Demonstrations and violence
in Spain - the Batasuna ban
week saw the violent break up of a demonstration in the Basque
city of Bilbao by Spanish riot police using tear gas, rubber bullets
and water cannon. This led to rioting, with demonstrators hurling
objects at the police, with at least seven people injured and
a number of arrests.
violent scenes follow the banning of the Basque political party
Batasuna by the Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon, and the near unanimous
support for this ban by the Spanish parliament. Both mainstream
political parties, the people's party and the socialist party
voted for the ban, while the moderate Basque nationalist party
voted against, and the united left and Catalan nationalists abstained.
banning of a political party in Europe is not unprecedented, but
the reasons and motives behind this ban are not only questionable
but also anti-democratic. The German constitution bans parties
that have been proven to be anti-democratic, and to date this
has been used to ban two parties since the end of the second world
war in Western Germany; a communist party, and the successor to
Hitler's National Socialist party. Germany is in the process of
trying to ban the far-right National Democratic Party. France
has also banned the neo-fascist New Order party and the left wing
Action Directe, and banned the small far-right group linked to
the man who allegedly tried to assassinate president Jacques Chirac
last month. A number of parties were banned in Portugal, Spain
and Greece under their respective military dictatorships, particularly
Communist and Socialist parties but these bans have been reversed
with the restoration of parliamentary democracy. The United Kingdom
never outlawed Sinn Fein, even at the height of IRA violence.
decision to ban Batasuna has largely been riding on the back of
popular sentiment and antipathy of ETA both in Spain and in sections
of the Basque country. These sentiments have been reinforced by
Batasuna's refusal to denounce ETA violence. Judge Baltasar Garzon
said that Batasuna was part of ETA which was "guilty of crimes
against humanity". This ban has been widely praised in Spain's
press and will undoubtedly further boost the popularity of the
Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar, who is claiming to be
doing his part in the war on terror.
as this ban has been is Spain, it is plainly and undeniably wrong,
whether one chooses to examine it from a moral, legalistic or
simply practical perspective. Morally the issue should not even
be open to debate; it should be self-evident. In a democracy,
coupled with the right to free speech is the freedom of like minded
individuals to organise themselves into political structures and
to present their opinions to the public and the political stage.
This principle is fundamental to the functioning of democracy,
and has been recognised as such for a long time. It has been summarised
by John Stuart Mill: "If mankind minus one were of one opinion,
then mankind is no more justified in silencing the one than the
one - if he had the power - would be justified in silencing mankind".
In the context of representative democracy, this principle must
be extended to political parties. And it is a principle that is
independent of the ideas being expounded, however deplorable one
may find them.
the Spanish authorities have argued that a number of Batasuna
members are also members of ETA, and that therefore both organisations
must be banned as they are inseperable. This is not unlike suggesting
that a number of supporters of Aznar's popular party are murderers,
therefore murderers and Aznar's party are inseperable and should
both be punished. It smacks of poorly thought out inductive reasoning
at best and of malicious and vindictive collective punishment
at worst. Because, even if a number of Batasuna supporters are
morally supportive or at least tolerant to ETA's murderous activities,
this is not and could not possibly be a crime in a democratic
society. This is not to say that any members of Batasuna that
are proven to have actively supported ETA should not be punished
in accordance with the level of the crime they have committed.
But to ban the whole party on the basis of the criminal complicity
of some of its members is legally indefensible and must be struck
down in court. If the Spanish courts will not do this then the
case must be taken to the European Court of Human Rights.
for the practical issues involved in the ban on the Batasuna party,
the sheer folly of this ban could not be more resonant than in
the context of the war on terrorism that Aznar has framed it.
It is plainly obvious that by banning the democratic expression
of a significant proportion of the Basque population (Batasuna's
support is thought to be around 10% in the Basque country), the
feeling of resentment will grow. This resentment will find undemocratic
conduits of expression when starved of a democratic outlet. ETA's
bloody campaign of violence will undoubtedly intensify following
this decision, and the Spanish government is at serious risk of
this resentment spreading to sections of the Basque population
that oppose violence but also feel victimised by being deprived
of political choice.
had been hope that this conflict would be resolved along the lines
of the Irish peace process, involving Sinn Fein and the IRA. This
peace process has resulted in increased democracy for all the
peoples of Northern Ireland, has led to a dramatic decrease in
killings in Northern Ireland itself and a complete lack of terrorist
activity in the rest of the UK. That this model of conflict resolution
is not been followed the world over is simply illogical (including
conflict resolution involving the UK itself and other parts of
the world), and flies in the face of the simplest truism of conflict
resolution. For a conflict to be resolved, there has to be someone
on the other side to talk to, unless Aznar believes that he can
catch every single ETA terrorist in Spain.
Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon and the government of Jose Maria
Aznar have largely driven the ban on Batasuna. In the face of
the illogical and illegal nature of this ban it becomes necessary
to examine the motives of the people behind it. Baltasar Garzon
has become a player on the international political stage for a
number of high-profile cases that he has been involved in, notably
his action taken against the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.
During this campaign he led the campaign to extradite Pinochet
from London to Spain to face charges of human rights abuses. Eventually
Pinochet returned to Spain, but Garzon did succeed in getting
the British authorities to arrest him in the first place. Garzon
is known to harbour political ambitions, and has spent several
months as a junior minister in a previous socialist government.
He walked out of this post saying that he was not being given
the tools to do the job. Party sources said that he was upset
about being passed over for higher posts. It seems likely that
Garzon is aiming for higher things, on the national or possibly
even European or other international stage.
for Aznar, a number of journalists have suggested that he is driven
by revenge for ETA's attempt on his life in 1995. While this is
possible, the popularity of the ban within Spain and the assurance
of support for his person and government, coupled with the international
clout that being seen to be a leading member of the war on terror
confers these days seem to be sufficient to explain his position.
But he, and all other people of Spain must be wary, because when
democracy is weakened by the removal of democratic rights, the
democratic deficit created where these rights once stood is not
replaced by a vacuum but by a lack of democracy. And a lack of
democracy is fertile breeding ground for terrorism and violence.