Thursday, May 03, 2007

The whole of the developed world is said to be worried to death about Global Warming. I will believe this when I see the first guest in my house put the right amount of water in my electric kettle with a window in its side. In almost 40 years I have yet to witness this and all the concern of the last year or so hasn’t changed things one jot.

Well, today is the day the Scots show their disdain for Mr Blair by voting en masse for the Scottish Nationalist Party. Current polls suggest only 25% of Scots support the goal of independence from the UK which is, ironically, the main plank of the SNP’s manifesto. But who knows how they will think in 3 or 4 years’ time, when the promised referendum is held. As one Scottish commentator puts it this morning:- During this interval Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, will use every opportunity and every device in his considerable political armoury to sow discord and disunity between Edinburgh and London. His plan is a simple one - to create such an atmosphere of seething resentment north of the border as to make a "yes to independence" referendum outcome all but inevitable. That such bile would be easy to produce is all too clear to those who have even the slightest inkling of the Scottish psyche. As I regularly say, the most unappealing aspect of Nationalism is its divisiveness.

Some readers will know I’ve struggled over the last 3 years with the definition of Nationalism, one problem being that a more accurate label might well be Regionalism. Most recently – and in the context of Galicia - I’ve decided there are 3 categories, viz:-

- The Galicianist: The least extreme. Believes in promoting the local language and culture. Doesn’t really care whether Galicia is called a ‘nation’ or not. I put myself in this box.

- The nationalist: The middle ground. Believes, for example, in taking more controversial measures to foster the language, particularly in schools. Wants Galicia to be called 'a nation'. Or at least a 'national reality', or something of that ilk. Represented by the Galician Nationalist Party, the BNG

- The Nationalist: Holds extreme views such as a demand that Galicia be an independent nation and that the Spanish language be eradicated from Galicia. I’ve caricatured these people as youths still living with their parents who haven’t the faintest idea of even personal independence, never mind the real political world. But this may be unfair.

The same model can be used for Catalunia and the Basque country, I tentatively suggest.

As for the promised compilation of my posts on Nationalism, I’ve decided to tackle this difficult and tendentious subject by breaking it down into its constituent parts. So here is the first of these, on BASQUE NATIONALISM & ETA TERRORISM. This ends with the latest bombings at the end of 2006 but I should stress, at the outset, that I don’t for a second believe every Basque is a supporter of ETA terrorism. Or even of Basque independence.


I suspect it’s not widely known just how much hard work it took to make Spain even appear to be a single political entity. And now it’s beginning to look like it will be an even bigger challenge to maintain the appearance. The two macro forces at work are post-Franco decentralisation and EU regionalism. The biggest ‘nationalist’ [i. e. breakaway] parties are in the Basque country, Catalunia and Galicia. Each region has its own proud language and culture but the major difference between them is that the first two are industro-commerical, and so rich, whereas Galicia is agricultural and poor. The former could more than survive on their own whereas Galicia needs the national trough. Every day now seems to bring a new proposal from the north east of the country in the direction of independence, backed by terrorism in the case of the Basque country. Is it too much to fear that Spain will ultimately break up unto the weight of these forces?

The opposition socialist party – increasingly desperate to attract voters that stubbornly refuse to desert a government that took Spain into a war opposed by 95% of the population – has played the nationalist card. Specifically, they have said that they will allow each region to have its own tax ministry. Unfortunately for the socialists, we were told this week that a local tax office in the Basque country had been giving illegal tax holidays to companies which make contributions to the political arm of the ETA terrorist organisation. So, not much of a vote winner there, I fear.

There are a number of important things about Spain that are not well known in the UK. One reason for this relative ignorance is that, whereas there is good media coverage here of major events in Britain [e. g. Blair & Hutton v. the BBC], things don’t work so well in reverse. I wonder, for example, how many Brits are aware of the extent of the Spanish government’s problem with the Basque terrorist group, ETA. Or of the fact that this has been around for 40 years or so. In today’s papers we learn that ETA has been sending two different round-robins to local companies in pursuit of funds. The first of these has gone to firms considered ‘enemies of the revolution’ and has simply demanded moneys with menace. Plus, would you believe, a 5 per cent surcharge if there is a delay in despatch. A quite different letter has gone to a thousand companies identified as ‘friends’, asking them to show solidarity with the cause by making a voluntary donation. Personally, I’m not sure I would be any less frightened by the latter than by the former, even if there were no penalty for late payments from ‘friends’.

