staff Fundación Miguel Ángel Blanco, 2-6-2015.
13
political parties is also regarded as one of these factors. It is not possible however to
quantitatively assess its individual impact on the violence or its relative importance vis-à-vis the
other causes because they all overlap in time over a long 30 years period. Clearly, the delegation
of power from the central government to a Basque regional administration and the creation of a
new network of autonomous political institutions in the early and mid-1980s (a Basque
parliament, president, public broadcasting corporation, police force and so on) served to
legitimise the new democratic system in the eyes of many Basques and contributed to ETA’s
revolutionary project losing its lustre. Satisfaction with the status quo undermined social
justifications for violence and strengthened public opposition to it.
At the same time, increasingly effective work by police forces served to weaken ETA while judicial
action against its support network was also essential in this regard. So was France’s cooperation,
which closed the safe haven that ETA had been enjoying until the mid-1980s. Improved counter-
terror response by the authorities debilitated the armed group and helped to open up public
spaces of social contestation. This was also a factor at the grass-roots level since the Basque
Ertzaintza police force moved to protect Gesto’s or Constitutionalist’s demonstrations from
MLNV’s harassment in a number of occasions.
All these factors should not necessarily be seen as alternative explanations but as
complementary: they do in fact work together to impact on the violence. It is a virtuous circle
insofar civil action benefits originally from comparatively lower levels of violence; by the time the
peace movement emerged and political unity solidified, ETA’s levels of activity had experienced
a downward trend from its peak in the 1977-1980 period, even if they were still very high. Civil
action then strengthened the trend by delegitimising terrorism. And, once violence reaches its
nadir in the region, public activism declines because ETA ceases to be the citizens overriding
concern.
As discussed in the Introduction, these community groups, despite their differences, aimed to
tamp down violence and to do so locally, but the particular strategies devised to achieve this
objective did vary. Some groups (Elkarri and Foro Ermua especially but also the victims
foundations) often resorted to a more ‘intellectual’ approach. They directly engaged with Basque
political parties and institutional actors, used online tools, produced publications, organised
conferences and so on. All the rest sought increased citizen mobilisation to varying degrees. These
organisations were not mass movements: despite their visibility, active members constituted a
small minority of Basques.
46
Yet their actions, sometimes supported by the Basque government
and mostly channelled through ‘methods of concentration(marches, public performances,
protests, mass demonstrations, sit-ins...) served as a leverage to mobilise and energise a silent
majority of Basques that, previous to their appearance, did not possess a permanent public outlet
to express their rejection of ETA. It is no surprise that such methods of concentration were
prioritised, given that, as Burrows (1996) argues, these practices are particularly effective to
mobilise support, highlight grievances and build solidarity.
In terms of their capacities, the resources they used to generate effect were material, and the
groups’ level of activity was obviously affected by variation on individual donations and subsidies
from public bodies but far more essential were the social networks they created and their
connections with local political elites. This led to frequent instances of coordination between civic
groups and political parties for most of the period, which generally benefitted from favourable
media coverage. The importance of actors’ coordination for the Basque case confirms the
argument made in the Introduction that connections between actors is a key principle in
collective action. As argued there, coordination can bring together actors from different
constituencies and ‘helps to pull those taking civil action into a wave, allowing the potential for
46
In a poll carried out in 2004 68 per cent of the respondents were aware of the activities by Gesto por la
Paz, 64 per cent Basta Ya, Foro de Ermua (58) and Elkarri (51). 22 per cent had participated in Gesto’s
gatherings, 13 per cent in Basta Ya’s and 10 in Elkarri’s (Llera and Retortillo 2005:150).
14
even more connections and encouraging solidarity’. It is also interesting to note here Gesto’s
origins within the Catholic church, which confirms the findings from other cases where
organisational capacities existing within religious institutions were put in service of civil
resistance.
Community organisations claims to authority were based on their commitment to non-violence
and the democratic principles and human rights values they represented. For the local
government it was that they were democratically elected representatives of the citizens, which is
made more significant by the fact that Basque Country had transformed into a parliamentary
democracy with a high level of self-government after 40 years under a centralist dictatorship.
