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A coherent decision

After the legalization of Bildu and the end of ETA violence, banning Sortu would have been illogical

The close-run vote in the Constitutional Court over the legalization of Basque nationalist leftist party Sortu — six justices in favor and five against — shows how strong the arguments were both for and against maintaining the ban put in place by the Supreme Court in March 2011. Wednesday’s result mirrors the similarly tight vote in the Constitutional Court over the legalization of Bildu, the group used by the Basque abertzale left as a vehicle to stand in the 2011 municipal and regional elections. Given the legalization of the Bildu candidates, and the fact that since then there have been no violent acts, apart from a few signs of kale borroka street violence, the decision of the Constitutional Court on Sortu is coherent with regard to the decision taken on Bildu.

The root of the problem lay in determining whether Sortu was simply trying to act as a political and electoral instrument of terrorist group ETA, or whether its promises of respecting democracy and peace were to be believed. The magistrates were faced with two tricky paths: they could either rule that Sortu was sufficiently emphatic in its condemnation of violence; or they could have found that such statements were fictional, and designed to get around the law. Faced with the determination of the abertzale left — whose leaders have had no doubt for years now that the right strategy to follow involves abandoning violence and pursuing their goals through politics — the democratic camp has been riddled with doubts and divisions. But a majority of the magistrates found in favor of Sortu’s appeal against its prohibition on the basis that in a democracy a party cannot be impeded from participating in the democratic process simply because of doubts about its sincerity.

Accepting an abertzale left party within mainstream politics consolidates the commitment that these parties have made to peaceful means. Their current members will now act much more openly, and it is likely that the influence of other groups that have accompanied the core of the abertzale left, and that have had the effect of scaring off voters, will be reduced.

There will be those who decry the fact that democracy has not been more demanding on the abertzale, and that these parties have won the right to take part in politics without publicly recognizing the damage done by ETA, nor even having called for its dissolution. Take, for example, the Association of Victims of Terrorism, which accused the government of Mariano Rajoy of having brought the road map agreed between former Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and ETA “to its conclusion,” insinuating that there had been an agreement between the government and the Socialists so that Wednesday’s decision was made before a shake-up of the magistrates on the Constitutional Court took place.

The possibility that the abertzale left and ETA may drift back together one day cannot be ruled out. But uncertainties over the future cannot be banished by automatically focusing on events from the past. If Sortu is found to be at the service of an ETA that is unwilling to dissolve, the state would have to take action, as it did through its concerted efforts to bring about the end of the terrorist group.

It is clear that the abertzale left is not going to abandon its fight for independence. But in the absence of violence, the majority of the Constitutional Court was unable to accept that it was necessary to impede it to act politically.

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