Spain, Two Antiterrorist Policies

By Javier Ortiz (for Safe Democracy)

Javier Ortiz explains how the different antiterrorist policies of the two main political parties in Spain, the PP and the PSOE, diverge on more than simple tactical discrepancies, but are two fundamentally incompatible positions. For the PSOE, it is not ETA‘s separatist ideology, rather its tactics of extortion, violence and chaos that are unacceptable. The PP, on the other hand, considers Basque nationalism itself to be inherently exclusionary, intolerant, and prone to terrorism. In Ortiz‘ opinion, one of the parties needs to renounce its diehard convictions, or the peace agreement will fail.

Javier Ortiz has practiced journalism since the age of 18, and currently writes for El Mundo, where he also worked as a sub director responsible for the opinion section. He is a political commentator on public radio and television in the Basque country. During Franco’s regime he spent years in prison and in exile for political reasons. He has written for many different mediums around the world, and has published over eight books to date.

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE TWO MAIN SPANISH POLITICAL PARTIES as to how to combat ETA terrorism appear irreconcilable.

The difficulty of the situation lies in the narrow-mindedness of both parties. Member of the Socialist Party (PSOE), as well as other nationalist, regionalist, and leftist minority party adherents, agree that the actions of the intractable right-leaning Popular Party (PP) are motivated by electoral ambitions. The PP, meanwhile, has accused the PSOE of being too soft on separatist terrorism, and vacillating in order to win the parliamentary votes from Basque, Catalan, and Galician nationalists. Neither party holds an absolute majority in the Congress of Representatives.

Apart from the overwhelming partisan influence in deciding on anti-terrorism policy –an influence that is virtually inevitable with fast-approaching municipal elections– what is certain is that the divergent views on terrorism of the PSOE and the PP are deep-rooted. Their positions stem from their respective conceptions of the terrorist phenomenon, which, over time, have grown incompatible.

The PSOE, which has adopted the common position of the democratic parties of the 80’s and early 90’s, maintains that what is unacceptable about ETA is not its separatist ideology, rather its tactics of extortion, violence, and chaos. For using such means to impose its ideology, the PSOE firmly believe ETA should be pursued until the terrorist group is eliminated.

The PP, meanwhile, considers that ETA’s terrorism is the inevitable and natural consequence of Basque nationalism, which as an ideology symbolizes exclusion, intolerance, and imposition. Following this line, the PP maintains that the political isolation and harassment of Basque nationalism are key elements to fighting ETA terrorism by attacking the very heart of the evil.

It’s important to keep in mind that there was a considerable period of time (between about 1998 to 2004) in which the position of the Socialist Party differed little from that of the PP. In fact, the Agreement For Liberty and Against Terrorism, commonly known as the Antiterrorist Pact, signed in December of 2000 between the PSOE and the then ruling PP, clearly affirms the partiesĀ“ agreement on how to combat terrorism.

Yet the PSOE is not the only party to change its policy over time. The leaders of the PP signed the Agreement for the Pacification and Normalization of Euskadi (known as the Pact of Ajuria Enea) with a flourish, despite the fact that the details and proposals of that accord match the current antiterrorist policy of the PSOE exactly. Now, the PP is wants nothing to do with that past agreement.

Both parties claim that the situation has changed. The PSOE understands that today’s reality is not what it was in 2000, and the PP, that things are not what they were in 1988. And neither of the two is without reason. Yet, the PP should remember that the situation in 1988 was not only different from today, it was worse. The Pact of Ajuria Enea was signed at the close of a year in which ETA had killed 52 people. Despite the acts of aggression, the accord advocated for peaceful dialogue to end to terrorist violence.

Looking at the histories of both political parties makes clear that we are not just confronting tactical discrepancies, rather positions whose principles are inherently incompatible. One of the two must renounce its stance, or finding any stable ground in which to build an agreement will be virtually impossible.

The Safe Democracy Foundation would like to invite you to subscribe to its weekly electronic newsletter, delivered to you every Thursday, with analysis and commentaries from our international experts (click here).