[lg policy] Spain: This Is the End of ETA

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Fri Jul 20 09:24:01 EDT 2018

 This Is the End of ETA

   - By *  Kevin Ivey <https://www.fairobserver.com/author/Kevin Ivey>*
   - •   July 17, 2018


   - <https://twitter.com/intent/tweet?original_referer=https://www.fairobserver.com/region/europe/eta-dissolves-basque-separatism-spain-europe-news-71621/&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&text=This
   Is the End of ETA
   Is the End of ETA
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* Kevin Ivey <https://www.fairobserver.com/author/Kevin Ivey>*

Kevin Ivey is the 2018 counterterrorism fellow at Young Professionals in
Foreign Policy (YPFP). He writes on international defense and terrorism
.... Read more <https://www.fairobserver.com/author/Kevin Ivey>


*ETA’s demise provides lessons that challenge some popularly accepted
counterterrorism maxims.*

The dissolution of the separatist group ETA
(Basque Country and Freedom), announced on May 2, was marked by celebration
and expectation in Spain <https://www.fairobserver.com/?s=spain>. But for a
terror group that killed over 850 people in a nearly 50-year campaign of
violence against the Spanish state, international celebration of the
announcement was measured. This mellow reaction is perhaps less surprising
when placed in the context of decreasing Basque separatist violence
resulting from sustained action by Spanish law enforcement. Bucking trends
that emphasize grievance and comprehensive reconciliation, the Spanish
state succeeded by refusing to deal with ETA on its own terms, maintaining
pressure even as the group demobilized, and preserving its commitment to
liberal democratic ideals.

Few watching the security situation in northern Spain would find ETA’s
demise very surprising. The group’s calls for armed action to preserve
Basque identity were increasingly irrelevant after the end of Fransisco
Franco’s dictatorship, which strived to establish a pan-Spanish identity
that threatened the Basque regional identity. After Franco’s death in 1975,
his efforts to enshrine
Spanish as an artificial and universal language gave way to policies that
recognized the patchwork of groups that made up the republic.

Spain’s post-Franco language policy was not intended to be a
counterterrorism silver bullet, but it succeeded in diverting the wind from
the sails of a group that prioritized cultural survival in the face of
forced assimilation. While not a law enforcement tool per se, such
accommodation could ameliorate the concerns of those susceptible to the
message of existential ethnic conflict.

As Spain joined the democratic world order, potential political obstacles
to collaboration were sidelined and arguments based on Basque
marginalization — a key ETA claim — became harder to maintain. Embracing
multiculturalism alone did not defeat the group, but it was effective at
refuting at least part of the terrorist group’s foundational narrative and
showing that Basque language and culture could live peacefully within the
Spanish state. Spain succeeded without engaging directly with ETA’s
grievance narrative, despite counterterrorism theory’s emphasis on
development and inclusion as a panacea.

Even as ETA faded from view, tensions
between Basque Country and the rest of Spain have continued
primarily driven by taxation, economic pressures and political preferences.
But rather than focusing on addressing every grievance with its Basque
citizens, the Spanish government succeeded in disrupting ETA through a
specific focus on arrests, raids and public pressure. While post-Franco
Spain has shown greater tolerance for regionalism, the state remains
unified and committed to democratic ideals.

Spain’s approach to countering ETA may seem counterintuitive at first.
Armed movements cement their identities in narratives that highlight
collective grievance as justification for action, violent or otherwise. But
while it would be foolish to diminish the suffering of marginalized groups,
engaging with armed groups on the level of their own rhetoric also can be

Terrorist groups — especially those seeking to establish a new state —
often seek legitimacy by trying to portray their actions as equal to that
of their opponent, namely the state. Sitting across a table from a
terrorist leader in a formal setting can lend the appearance of legitimacy
to a group’s claim to be the sole representative of a disenfranchised
people. By agreeing to make concessions in return for a cessation of
attacks, the state can actually incentivize future violence. At the same
time, this might disincentivize members of the same disenfranchised group
to resolve their grievances through civil society.

What’s more, the state’s well-meaning efforts can overlook the layers of
bureaucracy, each with its own motivations, within terrorist groups. As
with any other organization, armed groups have factions that would like to
see their own interests advanced. Had the Spanish state engaged with ETA
negotiators until a consensual solution was found, it might have found
itself running in circles with a group increasingly irrelevant on the
ground but desperate to maintain credibility in the eyes of its supporters
and members.

Mid-level members who have carried out multiple crimes might see little
benefit to peace deals that fail to guarantee their freedom as more
prominent members move to post-terrorism careers. Such conditions invite
violence, as spoilers with little to lose have everything to gain from a
dramatic return to nationalist violence. This is a classic tactic of
militant and terrorist groups that plays to the asymmetric advantage that
armed groups cultivate: the threat of unpredictable violence in pursuit not
only of a political goal but also of survival.
Lessons in Counterterrorism

ETA’s demise provides lessons that challenge some popularly accepted
counterterrorism maxims. First, its dissolution was the result of a lengthy
process, not a dramatic victory. Cheers erupted when Colombia
<https://www.fairobserver.com/?s=colombia> finally concluded a peace deal
with the FARC
(Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) in November 2016, but such
celebrations were premature. A group like the FARC — far larger than ETA,
with ample access to weaponry and money — has the means to return to
conflict if the political and military environment proves attractive. The
treatment of FARC politicians
in the 2018 elections should further worry those who see the group’s end
through electoral participation, as FARC’s incentives to return to violence
may remain despite the peace agreement.

In defeating ETA, Spanish authorities also challenged ideas that seek to
paint terrorist groups in a more sympathetic light. While Spain has made
commendable and necessary democratic advances since Franco’s death, it did
not make the mistake of trying to “develop” its way out of the threat by
promising investment and freedoms to legitimize the use of violence. And
while Basque and other languages were legalized, Spain did not fall victim
to ETA’s narrative and maintained its commitment to democracy and security
hand in hand. ETA’s unilateral final declaration suggests that the group
saw no end in site for its armed activities and no hope for winning further
concessions. Former Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s
<http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-43991629> vow to continue pursuing
the group also suggests continued efforts to arrest violent Basque

ETA’s dissolution is not just a cause for celebration. It cuts through some
cherished myths of counterterrorism that circulate in the public domain and
forces us to think critically about the situational success of certain
hardnosed tactics. ETA’s demise will provide a useful case study in the
relatively young field of counterterrorism studies for decades to come.

**[Young Professionals in Foreign Policy is a partner institution of Fair
Observer <https://www.fairobserver.com/partners>.]*

*The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not
necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.*


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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