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Better off with ETA?

The disappearance of the Basque terrorist group is meaning the loss of the political right's practical whole raison d’être

A few weeks after ETA announced an end to violent attacks in October 2011, the conservative Popular Party veteran Jaime Mayor Oreja predicted that the terrorists would be back to their old ways after the Basque elections in November 2012. His message was that the wolf had merely donned sheep’s clothing to help out the leftist-separatist abertzale party Bildu at the polls, and would soon show its fangs again. His warning of a new “trick truce” by ETA failed to materialize. It is becoming increasingly clear that ETA is gone for good.

It was not to be expected that Mayor Oreja would admit he was wrong. But remarkably, an important part of the right-wing media still takes his side, although he has been left off the PP’s slate for the next European Parliament ballot due to his hard line on the Basque Country. For some years, Mayor Oreja has been distant from Basque reality, and his contempt for those who do know it, such as his young colleagues in the Basque PP, is making him look a fool. But in Mayor Oreja there is something more. The disappearance of ETA, which is already a reality in daily life — no attacks or threats — is bringing consequences for some representatives of the political right, such as Mayor Oreja and María San Gil, who have lost practically their whole political raison d’être. In some cases, this is so much the case that, along with Santiago Abascal, they have set up a new party, Vox, with the old antiterrorist policy as the cornerstone of its existence.

ETA terrorism in the days of Aznar was already declining into desperation

The struggle against ETA was a key mobilizing and unifying element for the center-right during the governments of Prime Minister José María Aznar. ETA terrorism in the days of Aznar was already declining into desperation and, after the breakdown of the 1998-99 ceasefire, it entered into a dynamic of murdering non-nationalist Basques, which caused unprecedented revulsion among the Basque public. The political obtuseness of the nationalist regional premier Juan José Ibarretxe, who in those circumstances struck a deal with ETA’s political wing, enabled Aznar to head a nationwide offensive against Basque nationalism, which was electorally so profitable as to give the PP its first-ever absolute parliamentary majority in 2000.

But that political scenario has changed. Ibarretxe was jettisoned by the PNV, and now the chief Basque party is headed by the pragmatic tandem of Iñigo Urkullu and Andoni Ortuzar, who abhor the Ibarretxe period. ETA is practically defeated. ETA terrorism has irreversibly ceased and awaits a process of disarmament and dissolution. Its former political wing expressly rejects violence and, though it has yet to acknowledge the harm done by its past complicity with the terrorism, it is now a guarantor that ETA will not return.

What is it that hasn’t changed? Well, one part of the political and media right, which still holds that “ETA is more alive than ever” because the abertzale holds seats in local and regional governments, and “ETA prisoners are not serving out their full sentences.” Who heads this current in political terms? Aznar and Mayor Oreja, who live on a strand of nostalgia, which might be cynically — if realistically — summed up as “we never had it so good as when ETA was around.”

Both have found that the end of ETA has robbed them of a cohesive factor and a social mobilizer that brought their people out to vote. And they are loath to acknowledge this end, clinging to the ETA scarecrow with fallacies such as “Bildu is ETA.” But their fallacy has collided with their own party in the Basque Country, which now finds the old rhetoric unsustainable; a Basque PP that is now prepared to face up to Mayor Oreja and Aznar, and which has become a driving force for change in the political message of the Spanish center-right, which can no longer use the threat of ETA as an axis of cohesion.

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