In the short term, continued civil action helped to preserve the social fabric, in the long run, it
resulted in the deligitimisation of ETA’s terrorism within Basque’s society. Through their
collective efforts, peace campaigners, intellectuals and Basque political forces helped to forge a
new social consensus where violence lost the prestige it had in the 1970s, when ETA was fighting
the Francoist regime.
These civilian actors helped to inculcate a ‘culture of peace’ and respect for human rights in
Basque society. They developed alternative narratives based on values such as tolerance, human
rights, and defence of representative democracy. These coalesced into an opposing world-view
to the one propagated by the MLNV.
47
In other words, they behaved as norm entrepreneurs
engaged in a process of norm diffusion (Kaplan 2013). Such incessant discursive work through
public activism was key to delegitimising the use of violence as a political tool but this was a long-
term process. It required decades of constant, persistent, low-key and committed work by
activists and leaders, public figures, journalists and academics.
The importance of their contribution is widely recognised by the Basques. In 1987, only 49 per
cent of the population believed that mobilisation against violence was important; In 1997,
however, as much as 85 per cent supported it (Llera 1994). In 2006 (during the negotiations
between the socialist government and ETA) when asked about 12 different factors that had
contributed to the end of terrorism, ‘Mobilisation of civil society was ranked as the most
important, ‘Civic resistance movements as third and ‘Victims organisations activities as sixth
(Llera 2012: 329). Most recently, in a 2014 poll the peace movement was the highest rated in a
list of seven types of actors involved in the termination of violence.
48
Civil action by political parties and NGOs also served to ameliorate the climate of fear that was so
central for the MLNV’s political action. The persistent public presence of peace groups became
part of the day-to-day life of the Basques, their action displaying the fact that it was a majority of
Basques who rejected ETA. The routinisation of protest became in the words of Funes
(1998b:497) ‘a departure from the spiral of silence’, which is evident in that while in 1981 48 per
cent refused to give their opinion about ETA, the percentage decreased progressively over the
years to reach only 5 per cent in 1995.
By reclaiming the public space and delivering an alternative frame where blame for the violence
fell squarely on ETA’s shoulders, they paved the way to changes in how political collective
identities were negotiated. As Schock (2005:162) contends, dynamics of collective action can
‘recast the political context to one that is more favourable to challengers’. The fact that this
opposition was intra-communitarian, carried out not from Madrid but by fellow Basques, served
to destroy the notion that ETA represented all Basque citizens in their struggle against the
‘oppression’ of the French and Spanish states. As argued by one interviewee: ‘essentially a
47
Interview staff Fundación Fernando Buesa, 18-7-2016.
48
See Sociómetro Vasco 54 (March 2014):
http://www.euskadi.eus/contenidos/documentacion/sociometro_vasco_54/es_soc53/adjuntos/14sv54.
pdf
15
movement of national liberation cannot sustain an armed struggle when 95% of the [Basque]
population is against it […] Gesto and Lokarri helped a lot to build that social space [of
opposition]’.
49
Indeed, opposition to ETA grew and intensified with the appearance of the peace movement. In
1978 12 per cent of the Basques justified terrorism, 20 years later (2002) they were only 2 per
cent; and whereas in 1986 36 per cent of the Basque youth (15-29 years) condoned terrorism in
‘certain circumstances’, in 1990 it was down to 17 per cent and became only 9 per cent in 2000
(Aviles 2003: 116, 119). In 1979 48 per cent of the Basques described ETA members as ‘patriots’
or ‘idealists’; in 2007 only 23 per cent did and 60 per cent viewed them instead as ‘fanatics’,
‘terrorists’ or ‘criminals’.
50
Crucially, this discursive work also shaped conflict resolution because it influenced the set of
choices accepted by society as to the most effective paths to dampen violence. By challenging the
MLNV’s frame of the ‘Basque conflict’, Gesto and civic groups undermined the MLNV message that
the only acceptable solution to terrorism is to force the Spanish government to the negotiating
table. Civic and victims groups in fact argued that ETA-Madrid bilateral negotiations may be
counter-productive for sending out the wrong message: that violence can be rewarded with
political concessions. In this they opposed Elkarri’s own conflict resolution approach. The
broader point in any case is that the Basque example shows how challenging discursive practices
can have political implications, including what solutions for a conflict are seen as legitimate
within society.
