Driving a peace process forward requires staying patient and determined. What has been achieved seemed unthinkable a few years ago, so it is now also possible to overcome the challenges faced by Basque society to consolidate coexistence.
More than eighteen months have gone by since ETA announced the end of its violent actions. Indeed, a large part of Basque society wanted a new phase to open up in which all stakeholders could take steps to consolidate harmonious coexistence. A look at recent opinion polls backs up this perception. A very large majority of citizens want an end without winners or losers, the disarmament of ETA and changes to prison policy. In contrast, apart from the legalisation of Sortu and significant gestures of recognition and respect for the ‘other’, such as the Glencree initiative or joint activities in Errenteria, very little progress has been made.
In this context, and particularly from the Abertzale Left, voices of impatience and concern are being heard. From a human point of view, this reaction is understandable because in the area of prison policy, one that evokes strong emotions, no changes have occurred. It is not unusual to witness conversations in which people from that public sector express their doubts about the potential of the new strategy they have undertaken, based on exclusively political and democratic channels, given the lack of progress. Those who express these doubts forget that ETA practised unjust violence for many years without achieving any result and, nevertheless, causing much pain.
Recently, a number of representatives of social organisations had the opportunity to meet Harold Good, an independent witness of the IRA disarmament process. One of the persons present expressed this concern, reminding the audience that only 18 months went by between the Good Friday Agreement and the start of the process to reintegrate prisoners. Good pointed out that, in reality, more than four years went by from the time that the IRA and other organisations declared a ceasefire until this reintegration occurred.
Aaro Suonio, an expert in disarmament processes, used similar language in the recent Social Forum to drive the peace process forward. He pointed out that whenever major steps forward take place, like the end of violence by ETA and the legalization of Sortu, peace processes enter a certain phase of stagnation until the next steps are prepared. This is possibly the situation in which Basque society is now.
In no event can this justify a lack of action. The last planned attack by ETA was four years ago. Since then, the situation is undoubtedly better than it was in 2009. What has to be done is to take advantage of this great opportunity, and to do so we need to maintain our patience and determination. That is precisely what is lacking amongst the political parties, locked in sterile debates. It is notable that the election campaign in 2012 was less tense than the present situation, when there are still two years until the next elections.
Driving a peace process forward requires staying patient and determined. What has been achieved seemed unthinkable a few years ago, so it is now also possible to overcome the challenges faced by Basque society to consolidate coexistence. Everyone should do everything that is within their reach. Lokarri, and initiatives such as the Social Forum, will try to contribute creative and imaginative ideas to open-up new ways of advancing and bringing about a situation in which everybody – ETA, governments, institutions, political parties and civil society – can contribute to the collective task and achieve the peace our older generation deserves, and one that we will pass on to the coming generations.
Lokarri is a citizens’ network that works for peace, consensus, consultation and reconciliation. To learn more about their work, please click here.
Annex – Meaningful Recommendations
The Recommendations by the Social Forum to drive the peace process forward have received important support. On the day they were presented, Andy Carl, executive director of Conciliation Resources and rapporteur of the Social Forum, emphasised that the participation of society is essential in conflict resolution.
Furthermore, former Irish Premier, Bertie Ahern, sent a letter to the organisers stating that the recommendations are not an imposition or an exact model, “rather as a series of reasoned suggestions, based on many diverse experiences around the world, on how the inevitably difficult issues arising from violence and its ending can be addressed.” The letter also emphasises that it is now up to the citizens and their elected representatives to “determine how these challenges can best be met in this new time of possibility for them and their society.”
Picking up this proposal, the organisers of the Social Forum set up a series of ‘Open Spaces’ in Pamplona-Iruña and Bilbao. In these meetings over a hundred anonymous citizens, social stakeholders, and political and trade union representatives shared and compared their opinion on achieving basic consensuses, dismantling of structures and disarmament, integration of prisoners and people on the run, and promoting and safeguarding human rights.
The opinions expressed and the ideas that emerged in Bilbao and Pamplona-Iruña are helpful and an incentive to continue driving the peace process forward.
Recommendations in the Parliaments
On an institutional level, the Recommendations have been sent to the Parliaments of the Basque Country and Navarre, and also to the British Parliament (House of Commons).
The first meeting was with Bakartxo Tejería, president of the Basque Parliament, to whom Lokarri presented the recommendations. We urged her to step up efforts to foster cooperation, dialogue and consensus among the groups in the Parliament. We also asked to appear before the Peace and Coexistence Commission, with the aim of presenting the recommendations in that parliamentary forum.
In Navarre, a delegation from Lokarri presented the Recommendations in a working session of the Commission for Coexistence and International Solidarity called by the parliamentary groups Socialistas de Navarra, Bildu-Nafarroa, Aralar-Nafarroa Bai and Izquierda Ezkerra, plus the parliamentarian, Manu Ayerdi. Taking advantage of the presence of all the groups represented in the Parliament of Navarre, Lokarri has called for the creation of a specific commission to reach agreement on the main challenges of coexistence and to drive the peace process forward.
The international dimension
The Recommendations to drive the peace process have also been disseminated beyond our borders. On June 4th they were presented in the House of Commons in a ceremony organised by the “All-Party Parliamentary Group on Conflict Issues”, and at the end of May Lokarri Coordinator, Paul Ríos, travelled to Norway to present them in a seminar organised by the International Peace Research Institute (PRIO) of the University of Oslo.