As I write, the general election results are coming in and it seems that the ruling PP [Conservative] party has been roundly punished by the Spanish public for their premature - and possibly cynical - attempt to lay the blame for Thursday's atrocity at the door of the Basque terrorist group, ETA. In effect, the PP party - which had a 10 point lead only a short while ago - is paying the price for taking the country into a war opposed by over 90 per cent of the population. On the other hand, what does it signify that the result would almost certainly have been different if the bombs had not gone off? Were people only supporting the PP on a contingency basis - with the proviso that the war wasn't brought home to Spain - or is a significant proportion of voters prepared to switch its vote on purely emotional grounds? The latter, I suspect. Such is democracy

The ever-opportunist government of Catalunia has upped its demands for recognition of its separate status from the ‘Kingdom of Spain’. Its long shopping list includes recognition of Catalan as a EU language and, by analogy with Scotland, a separate football team for all international competitions. And there are rumours that Catalunia will emphasise its separateness by announcing - on behalf of Barcelona - a rival bid to Valencia’s for the Americas Cup venue. In the European elections of last week, several of the ‘nationalist’ parties got together to form a block that would press for greater local autonomy from Brussels. In Spain, though, ‘nationalist’ doesn’t mean ‘national’ but ‘regional’. In other words, they don’t just want greater autonomy for the Spanish state but for their own regions. Can this be what the EU founding fathers really intended? Of course, the demands of the Catalunian government are still only a pale shadow of those of its opposite number in the Basque country. Put briefly, this simply want absolutely nothing to do with Spain. One frequently wonders where all will this end.

The Basque terrorist group, ETA, yesterday exploded some small bombs along the Galician coast. There were several strange or ironic aspects to this. Firstly, it is usually foreign tourism which is targeted and there ain’t a lot of this in Sanxenxo and Bayona. Secondly, Galician tourism has already been amply devastated by the rains of the worst August in living memory and so the bombs were really a waste of time and money. Finally, having had 19 days of cloud and rain out of 21, it was going to take a lot more that what ETA came up with to keep people out of the sun when it finally arrived yesterday. The beaches were crowded again within 15 minutes of the explosions.

An American historian – Stanley Payn – has written that Basque nationalism is a myth. Or in his words… “In the whole of modern Europe, in questions of nationality, there is no clearer case of historical invention than that of Basque nationalism.” I assume our Stanley will be using a nom-de-plume if and when he visits the Guggenheim in Bilbao. Otherwise, he might end up as an exhibit. Or parts of him, at least.

“Nationalism” in Spain doesn’t actually mean national, but regional - as in the Basque, Catalunian and Galician nations/regions. All of these see themselves – in various degrees - as successors to the original kingdoms which were shoe-horned into modern Spain. I asked a few days ago where all this nationalism would end. Well, we won’t know for a while but there was an instructive – not to say amusing – event in the European parliament yesterday. A speaker from Catalunia chose to speak in German rather than Spanish but so execrable was his accent that the Portuguese President of the session assumed he was speaking Catalan and told him this wasn’t an officially recognised language. I suppose a UK equivalent would be a Sinn Fein MP talking in the House of Commons in Norwegian rather than English. All very rum.

One of the best bits of news about Spain in 2004 is that the threat from the Basque terrorist group, ETA, appears to have been reduced to almost zero. The main reason for this is that, since the New York tragedy of 9/11, France has destroyed the bases from which ETA operated across the Spanish border. This raises two questions – 1. Why did it take France 40 years or so to do this? and 2. Why did the Irish government never get round to it with the IRA? So much for partnership within the EU.

The political arm of ETA, Batasuna, has called on the Spanish and French governments to ‘negotiate demilitarisation’ with representatives of the terrorist group. Given the possibly fatal damage recently inflicted on ETA, one can’t help wondering whether Batasuna isn’t showing signs of desperation here. Incidentally, no one is really sure whether this organisation is illegal. As Spain has a Constitutional Court, the government’s decree to this effect is being appealed. And then there’s always The Hague, if that goes the wrong way. Funny how such organisations appreciate legal processes when it suits them.

In the week which in which Madrid Zoo’s celebrated albino gorilla was put down and the ‘father’ of Basque nationalism passed away, I read that several places in Spain are seeking to remove the latter’s name from their street signs and replace it with the former’s. Not sure what this says about Spanish society.

The Socialist government of Mr Zapatero seems far more willing than Mr Aznar’s to play the word games initiated by the Basque and Catalunian nationalist parties. So, we are all becoming increasingly familiar with phrases such as ‘Spanish Nation’, ‘Associated State’ and [my favourite] ‘Plurinational State’. Or ‘Spain’ to you and me. I fear it can only end in tears.