Indeed, such practical ramifications could be facilitated by connections with political elites in
some particular periods that acted as windows of opportunity. The new political scenario opened
up by the Ajuria Enea pact was the umbrella under which the peace movement formed.
Furthermore, the political narrative and the network of cross-party relationships built by Basque
civic organisations in the 1990s facilitated a joint political response at the national level that
served to contain ETA’s challenge and to debilitate the MLNV.
On the other hand, Elkarri’s main contribution occurred at a different level. Only Elkarri has been
able to have a limited direct influence on former ETA sympathisers, especially those who found
themselves in the outer ring of the MLNV political movement.
51
By attracting those who agreed
with the MLNV’s political narrative but were uneasy with ETA’s violence, they helped to erode
ETA’s ‘pillars of support’ (Funes 1998a, Gago Anton 2012, Gómez Moral 2013): ‘Elkarri’s virtue is
that it had a message that could be understood by the people from the Izquierda Abertzale [ETA’s
political movement] and by the political culture of the Izquierda Abertzale.
52
Their assistance to leaders within the MLNV’s political branch who wished to pressure ETA into
renouncing violence and Lokarri’s attempt to cement a peace process that would impede ETA’s
return to terrorism are certainly significant developments. In other words, Elkarri played a role
by bringing dissidents together and draining away support for violence from within the MLNV.
49
Interview former Elkarri/Lokarri member, 19-7-2016.
50
See Euskobarometro series temporales October 2016:
http://www.ehu.eus/documents/1457190/1513140/Series+Euskobar%C3%B3metro+%282016-
10%29.pdf
51
When presented in 2004 with a list of 13 community groups, Elkarri obtained the highest grade of all
the organisations from those respondents who self-identified as ‘only Basque’ (6,3). With the exception of
Gesto (5,4) the rest of the groups not only failed but they are graded lower than 4 (Basta Ya and Foro
Ermua both got a 2,7). On the other hand, Elkarri received the lowest mark of them all (4,7) by those in
the ‘only Spanish’ category whereas the average grade for the rest was higher than 7. Gesto obtained the
highest average (6,8) across the five identity categories (Llera and Retortillo 2005:145).
52
Interview former Elkarri/Lokarri member, 19-7-2016.
16
However here lies the main limitation of social action: it could not reach the hardliners, those at
the core of MLNV and ETA who were devoted to the ‘armed struggle’. For example, Gesto por la
Paz was embraced by many moderate nationalists but despised by MLNV followers, who
originally saw Gesto as naive and deluded (Romero 1995, Duplá 2009, Alonso and Casquete
2014). ETA’s leaders and rank-and-file were unmoved by the peace movement. Likewise true
believers amongst their sympathisers failed to be swayed by large-scale mobilisation and out-
group claims as these factors were offset by in-group socialisation and the use of ideology and
radical rhetoric as defence mechanisms.
At the same time, some of Elkarri’s work has attracted criticisms by others within the civil
resistance movement who considered it counter-productive (Uriarte 2003). Leaders of civic
movements criticised their support for the Pact of Lizarra, which had a corrosive effect in the pre-
existing common front against ETA. Some victims representatives also rejected Lokarri’s ‘peace
process’ as they saw it as a last-ditch effort to extract political concessions from the Spanish
government for the nationalist camp. On the other hand, civic organisations’ campaigning has
been censored by interviewees from peace groups for the partisanship they displayed in a heated
political climate and for generating division, even if unintendedly, within the anti-ETA
movement.
53
On another note, one must not forget to consider other contextual factors, such as ETA’s own
strategic errors, the gradual ‘bunkerisation’ and social isolation of the MLNV (‘a society within
society’, in the words of Kepa Aulestia (1998)) and Basque citizens’ growing weariness of
terrorism after 40 years of atrocities. All these elements, which are expected -almost intrinsic-
processes in protracted conflicts, compounded the erosion of ETA’s support base. By the time the
international environment turns hostile to militant organisations of any ideology following the
emergence of global jihadism and the 9/11 attacks, support for ETA was already at minimal
levels.
