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Ends and means

The aim is not to impede Batasuna's participation in the elections, but to ensure ETA's dissolution

The strategy of police crackdowns, illegalization and refusal to negotiate was designed to produce a situation similar to the one that has occurred: the political wing of ETA abandoning its role of being an instrument of terrorist strategy and committing to bringing about the end of the group. Thus far there has only been a declaration of intent, but the content of the new party Sortu's statutes closely resembles what has been demanded of Batasuna since the transition to democracy: that the group does not just limit itself to a generic condemnation of violence, but goes as far as specifically rejecting ETA terrorism, including an explicit commitment to democratic principles.

This is, then, an important step to achieve the shared goal of democrats: the disappearance of ETA. This can only be achieved by two methods: the detention of all of its members, ensuring that there is no fresh blood to take their place; or by creating the right conditions for the political wing to convince the terrorists that it would be in their interest to reject violence. The latter option is more realistic, and, as such, the worst thing that democrats could do would be to give out the message that whatever the Basque radical left does, it will never be legal again.

The opposite needs to happen. It must be made clear that legality is within reach, provided that what needs to be done is done, which includes clearing up the unknown points and doubts about the abertzale left's current position on ETA. Such doubts will be inevitable while ETA continues to be present, so Batasuna should be the first to reject potential future crimes as well as condemning those of the past - not to mention clarifying whether its refusal to form part of ETA's strategy involves a move away from the terrorist group's insistence on there being negotiation of its separatist program before it agrees to disappear from the scene.

While these doubts persist, it is logical that the courts that must decide on whether or not to allow the inscription of the new party get to the bottom of the exact meaning of the commitment Batasuna is making. But it would also be a good idea to realistically examine the level of risk being assumed, without any exaggerations. It is hardly plausible to assume that after the events of the last week there is nothing more than a simulated standoff between ETA and Batasuna that will end after the party's possible legalization. And given the pressure that the courts are under to rule on the new party using political criteria, it would be best to leave the justice system to do its job in its own time. The strength of Spain's democracy does not depend on whether or not the Basque radical left is able to stand in May's local elections.

The banning of a party that was associated with a group that spent decades murdering that party's political rivals was not a curbing of liberties, but rather a defense of equal opportunities at the ballot box. And the efficiency of antiterrorist policy is not to be judged according to whether or not that participation was impeded. What is at stake now is much more important.

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