Developments in the Basque region have taken Spain to the verge of a constitutional crisis. Thanks to the votes of the local equivalent of Sinn Fein, the President of the Basque government has unexpectedly obtained parliamentary approval for his secessionist plans. Previously, the political arm of the ETA terrorists had rejected the proposals as too weak. No one seems to know what will happen next but one of the Catalunian nationalist parties has said, in effect, ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet. Just wait until we get going!’. In an interesting twist, one of the constituent provinces of the Basque region has said that, if the secessionist master plan goes forward, then they will consider seceding from the seceding region. Presumably to stay Spain, rather than go it alone. Interesting times.

The President of the Basque region has rejected the right of the Spanish parliament to kill the secessionist plan he’s already taken through the local parliament and now plans to submit to the Basque people via a referendum. He has asked the Spanish President to ‘negotiate’ with him, in preference to ‘coming to blows’. It seems to me that there is something terribly ironic about the Spanish constitution coming apart at the seams whilst the country is preparing for a vote on the supra-national EU constitution on February 20th. If I were the Spanish President I fancy I would call the Basque President’s bluff and encourage him to unilaterally secede and then prepare for an invasion.

An ETA terrorist responsible for more than 25 murders and sentenced to 3,000 years in jail, is to be released after 18 years. Personally, I find all elements of this incredible.

The President of the Galician Autonomous Community has put forward what we might call the Northern Ireland solution to the problem, viz. that the government suspends the autonomy of the Basque region. This description would make more sense, I suppose, if we had actually seen anything approaching a solution to the Northern Ireland problem. Meanwhile, a cartoon in one of the national papers has pointed up the irony of the fact that the oldest nation in Europe is still not a single entity. Spain, that is. Not Ireland.

As noted, both the government and the opposition are fervent supporters of the EU constitution. An editorial in El Mundo today asked why, if they could join forces to promote/defend Europe, they couldn’t do the same for Spain. This, of course, is a reference to the Basque secessionist plans, which are en route to a local referendum. Both parties regard this as illegal but the opposition is demanding a tougher response than that apparently favoured by the President, Mr ‘Bambi’ Zapatero. The problem for Mr Z is that [ignoring Islamic terrorists] he was brought to power by a coalition involving the (less extreme) nationalist parties of both the Basque Country and Catalunia. So he needs to tread carefully.

Meanwhile, the Wall St. Journal has suggested that Bambi needs to get his act together if he is not to preside over the Balkanisation of Spain. They fear this would have parlous consequences for Europe as a whole. Which makes it all the more strange that no mention of these events appears to have made it into the British heavyweight press.

I was wrong to suggest yesterday that even the heavyweight British press was ignoring the constitutional crisis in Spain that the Wall St. Journal fears bodes badly for the whole of Europe. After a search, I found that the Telegraph of 1 January contained this penetrating analysis - Spanish political parties reacted furiously yesterday to a move by the Basque regional assembly to seek greater autonomy from Madrid.

The Spanish and Basque Presidents met yesterday. Their minds didn’t. Both are now talking Armageddon options. The only chink of light appears to be the possibility that, if one or more of the Basque provinces reject secession, then the grand plan will be abandoned. Meanwhile, the government and the opposition are dancing around the option of some sort of coalition to take on the Basque and Catalunian challenges to Spain’s very existence.

The political arm of the Basque terrorist group, ETA, has suggested that the armed struggle for independence could be forgone if only Mr Zapatero would take the ‘Tony Blair’ route forward. This, I suppose, would be to give ETA everything they wanted whilst they retained their weapons and, thus, the capacity to return to terrorism whenever it suited them. Somehow, I can’t see this happening, especially as ETA have suffered several significant reverses in the last year or so.

The President, Mr ‘Bambi’ Zapatero, has said that there will be no deal with the Basque terrorist group ETA until they renounce violence and turn in their arms. Their immediate response was a car bomb in one of the Basque cities. Some see this as a last gasp of a shattered and demoralised organisation and one can only hope this is true.

Today was the day when the Spanish parliament debated – and roundly rejected – the Plan submitted by the President of the Basque Country for virtual secession of this province. As expected, his response was to say that it made absolutely no difference; he will still submit the Plan to the Basque people. Things will really get interesting if they endorse it.

Certain aspects of today’s political scene in Spain have an almost surrealistic quality about them. The Sinn Fein equivalent here is Batasuna, which speaks for the ETA terrorist organisation in the same way as Sinn Fein speaks for the IRA. The key difference is that Batasuna is a proscribed organisation. Nonetheless, this illegal party will field candidates in the imminent referendum on the new Constitution for the Basque Country, which is itself illegal. And all this is taking place while Spain votes on the over-arching EU Constitution.

