One of the questions I’m asked when travelling abroad is what remains of Franco’s Spain today. My answer is: our splendid tradition of intolerance and the organisation Eta, which is the most visible manifestation of our splendid tradition of intolerance.
This tradition will take generations to disappear, if it ever does. As for Eta, the strange thing is not that it may disappear but that it’s still alive, converted into a ferocious anachronism. It’s practically the last terrorist group in Europe, a splinter group that demands at gunpoint the independence it cannot achieve through the ballot box – and what’s more, demands it for the Basque country, one of the most privileged territories of the continent, with extremely broad political, economic and administrative autonomy.
But is it true that Eta is going to disappear? There has been some celebrating since 10 January this year, when the group announced a ceasefire. I am more sceptical: I predict that the end of Eta will take a while yet, and that it will be hard. It is true that the organisation is weak and struggling; it is true that there are more people all the time who see its members for what they are: a band of mafiosi with a patriotic alibi. The proscription of Batasuna – the political wing of Eta – has convinced some of the party’s leadership that if Eta does not disappear, they will be the ones to suffer (and therefore it was Batasuna who asked Eta for the ceasefire).
But it is also true that it’s very easy to pick up a gun; the difficult thing is putting it down. It is said that Arnaldo Otegi, Batasuna’s current leader, is better placed than any of his predecessors to get them to lay down their arms. Maybe so. But I wonder how Otegi is going to tell his boys that everything they’ve been told was a lie, that they are not going to be heroes of the Basque homeland, and that it will all be over without the political compensation they are looking for.
One has to be very brave to give up a gun, but to persuade others to give up theirs takes even more courage. Eta has been waiting a long time for its own Adolfo Suárez – the architect of the transition from dictatorship to democracy in Spain – for someone possessing the courage of a great traitor. We shall see.
And as we wait, everyone is establishing conditions for this ending, starting with the victims of Eta. It’s natural: the entity cannot cease to exist without the state taking these victims into account. But should the victims impose their conditions on the state?
A document co-signed by almost all the associations representing Eta’s victims states that the history of violence can only be considered closed when its members and supporters condemn it explicitly. There is no doubt that this is a just demand, but it is nonetheless unrealistic. It is also a superfluous one: laying down arms without any political compensation is the best way to recognise, albeit implicitly, that these 40 years of blood and filth have served no purpose whatsoever. There is no need for more, and history shows us that.
Because it turns out that almost 40 years ago Spain faced a similar problem, a problem that was resolved without the need for any explicit condemnation, and which, had there been such a need, might not have been resolved.
Then, it was the Francoists who had to give up their guns and accept democracy, and it was Suárez who convinced them to lay them down, by deceiving and betraying them – but without forcing them to explicitly condemn four decades of Francoism. Many of them have still not condemned it; in fact, the Partido Popular – the party of the right – has gone only as far as endorsing a proposition in 2002 proclaiming “the moral recognition of all those who were victims of the civil war as well as those who later suffered the repression of the Francoist dictatorship”. Moral recognition, not condemnation. Does this mean that the Partido Popular is a Francoist party, or that it is not a democratic party? No, it only means that if democracy was so generous with the Francoists, it cannot be less so now, and that we cannot demand of the members of Eta what we didn’t demand of the others.
This, I know, is unfair, or at least it’s not absolutely fair. But in politics absolute justice can be the worst of injustices. Whatever the case, it is better not to be naive and to understand as soon as possible that, then as now, it is impossible to bring an end to 40 years of blood and filth without getting hurt or soiled. That is why I say that the end of Eta will be a hard one.
Javier Cercas, the author of The Anatomy of a Moment.