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Western Press Review: Basque Terrorism Provokes Anger

Prague, 11 August 2000 (RFE/RL) -- A recent upsurge in murderous violence by Basque separatist extremists in Spain is provoking a wave of anger among Western press commentators. The extremist Basque group known as ETA, which ended a 14-month ceasefire at the start of this year, is responsible for the killing of nine people in recent weeks. Here are some representative press comments about terrorism in Spain -- and elsewhere in Europe:


The Irish Times says that the ETA's "selection of targets for assassination, including an army officer, a leading businessman and a former governor of one of the Basque provinces, has been calculated to provoke the maximum response from the Spanish authorities." At the same time, the paper adds, "the geographical spread of the campaign reveals all too clearly that ETA has not lost its ability to operate throughout Spain [that is, not only in northwest Spain, which is known as Basque country]."

The paper's editorial continues: "ETA is therefore far from the spent force assumed by many when the cease-fire was declared in 1998. That," it says, "followed an important political development, which saw the Basque Nationalist Party sign a pact with ETA's political wing repudiating the Spanish constitution and its Statute of Autonomy -- which set up representative institutions throughout Spain -- in favor of Basque self-determination.

The editorial also says: "These latest events have further polarized all concerned. There have been particularly vitriolic exchanges between the ruling Partido Popular [People's Party], led by the Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, and the [non-terrorist] Basque nationalists over their refusal to condemn ETA violence and repudiate their political alliance to demand self-determination." It concludes: "Political dialogue will be necessary to address the underlying issue of sovereignty, based on the demonstrable popular support which the nationalists and ETA receive in the Basque country. Prolonged refusal to recognize that reality is more likely to escalate the conflict than resolve it."


Britain's Times daily writes in its editorial: "In a depressingly familiar ritual, Spaniards have gathered in their thousands outside town halls across Spain in a five-minute silent protest at the latest killings by ETA Basque terrorists. The protests are intended not only to express revulsion at the car bombs, assassinations and shootings that have claimed six lives and wounded 11 people in the past two days." The paper goes on: "They are also intended to show the nation's solid support for the resolute stance of the [Spanish] government and to bring home to ETA apologists that Spain will not be intimidated by fanatics bent on prolonging Europe's most violent separatist conflict."

The editorial continues: "ETA attacks plainly [intend] to intimidate. ETA's other classic revolutionary goal is to exacerbate tensions throughout the Basque country by forcing Madrid to declare a state of emergency and suspend some of the region's wide-ranging autonomy, thus reviving the embattled nationalism that underpinned Basque resistance to Franco -- and, ETA hopes, winning support for total independence." It adds: "ETA's methods are daily street violence, fire bombs and rioting."


"Should bomb throwers get their way?" the Wall Street Journal Europe asks. "The immediate answer that comes to one's lips is no, of course," the paper writes. "But this admirable conviction seems to be taking a battering in Europe this summer," it adds. "Britain and France are basking in terrorist-free peace after negotiating with nationalists in sensitive regions [that is, Northern Ireland and Corsica, respectively], while Spain has been turned into a battle zone. [So,]" the paper asks again, "should Madrid fly the white flag and accept reality?"

In response, the editorial allows that -- in its words -- "democracies can count on [only] limited choices when they're up against a terrorist onslaught. To wit, they can suffer stoically or they can surrender. To beat terrorists" it says, "you have to fight them with their own means, and that would only subvert democracy itself. So what's the point of fighting?" it questions a third time.

"Certainly," the editorial also acknowledges, "Northern Ireland is more peaceful today than it has been in decades. Equally, the French are heading to the beaches with abandon this summer after Prime Minister Lionel Jospin offered Corsicans the right to modify some laws. [The deal] breaks a two-century mold. France became 'one and indivisible' when representatives of the regions renounced autonomy during the [1789] revolution."

But the paper offers what it calls an "old-fashioned" view of the matter as its own. It writes: "Negotiating with thugs is unprincipled [and] to hold fast to principles is simply to be practical in the long term, while to resort to expedients is to ask for trouble down the line." It concludes on the same note: "If a terrorist commits murders today, assuming that he might well be excused tomorrow when he [becomes] his country's founding father, one way to discourage his crimes is to remove any such illusion. You do that by treating 'political' crimes just like any other crime and their perpetrators just like other criminals."


In the International Herald Tribune, columnist Flora Lewis says "it's time to tell [all European] separatists that violence is passe." In her commentary on terrorism, Lewis also refers to Corsica -- as well as to Russia and Northern Ireland.

She writes: "France has begun the most far-reaching effort in years to find a compromise solution for Corsica's campaign for autonomy, or independence, and a [moderate Corsican] nationalist leader who favored the dialogue [was assassinated early this week]. The Basque pro-independence underground group ETA has resumed its campaign of murders, despite having proclaimed a cease-fire," the commentary continues. "Northern Ireland seems to be edging its way toward accommodation in a local government, but the threat of killing is not wholly overcome."

"Russia," Lewis adds, "has just suffered a bloody bomb attack in the center of Moscow. There is as yet no evidence of who is responsible. But, just as they did after the still unsolved apartment bombings a year ago, officials say it must be the doing of Chechens."

She concludes: "At their recent Okinawa meeting, the Group of [Seven industrial nations and Russia's] leaders included international terrorism on their list of serious concerns requiring concerted action. Much more frequent and menacing in a considerable number of countries, however, is the terrorism of domestic organizations trying to advance some kind of separatist cause."


The current issue of the British weekly The Economist carries a news analysis of recent events in Spain. The magazine writes: "Four would-be murderers got their comeuppance in Bilbao, in the Basque region, on August 7: ETA terrorists [were] killed when the explosives they were carrying went off in their own car. And did the citizens of Euskadi, the Basque country, for whose independence ETA claims to be fighting, pour out in their thousands to display their sympathy?" it asks. "Did the church lament the misfortune of a misled bunch of honest patriots, at worst lovable rogues? They did not. Spaniards, by and large, keep their sympathy for the victims of terrorism, not its perpetrators."

"Even so," The Economist goes on, "the terrorists have some friends. In the Basque region, their political arm, now called Euskal Herritarrok -- or EH -- gets one vote in six. Having, in words, opted for non-violence, in the spring of 1999 [EH,] with a smaller radical group, joined in regional government with the larger, long-ruling, Basque Nationalist Party [or PNV]."

The magazine says there are significant differences among the various Basque political groups, writing: "This week's disparate deaths merely pointed up these differences. In Bilbao, to supporters gathered at a morgue, the leader of EH described the four dead terrorists as 'patriots who fought for their country.' The city's PNV mayor spoke of 'a tragedy of young people,' [while another Basque] notable [spoke] bluntly of 'natural justice.'" It concludes with a quote from Prime Minister Aznar, made after one of the recent ETA murders. "Speaking for Spain," the magazine says, "Mr. Aznar was barely less blunt: 'brutal and bestial,' he called ETA's campaign -- and, though no one was glad at the ETA men's deaths, he said, let there be no equating of killers with their victims."