Talking of bad taste, Gerry Adams is in Spain, promoting his book and offering his services to those in search of peace in the Basque country. I rather get the impression that his line that the British army is the largest military gang in Ireland goes down less well here than it does on the East coast of the USA. But then they have terrorists here.

Gerry Adams has now met with the President of Catalunia and shared with him a vision of ‘a Europe of small states’. Except in the case of Ireland, I suppose, as he would like this to get bigger by absorbing Ulster. Mr Adams took the opportunity to admit it’s possible he was wrong about the recent huge bank robbery in Northern Ireland and that the IRA perhaps lied to him about their non-involvement. I couldn’t help noticing that this complete volte-face came just the day before the Irish police arrested 6 people, at least one of whom is an IRA member. But who expects honesty in terrorists? Or politicians.

Here in Spain, Gerry Adams followed up his meeting with the [secessionist] Basque President by schmoozing with both the [fractionally less secessionist] President of Catalunia and the spokesman of Batasuna. The latter is the Spanish equivalent of Sinn Fein but with one big difference – it is illegal. It’s difficult to see how he felt all this would help sales of his book. Back in the UK today, Mr Adams denied that he’d changed his view of the big bank robbery in Northern Ireland – he still believed the IRA when they said they didn’t do it. Further, he rejected the accusations coming from the Catholic community that the IRA had committed a particularly grisly murder during a pub fight. This just couldn’t be the truth because the IRA had said it wasn’t. It’s interesting to speculate just where the logic of Mr Adam’s stance will eventually take him. Arguing with God [or perhaps the Devil] that he isn’t really dead because the IRA has denied it?

In the Byzantine world of Spanish national, regional and local politics, it’s often hard to know who’s trying to secede from whom. You’ll recall that one of the provinces in the Basque Country has said that they will leave it [and presumably stay with Spain] if the former succeeds with its ‘illegal’ secessionist plans. And now a tiny place on the Spanish French border – La Val d’Arán – has announced it’ll seek independence from Catalunia if the latter hives itself off from Spain. The inhabitants of this valley apparently look more favourably on Occitania than on Catalunia. No, I don’t where this is either but suspect it’s related to France’s Languedoc region.

A driver in the Basque Country has challenged his speeding fine on the grounds that the Basque police don’t swear loyalty to the Spanish state and are, therefore, illegal. Curiouser and curiouser, said Alice.

Well, the Basques yesterday had the local elections that their President had turned into a plebiscite on his plans for secession from Spain. In short, his gamble failed and the only real winner was the communist party which fronts for the ETA terrorists. So, as in Northern Ireland, attempts at appeasement of the nationalists have roundly backfired and it’s anyone’s guess what happens next. The only certainty is months of political horse-trading between the numerous local parties in search of a working majority in a hung parliament. With any luck, things will become clearer just as the French referendum on the EU Constitution is taking place and so the Basque nationalists will know whether there’s still a Europe in which to seek equal representation with Spain.

The President and the Leader of the Opposition are exchanging letters about the ETA terrorist challenge, with Mr Zapatero accusing Mr Rajoy of ‘disloyally’ eschewing a bipartisan approach. I suppose this is newsworthy in itself but, for me, the real interest lies in the fact that these may be the only two people in Spain who ever get a reply to their letters. Perhaps it’d help if I made mine public as well.

A judge has sentenced a couple of ETA terrorists to 2,775 years in prison. Each, that is. I guess there must be some sort of logic to these surrealistic terms but I have to admit it escapes me. I wonder how many years you have to do before you come up against the parole board. Only to be told – this being Spain – that a key photocopy is missing from your application form so you have to go back to the beginning.

The President, Mr Zapatero, has said he’ll talk to the Basque terrorist group, ETA, if it gives up its arms. Given that Basque secessionist aspirations are already being progressed by both legal and [probably] illegal political parties, it’s hard to imagine what purpose ETA would serve without arms and, therefore, what would be on the agenda for any discussions. This seems to be a view shared by ETA themselves, as they demonstrated yesterday by fire-bombing four local companies who’d refused to pay protection money.

Because there’s little ‘clear blue water’ between the parties, British politics is frequently dismissed as boring. Not a problem here. Sometimes there’s the Atlantic between the government and the opposition and sometimes the Pacific. And nowhere more so than on the question of how to deal with the ETA terrorist group that everyone agrees is at its lowest ebb, thanks mainly to [very belated] post 9/11 assistance from Spain’s French neighbour. The government intends to try to negotiate them out of existence, whereas the opposition feels this betrays those murdered over 40 years and merely invites ETA to again play the games they have in the past. British readers will be aware of the precedents from Northern Ireland. Worryingly, the President may actually have the Good Friday Agreement in mind as a model.

