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Behind bars and in the street

Recently released ETA prisoners have endorsed the end to violence accepted by those still in jail

Several dozen former ETA inmates, most of them recently released in line with the Strasbourg Court’s ruling on the so-called “Parot doctrine,” made a public appearance on Saturday in the Basque town of Durango to announce their agreement with the communiqué that the ETA prisoners’ association EPPK made public last week, expressing the conclusions of recent discussions between the prisoners. The most relevant of these is their support for the decision to cease armed activity, taken by the organization’s leadership in October 2011.

This agreement is interesting, in that some of the recently released prisoners had held positions opposed to the cessation of violence. Now they are showing their conformity with the decisions taken by the association, and their commitment to the new “political scenario,” given that “the armed cycle has come to an end.” It is also significant that this double announcement, by those still in prison and by those recently released, in effect substitutes the debate announced some time ago by the ETA leadership to ratify their decision to put an end to violence, of which no more has been heard. The text is, indeed, a fairly faithful reflection of an organization whose members are mostly in jail.

The government has repeated that there will be no change whatsoever until the organization is formally dissolved

The communiqué read in Durango, like that released on December 28, once again calls for reforms to penitentiary policies, beginning with an end to the geographical dispersion of inmates, which seems to be the organization’s present priority. The government has repeated that there will be no change whatsoever until the organization is formally dissolved. This amounts to saying that there will in fact be changes if it does dissolve — but this is just what is conspicuously missing from both communiqués. At no point do they call on the leadership to take this step; nor is there any clear expression of repentance. Both these things would be necessary for the public to accept any modification of the existing legislation, toughened in 2003, governing access to parole and release measures.

The self-justifying tone of the text, and the respect for some limits set last summer by a group of 20 imprisoned ex-leaders led by Mikel Antza, by way of a circular letter (renunciation of armed struggle, without repudiating it), nevertheless suggests a shift toward greater realism. It only speaks tepidly of prohibition of “personal solutions” (i.e. individual admissions of repentance in exchange for parole). And above all, no more is heard of the demand that ETA be invited to negotiate with Spain and France on the “consequences of the conflict” (general amnesty and withdrawal of police forces, in exchange for surrender of weapons). Certainly the politicians of Sortu have influenced this shift; but first they themselves had to shift, in view of the impossibility of such negotiations.

The demand filed by a group of ETA victims that the event be prohibited was rejected by National High Court Judge Santiago Pedraz, who argued that there was no evidence of advocacy of terrorism. Viewed after the fact, the content of the event is open to criticism, but it is absurd to consider it criminal to publicly come out in support of a statement that endorses the renunciation of violence on the part of ETA.

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