ETA's last attack

To compare moving prisoners closer to home to "the impunity" of terrorist acts is to hit rock bottom

FERRAN SÁEZ MATEU Escriptor i professor a la Universitat Ramon Llull

On October 20, 2011, when ETA announced the definitive end of its "armed activity", the argumentative resources of the 1978 regime began to totter. From the perspective of the Spanish State —and it's important to remember that the Spanish State consists of three things, three: the executive, legislative, and judicial branches—, the possibility of appealing to the exceptional situation created by the existence of that terrorist group lost its meaning. "In the absence of violence, anything can be discussed", went the famous mantra coined during the worst moments of the Spanish transition. Yeah, right. For the Catalan independence movement, the end of ETA was great news for two reasons. The first, shared with any morally decent person, had to do with the end of the barbarism of car bombs, kidnappings, and shots to the back of the head. The second, of course, referred to the aforementioned mantra: in a democracy, in the absence of violence anything can be discussed.

At that moment —October 2011— Catalonia’s independence process took off strongly. July saw an unexpectedly massive demonstration against the 2010 ruling on the Statue, followed by the most openly pro-independence Diada demonstration in September. The political effervescence in Catalonia was evident, and this did not exactly play in favor of the unionist camp, which was left disoriented. A party like UPyD, for example, ended up out of the game completely. Born out of the Basta Ya (Enough Already) platform, its dialectic vehemence, overacted by Rosa Díez, became merely strident cries, empty of content, that no longer interested anyone. As incredible as it may seem, the news of the cessation of ETA's terrorist actions was received almost with hostility. In some cases, this was predictable: certain private security companies with links to important PP office holders watched as their enormous business expectations vanished into thin air. In other cases, however, the reaction was more enigmatic.

The refusal to recognize that ETA no longer exists has to do with the need to transform the Catalan process into a violent rebellion

Naturally, it wasn't about praising ETA because they stopped killing, but rather celebrating that thousands of people who lived permanently with their hearts in their throats now had the chance to live a safe life. To confuse these two things, which had nothing to do with each other, out of personal/political interest, showed the bald-faced manipulation that the Spanish government has made of the various terrorism victims associations, and also of the citizenry as a whole. But it doesn't end there. To compare moving prisoners closer to their homes to "the impunity" of terrorist acts is to hit rock bottom. As far as I know, nobody had suggested any massive release of prisoners or anything like it. A person with blood crimes, as I see it, must serve a full sentence; but this should not include punishing their families [with long journeys for visitation purposes].

A few days ago, when ETA was definitively dissolved, many PP leaders reacted in an even more disconcerting way than in 2011. It appeared as if the terrorist group had just committed its latest attack, the worst in its history. Neither Rajoy nor any member of his administration were under any obligation to congratulate them for putting an end to their wrongdoing. It's a long way, however, from that to showing a disappointed expression, clearly out of sorts. ETA represented an archaic thing that, in addition to having caused great suffering, distorted Spanish political life by legitimizing institutional anomalies —without any equivalent in Europe— such as the National Court. Article 24.2 of the Spanish Constitution states that "everyone has the right to the ordinary judge predetermined by law". The existence of the National Court (the old Franco-era Court of Public Order) clearly contradicts this point. ETA's indiscriminate violence, for example, could justify this exception. What about after it has ceased to exist? Will everything continue the same? Will we fabricate a threat just to maintain what justified it in its place?

Beyond the concrete question that we just discussed, the absurd refusal to recognize that ETA no longer exists has a lot to do with the need to transform a peaceful political process such as Catalonia’s into a violent rebellion. The old language associated with the "anni di piombo” [“years of lead”] allows for delirious transpositions of one thing for another to be carried out with cynical joy. ETA's last great attack —its own dissolution— has not caused any casualties, nor injuries, nor property damage, but it has shattered an established line of argument and called its language into question. In the increasingly strange "news programs" of TVE, the news of ETA's demise was presented almost as an event worthy of mourning, with bitter statements from the increasingly unified PP-PSOE-Ciudadanos bloc. My condolences.