54
Finally, an interesting claim has been made by personalities from the anti-ETA movement, who
have argued that their actions have helped to prevent the ‘Irelandisation’ of Basque Country by
preventing escalation. The argument is that by refusing to take justice into their own hands and
placing their trust into the existing democratic institutions, victims did not confront ETA with
their own terrorist organisations and, as a result, the escalation of the conflict that was
experienced in Northern Ireland with the formation of loyalist paramilitary groups was avoided
in this case. Victims associations have developed a discourse based on the principles that violent
retaliation is wrong and victims should not seek revenge but justice through their support of the
rule of law, democratic institutions and the work of the criminal justice system (Cuesta 2000,
Arteta 2007, Etxeberria 2007, Reyes Mate 2008). Although victims associations and other civic
groups played a part by continuously calling for restraint and non-violence, it is arguable however
whether the absence of grass-roots organised oppositional violence
55
can be exclusively
explained by their efforts alone. Amongst other factors the absence of pre-existing cleavages
along religious or ethnic lines within Basque society or social rejection of ETA by a majority of
Basque nationalists are equally or probably more valuable to explain this outcome.
Conclusion
A number of insights emerge from the preliminary analysis of the Basque case. For a start it shows
that, even in the face of an established and formidable opposing socio-political movement, change
53
For example: Interview former Gesto por la Paz member, 16-5-2017.
54
See evolution of public perceptions for the 1995-2013 period in footnote 6.
55
Far right and state-sponsored violence was organised within the state apparatus and enjoyed no social
support within Basque Country at any time.
17
through grassroots nonviolent action can occur as a long-term process. In this context, civil
action’s legacy has been the progressive transformation of social norms. Nonviolent activists have
helped to inculcate a ‘culture of peace’ and human rights. This culture is now sustained by
education schemes funded by the local government that try to prevent youths from engaging with
violence; initiatives in which victims of terrorism play a vital role.
56
The development of this culture of peace and democratic values was not immediate and required
decades of constant, low-key, persistent and committed work by activists and leaders and also
the crucial contribution by other social actors such as political parties, public figures, journalists
and intellectuals. To achieve this goal, methods of concentration became especially useful, as
signifiers to a broad audience that certain ideas are held by many within the community and are
therefore worth following.
As we established earlier, the ETA case illustrates the importance of challenges from inside to
nudge political movements away from violence. In the MLNV’s radical worldview conformity to
certain ideological principles was essential (Alonso 2011). And, even if Elkarri was certainly not
trusted by everyone within the movement (Duplá 2009), it was regarded -at the very least- as a
nationalist-friendly organisation and therefore tolerated. Elkarri’s insider status something that
Gesto, civic groups and victims associations lacked- was precisely what enabled them to influence
ETA’s ‘pillars of support’.
In sum, at their peak, collective action against ETA did possess some of the attributes that are
expected to be found in successful resistance campaigns: the ability to attract large numbers of
participants, tying together different segments of the community and provoking ‘defections’.
Even if it is certainly not the sole cause for ETA’s decline, it seems clear that non-violent resistance
became an engine for political transformation and helped to precipitate an end to violence.
So to conclude: in the Basque context the impact of collective action on terrorism has occurred at
the discursive and normative levels but also in the sphere of public attitudes. If the analysis needs
to be summarised into three key findings these would be: First, that, in some conflicts, the impact
of non-violent activism may lie in its capacity to shape the political context. But this
transformation may be subtle, slow and happen over a long period of time. Second, that, in order
to make a difference, these actors do not need to influence directly the strategies of the armed
groups. And third, that the reason this is the case, is that they can contribute in their own way to
mitigate violence by undermining social support for the militants. In other words, by eroding
their pillars of support in a community.
56
http://www.hezkuntza.ejgv.euskadi.eus/r43-
573/es/contenidos/informacion/dig_publicaciones_innovacion/es_conviven/convivencia.html
18
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... There are mechanisms to build up a different society after extreme actions of violence, such as those of Al-Nusra and ISIS (Kaplan 2017), and even against the activities of terrorist organisations such as ETA (Argomaniz 2019). There are examples of mechanisms of bottom-up counterterrorism (Spalek and Weeks 2017), especially to fight radicalisation, such as "hubs", "situation tables", or "safe houses" or "intervention and support programmes", as explained by Roland (Institute for Economics & Peace 2018, 72). ...
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