By this time next week we’ll know whether Galicia has joined the Basque Country and Catalunia in having a coalition government composed of Socialists and Nationalists. To me, it’s surreal to watch these ‘nations’ [as they call themselves] fighting to weaken their links with the Spanish state while Spain is trying to submerge itself in a European superstate. Ironically the Basque, Catalan and Galician nationalists all favour this superstate - in the insane belief, I imagine, that they’ll have more control over their affairs as satrapies of Brussels than as ‘autonomous communities’ in Spain. Such is the power of dreams. Of course, it would all be very different if the EU weren’t the cash cow it’s been for Spain for 20 years. And when this eventually stops, it’ll be interesting to see how the traditionally rule-averse Spanish then view the Brussels regulations machine. As the French Foreign Minister might say, longer term it defies all logic.

An ETA terrorist sentenced to 3,000 years in gaol for killing 25 people is being released after only 18. His good behaviour must have been exemplary.

Quotes of the Day: Spain will only exist if all the countries and regions which form it consent to its existence. The President of the Basque government

A Basque noun is inflected in 17 different ways for case, multiplied by 4 ways for its definiteness and number. These first 68 forms are further modified based on other parts of the sentence, which in turn are inflected for the noun again. It's been estimated that a Basque noun may have 458,683 inflected forms. Wikepedia article. Showing why we should at least be glad that the Basque Country is only trying to secede and not take over the rest of Spain

The Basque terrorist group, ETA, may or may not be on its last legs. But it’s still holding out against demands it abandons its weapons and enters the democratic process. However, its latest wheeze is a proposal that the EU intervenes and initiates discussion of the future of the Basque regions of both Spain and France, along with nearby Catalunia. Presumably the hope is that new, independent entities emerge from this process. I rather doubt this is what the founding fathers of the European Community had in mind. Naturally, Brussels has said it’s having none of it. As, indeed, has Catalunia. I guess the latter have enough problems of their own these days without being tarred with the ETA brand image. I haven’t read anything about the French response but it’s not hard to imagine.


The book I quoted the other day finishes with the following paragraph. Reading it, I couldn’t help thinking of Spain and the semi-tribalistic attitudes which seem to underlie much of what is happening here at the moment:- Everywhere we always find the human urges to preserve at least a measure of personal autonomy, on the one hand, and to form communal relationships, on the other. It is the latter which tends to get out of hand. To form a national or other such grouping without forfeiting liberties and without generating venom against other such groupings – such is the problem before the world. To cope with it, we need careful thinking, balanced understanding and open yet unservile minds. One wonders how much of these are around in Catalunia and the Basque Country right now.

An interesting confrontation is developing in the Basque country. Like the IRA, the ETA terrorist group has a political arm, Batasuna. The difference is the latter is illegal in Spain, whereas Sinn Fein is not in the UK. Nonetheless, Batasuna is planning to hold a conference this coming Saturday and the president, Mr Zapatero, has said he regards this as permissible under some right to meet. Others, though, take a different view and have taken the matter to the National Court. Yesterday, this decided that the meeting would be illegal and instructed the Basque government to prevent it. We wait to see if and how this will be done. Meanwhile, one positive aspect of all this is that it’s removed the Catalan constitution negotiations from the front pages.

When asked what aspect of life worried them most at the end of 2005, 49% of the great Spanish public answered Unemployment. Second came Immigration, with 29%, followed by ETA terrorism. Only 3% felt very concerned by increasing regionalism/nationalism and a mere 2% plumped for the revision of the constitutional arrangements between Madrid and all the regions. Which all rather puts us fevered scribes in our place, doesn’t it.

The leader of the opposition party has offered a return to bi-partisan politics around the ETA terrorist and Catalunian constitution challenges, provided only that the government admits its policies todate have been mistaken. It seems unlikely he expected this offer to be seized with both hands. Which is just as well. The President’s reply was that the opposition continued to be the party of old policies and old falsehoods. Which makes a change from calling them merely rogues and liars.

Spain’s 17 Autonomous Communities comprise 14 regions and 3 ‘historical nationalities’, viz. Catalunia, the Basque Country and . Very soon there’ll be a further distinction. In the Preamble to its new constitution, Catalunia will be referred to as a ‘nation’. And on the horizon, currently no bigger than a man’s hand, there’s the possibility of another change. The political arm of the ETA terrorist organisation has hinted that the price of peace could be to allow the Basque Country to annex the adjacent region of Navarra. In any other European state this would be preposterous but who knows in today’s fissiparous Spain, where tribalism appears to be increasing, rather than declining. I blame the EU.

