Life after ETA: Toward a New Regional Politics in Spain

MADRID -- For more than 40 years, the separatist terrorist group Basque Homeland and Freedom (ETA) was a major force in Spanish politics and society. The group's attacks claimed more than 800 lives, including many senior government officials, and in its prime, it exerted de facto control over vast swathes of the Basque Country, in both Spain and France. This combination of hard and soft power allowed the group to define the parameters not only of the political and academic debates over Basque autonomy, but also of wider discussions of regionalism in the late-Franco-era and, later, in democratic Spain.

However, ETA is now a shadow of its former self. Law-enforcement agencies in France and Spain have successfully dismantled its supply and command networks, with greater cooperation from the French authorities in recent years depriving the organization of its traditional safe havens across the border. Furthermore, wider changes in Spanish society have affected how the group's actions are perceived. As Spanish democracy has strengthened, ETA has found itself increasingly marginalized within the political system, at the same time that societal discussions of "Spanish" identity have been reshaped by the huge influx of immigrants over the last two decades.

This decline can be seen in the reaction to ETA´s recent ceasefire announcement, which was treated with disinterest by the domestic media and dismissed out of hand by government ministers keen to extract political capital from the state's "victory" over the separatist group. One called ETA "very weakened," while Interior Minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba suggested the group "stopped because it cannot do anything." Remnants of the ETA network do remain in the Basque Country, but authorities now seem confident they can be contained. To prove this point, 10 days after the ceasefire announcement, the Spanish police raided properties across Spain, arresting nearly all remaining vestiges of ETA´s outlawed political arm, Ekin.

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