When the terrorist group ETA announced it was officially to end its ceasefire on Wednesday 6 June 2007 the news was quickly dubbed a “macabre joke” by a spokewoman for the Basque regional government.
That’s because many of us in Spain felt their murderous 30 December attack at Madrid-Barajas airport, that killed two Ecuadorians, had saved ETA the bother of issuing any such statement.
So this announcement may have created an overwhelming mixture of fear, frustration and maybe anger, but it hardly comes as a surprise.
Since the ceasefire started, Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s policy towards the Basque country, however well-intentioned, has managed to upset just about everybody.
There was the release of the hunger striking terrorist Iñaki De Juan Chaos, who, despite being directly responsible for the death of 25 people, was allowed to leave prison and serve a lesser sentence out at home – a decision widely seen as giving in to blackmail.
Then, after years of isolation, Zapatero allowed ANV – the renamed political arm of ETA – to become legal again and take part in the local elections in certain Basque towns and villages. These steps, probably conceived by the government as acceptable compromise designed to facilitate the peace process, have generated public outcry.
Many non-nationalist Basque politicians (not only members of the Conservative PP, but also from the Socialist PSE, the Basque branch of Mr. Zapatero’s own party PSOE) have considered these measures a “betrayal” to those fellow party members (both PP and PSOE) who gave their lives in the fight against ETA.
Reaction from most parts of the media has been equally harsh, and because of what many see as Zapatero’s naivety, he has gained the nickname ‘Alice in wonderland’ and his policy against terrorism the nomenclature ‘magical thought’.
Even El Pais, the socialist-friendly bestselling newspaper has highlighted some of the premier’s measures as strategic mistakes.
Whether you agree with the views of those angry at the direction Zapatero has taken or not, and whether or not you find some of these arguments too emotional or exacerbated, they are understandable.
It is easy to understand why the peace process, now aborted, has been greeted with disapproval and has annoyed some segments of Basque and Spanish society.
What is not so obvious from, say, Madrid is why the peace process has also been found disappointing by people on the other side of the political divide – namely the Basque separatists and ETA itself.
How can you simultaneously give all these concessions to ETA and yet, at the same time, end up being accused by the terrorist organisation of not giving ‘positive signs’ in the peace process? Either you compromise too much or too little, but how can you be accused of both at the same time?
There are two possible explanations to this apparent contradiction, each of them attached to particular streams of thought.
The first one takes the paradox I’ve highlighted as proof the government has failed to compromise enough.
The fact that ETA has stated that there are “no real conditions” for a peace process, and put an end to their ‘ceasefire’, is evidence that the government hasn’t gone too far or done anything inappropriate to strengthen or speed up that process.
Others ask that why ETA is so disappointed with the peace process that it has had to break its ceasefire and what could Zapatero secretly have promised them?
Could he have made commitments that gave the terrorists false hope about the independence of the Basque country?
Wherever the truth is, and however clumsy and full of wishful thinking the Spanish government´s approach may have been, there is a consensus on the need for unity to win the peace, now more than ever. If only the same consensus existed over how that peace could be won.
Never before has one specific political issue generated so much tension in Spain’s young democracy.