My [Basque?] friend, Aleksu, tells me Navarra already is part of the Basque Country. Which might come as a surprise to the vast majority of the world’s cartographers. And if it were, I wonder how the Basques would feel about the bit that regards itself as Spanish bombing its way to partition and succession.

At the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games this morning, I was intrigued to see separate teams from the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands and Jersey. Food for thought. I wonder if the Basque and Catalan nationalists would support self-determination and nation status for these tiny places. And - closer to home - for Gibraltar, which also had its own team. My guess is Yes and No. But possibly No and No.

Looking at a map in the Archaeological Museum yesterday, I was struck by how large the Kingdom of León had been in the 10th century. Basically, it covered the NW corner of the Iberian peninsula, taking in León, Castile, Cantabria, Asturias, and a good chunk of North Portugal. So where on earth are the León nationalists? And why are they being left behind by the Catalans, Basques and even the Galicians? OK, they might have to give up on a claim on North Portugal but surely, in today’s pluralist Spain, everything else is up for grabs if they’re determined enough. After all, in Spain history counts. Above all else, it sometimes seems.

Today ETA announced a permanent truce. In the past few weeks there's been a blizzard of accusations and denials about members of both the current and previous administration meeting with the Basque terrorist group. It will be interesting to see if tunes are now quickly changed to ensure credit is seized. My own take on this development is that it was inevitable after France finally decided to assist Spain in the fight against ETA, most specifically by extraditing members from France and denying them safe havens there. Quite why France had to wait until after the Twin Towers massacre before deciding to assist a fellow EU partner is anyone’s guess. If I were Spanish, it wouldn’t endear them to me.

I suppose it’s a price worth paying but the one big negative about the recent ETA ceasefire announcement is it provides the Spanish press with more opportunities to show the grinning face of Gerry Adams. He’ll be getting the Nobel Peace Prize next.

In the patchwork quilt of Spanish regions, Navarra has the distinction of being the only Comunidad Foral. This adjective has no English equivalent but indicates a place has specific privileges [or fueros] granted long ago. Much, if not all, of the region is regarded by Basque nationalists as part of the true Basque Country and there is currently considerable concern here that ETA is making its much heralded ceasefire conditional upon some degree of amalgamation. It’s hard to imagine this happening, even under a government which so far has found it difficult to say no to many nationalist demands, but who can really say?

The other bit of really bad news today [19.5] was that ETA finally came out of the long grass and said, in effect, that territorial expansion of the Basque Country certainly was a precondition of their ‘permanent’ ceasefire. A familiar fraud, this one.

Alexsu has confirmed his long-standing [and deeply-felt] view on the constitution of the Basque country, though he’s not yet answered my question as to whether he lives there or [as I suspect] in the USA he purports to despise. Incidentally, I don’t want to lose a reader but my impression is that Alexsu’s concept of nationality is so strong he would have been with Hitler on the question of the Sudetenland Germans. But perhaps I do him a disservice. Doubtless he will let me know. If you are going to respond, Alexsu, please also tell me why we shouldn’t return to the 11th century Kingdom of Leon, the 6th century Visigoth Iberian kingdom or the even earlier Roman empire. I suppose it would be because the Basques weren’t any more independent under any of these than they are now as a ‘Castilian colony’.

To the anonymous reader who says everyone in Navarra walks and talks like a Basque so must be a Basque, I can only say I didn’t see much evidence of this when I visited Vitoria [Gasteiz] and Pamplona [Iruña ], especially the former. And would attending a Basque festival really make me a Basque? Finally, would the Basque nationalists accord to parts of Euskadi the same right to opt out that they demand of Spain? I suspect not but would be happy to be disabused of any misconception.

Alexsu has written to accuse me of being an ignorant, lying, Francoist with a poor grasp of history who clings to his British colonialist past. An interesting combination. He also suggests I have a library of Francoist books, that my readers are drones [especially my compatriot Lenox, I guess] and that I clearly hate the Basques. Well, the truth is I only know one Basque well and regard him highly. But, if Alexsu were truly representative of the Basque people, it would hardly be surprising if I had a poor opinion of them. Given his mindset, we can only be grateful that ETA don’t have suicide bombers in their ranks as he’d surely be a prime candidate. Hitler, too, thought that everyone who disagreed with him was an imbecile. Needless, to say, Aleksu hasn’t answered my question about parts of Euskadi being allowed to secede. So we’re left wondering whether he’d just shoot anyone who dared even raise the issue. Is there any hope that Aleksu will now do himself a favour and stop reading my blog? Actually, I hope not. I’d really miss his brand of reasoned rhetoric. It takes me back to the fervent, blind communism of my 16 year old stepson.

