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No going back for Batasuna

Basque party's option is irrevocable, but its rhetoric still includes questionable points

In the statutes of the new party that the outlawed abertzale (Basque separatist left) party Batasuna is to present today for registration with the Interior Ministry, it is expressly mentioned that the new party rejects the violence of ETA "if there were to be any," as was explained on Monday by the abertzale leader Rufi Etxeberria.

If the Spanish government does not challenge the registration of the new party, this will be enough to legalize it, but the government will do well not to challenge it directly. As things now stand it will be better if the decision, in whatever sense, is taken by the pertinent courts, which is bound to happen if, as Interior Minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba announced on Monday, the government calls on the Prosecutor's Office and the Attorney General to oppose it.

This move by Batasuna takes place in the context of a ceasefire declared by ETA, but with no signs that the terrorist organization is thinking of a definitive withdrawal- this being the objective of the antiterrorist strategy under which Batasuna was first outlawed. The question, then, is whether the commitment to condemn ETA violence "if there were to be any" serves to prevent there being any. This could be so, because the organization risks an internal rift and the loss of its political wing if it returns to violence. And Batasuna has gone too far to think of turning back.

In what is known of the new party's statutes, certain things are said that not long ago would have been unthinkable, such as the claim of a clean break with the old type of organization, the commitment to contribute to the definitive end of ETA, and to give recognition and moral reparation to all the victims, and finally the promise to expel from the new party all those who resort to behavior that the Political Parties Law considers due cause for proscription, such as abetting terrorism, justifying violence or persecuting those who oppose it.

But there are weak points in the outline set forth by Etxeberria. It declines to project backward into the past the present rejection of terrorist violence, which surely reflects jailed Batasuna leader Arnaldo Otegi's view that, thanks to years of armed struggle, it is now possible to attain independence without it. This is inconsistent with the claimed future rejection of violence, and weakens the credibility of the commitment to stick to exclusively political and democratic ways. Especially if it maintains the reference to a "democratic process"- that is, to a process aimed at self-determination and the inclusion of Navarre in a united Basque Country, as ETA interpreted this expression in its last communiqué. This sits oddly with the claim of a clean break with the former strategy, which was based on making political mileage out of ETA's violence.

If the legalization is to be decided by the Supreme Court (and by the Constitutional Court if there is an appeal), the new party's promoters will have a chance to clarify these points, which will be decisive in proving that the link with ETA has been broken- this link having determined the outlawing of Batasuna. Thus the outcome still depends on what the leaders do.

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