In response to the nice post from Katie A., I would say that I wish the Basque people well with whatever aspirations they have, merely provided they accept current realities and do things democratically. I certainly can’t pretend to have anything like a full understanding of the situation there but sometimes wonder if, like the Scots, they would be less interested in full independence if someone else were subsidising them and not the other way round

In his own blog, our Antipodean friend Aleksu honours me with the title of Stupid Basque-Phobe of the Week. Needless to say, while I may well be stupid, I am not a Basque-phobe. But I certainly am an Aleksu-phobe. For him, of course, these are one and the same thing. What is really fascinating is that he reproduces there his own comments to my blog on the grounds that I will surely delete them. What? - and deprive my readers of so much entertainment! Anyway, this is definitely my last comment on him. If you want to read more of his views on me and [his selective quoting of mine] you’ll have to go to his blog. But this is not something to undertake lightly; as you will know by now, this man is a bigot’s bigot and a zealot’s zealot. . .

In its keenness [desperation?] to ensure a true ETA ceasefire, the government has leaned on the judiciary to go easy on the terrorist group’s political arm, Batasuna, and has even set up a meeting with this [illegal] organisation so that it can ‘stare into their eyes’. This has not only produced apoplexy on the part of the right-of-centre opposition party but has also led one of its own socialist deputies in the EU parliament to voice harsh criticism of the strategy. Interesting times.

An editorial in El Mundo yesterday on the subject of the negotiations with ETA opined that “Peace won’t be possible until the murderers seek forgiveness from the victims and time is allowed to heal the scars of the wounds. We are still a long way from this.” Maybe but there is, as the British government knows, another way to peace and this is to give the terrorists more or less everything they want. A sort of peace, anyway.

It wouldn’t be a show without Punch. Gerry Adams was in Bilbao again yesterday, giving advice to ETA’s political arm, Batasuna. Representatives of the latter may or may not be about to meet with the Spanish government, despite it being illegal. My guess is Mr Adams’ advice was ‘Hold out for everything you want and don’t be too scrupulous about fulfilling your side of any bargain.’

A Spanish professor of politics has said the concept of ‘nation’ favoured by Spain’s separatists is a mixture of medieval and 18th century notions. Or in his words – ‘The idea of nation held by the separatists is at one and the same time both medieval and yet based on a future which is utopian’. What this means, of course, is they look fondly backwards and forwards at the same time, without taking much stock of the present and its actualities. That should go down well with my favourite Catalan, Basque and Galician correspondents.

There was a huge protest in Madrid today against the government’s policy in respect of ETA and its ‘permanent ceasefire’. This points up one major difference between the terrorist problems of the UK and Spain. In the latter, the relatives of the victims actually live around the country, not in some province across the water which few on the mainland really care about. Perhaps if an ETA equivalent operated in one of Spain’s African enclaves things would be different but, as it is, the Spanish government is going to face this problematic constituency for some time. Whipped up, of course, by the ‘fascists’ of the PP party. Which reminds me - The displaced Basque, Aleksu, tells us he and his ilk believe in a modern Europe without borders. This appears to be ETA-speak for an independent region/state which encompasses the current Basque Country, Navarre and part of southern France. So, not so much ‘no borders’ as ‘different borders’

The ETA terrorist organisation has announced that, although it is naturally committed to taking the peace process through to its end, it doesn’t see this happening until France recognises the Basque homeland and participates in the process. France has naturally said it’s got nothing to do with them. So the words ‘hell’, ‘freeze’ and ‘over’ spring to mind.

In the Basque Country a baker’s dozen of ETA members has been arrested in connection with extortion of a ‘Revolution Tax’ from local businesspeople. ETA may be involved in a peace process and ‘committed’ to seeing it through to a permanent ceasefire but, as with the IRA, their criminal activities haven’t ceased. And, showing just how much he’s learned from the guide book given to him by Gerry Adams, the leader of the political arm of the terrorist organisation condemned the arrests as an ‘attack upon the peace process’ and demanded all ‘acts of aggression’ must cease. Needless to say, he is also seeking the internationalisation of the process, in the hope this will foster the image of the Basque Country as Spain’s Ireland. This, of course, is also the objective of the Galician ‘nationalists’. Hence – among other nonsenses - the specious stress on ’s Celtic-ness.

You have to hand it to ETA. When it comes to cheek, they can even outdo the IRA. A day after 13 of their members were arrested for extortion, they issued a statement demanding the Spanish government moves from words to action and insisting no legislation, judicial orders or constitutional changes be allowed to stand in the way of the implementation of the will of the Basque people. By which, of course, they mean the minority who support their ends. The government has said there’ll be no political price paid for peace.

The government has announced the date for formal talks with the ETA terrorist organisation. The President has again said no political price will be paid for peace. My own interpretation of this is that everything is on the table except the inclusion of the French Basque provinces in an enlarged Pais Vasco. And I would take a heavy bet on early prisoner releases.

President Zapatero was this weekend congratulated by the UK Minister for Europe [the ineffable Geoff Hoon] for having the courage to change Spanish policy around Gibraltar. I imagine this accolade was the last thing Mr Z wanted appearing in the media at a time of trench warfare with the opposition party around how to deal with ETA terrorists.

The Archbishop of Toledo has given us a new perspective on Spain’s rampant regionalism/‘nationalism’. If Spain fragments, he says, the most independent-minded ‘autonomous communities’ will lose their Christian identity. Quite how this fits with the Basque Country always having been one of the most Catholic parts of Spain, I’m not sure.

The ETA terrorist group says it’s unhappy with the way things have gone since it declared its latest ceasefire. And it’s threatened to ‘respond’ to what it sees as failures on the part of the leading national and local political parties. One of ETA's disappointments appears to be that France has not responded to its demand that it includes itself in the ‘peace process’. Since it never will, the latter seems rather doomed.

The peace process in Spain has apparently taken a step backwards. Two or three ETA terrorists were filmed this week letting off shots and vowing they’d never give up their arms until the Basque Country was socialist and independent. Since this almost certainly includes not just Navarra but also bits of southern France, it looks like being an eternity away. Meanwhile – and in the face of strong criticism from the right-of-centre opposition party – the government continues with its probably wise policy of legalising ETA’s political arm, Batasuna. At the moment, there is the worst of all possible worlds, with the party regularly holding meetings and demonstrations which are technically illegal but about which nothing is done by the authorities. Pragmatic but not sustainable.

I get the impression the ‘peace process’ with ETA is not going particularly well. Apart from sporadic acts of violence, we have the ETA protagonists still insisting nothing can be achieved until the process is ‘internationalised’ by the inclusion of France. But, as this is only scheduled to happen just after Hell freezes over, it’s hard to be optimistic.

it’s official – the peace process involving ETA is not going well. Fears are growing that the terrorist group has used the ceasefire for the traditional purpose of strengthening itself. Time for Plan B, perhaps.

Anti-ETA activity in the south of France has been stepped up in recent months, apparently since the terrorist organisation foolishly decided to try to include France in its negotiations with the Spanish state. This is consistent self-interested behaviour on the part of Spain’s neighbour. For decades, little was done from Paris to stop France’s Basque provinces affording a safe haven to ETA. And this only stopped once this became an untenable position after the Twin Towers and Madrid bombings had given terrorism a bad name even in France. But it’s an ill wind that blows no good and the latest arrests are surely welcome. Especially at a time when the ‘peace process’ seems mired in mud and fears are growing that ETA has used the breathing space to revitalise itself.

The opposition’s relentless criticism of its ‘softness’ towards ETA had led the Spanish government to issue a video of comments made by the PP party when it negotiated a similar ceasefire in the late 90s. This follows a similar video issued by the PP about the growth of violent crime in the country. Both of these productions have gone straight onto the internet, raising all sorts of questions. Like, “Isn’t this all rather juvenile?”

Prospects for the peace process aimed at ending the ETA terrorist threat continue to deteriorate. The latest news from the latter is they’re stepping up their struggle against the French state. On top of this, they’ve made new demands of the Spanish government, including the cessation of arrests. These hardly sound like the death rumblings of a defeated organisation. So, all in all, it’s hard to be optimistic.

It was reported in the media today that terrorism had moved back up to 3rd place in the list of things which worry the Spanish. Bang on time – and very much as expected – ETA today ended its latest ‘permanent ceasefire’ with a car bomb outside the new terminal at Madrid airport. So I fear we’ll see more of bloody Gerry Adams here in 2007, lecturing us on the need to respect everyone, no matter what they think, say or do. I can’t even manage respect for him.


Silversprite said...

Hello from Berneray (population 128) in the Outer Hebrides.

Have voted, and blogged, and taken pictures. Here we've had a fine day for it all:

Hope the weather is as good for you there.

Anonymous said...

Mugabe heads up UN sustainable development body. Any views?