Since 2000, the Spanish government worked on a strategy to eliminate the prosovereignty dynamics by preventing the pro-independence left-wing from taking part in electoral politics. Based on a PP-PSOE “Pact for the Liberties and against Terrorism”, agreed in December 2001, the government set about banning Batasuna so as to prevent its participation in the June 2003 local elections and the autonomous parliament election in Navarre. Without any qualms, on February 24, 2002, the Minister of the Interior and Vice-president Mariano Rajoy stated that “ before the summer, the legal reforms that will promote the banning of Batasuna will be ready”.

In this way, the ad hoc and tailor-made character of the reform of the Political Parties Law passed on June 27th (Ley Orgánica 6/02 de 27 de Junio de Partidos Políticos) was clearly stated, whose exclusive objective was to leave the social sector represented by the patriotic left wing out of Basque political life.

In August 2002, a three-year suspension against Batasuna was imposed on the grounds that the party was part of the “terrorist network” of the armed separatist group ETA. This measure of suspension was taken through a criminal procedure (Procedimiento Sumario 35/02 Juzgado de Instrucción Central num. 5 Audiencia Nacional) and not by constitutional procedures established in the Political Parties Law. Spain’s right-wing government began seeking a permanent ban on the party in September, with the overwhelming support of the parliament in Madrid. Finally, the court approved the request to ban Batasuna according to the Political Parties Law in 2003 (STS, Sala art. 61, de 27 de marzo 2003) In addition, several lists of local candidates considered by the government to be Batasuna instruments to bypass its upcoming prohibition were banned from the local elections and the Navarre Regional Parliament election held on 26th June 2003.

It was the first time since the 1975 death of the dictator General Francisco Franco that a political party had been banned. Repression continued in following months. Egunkaria, the only newspaper written in the Basque language, was closed down in February 2003 and its editors and directors – who afterwards reported having been brutally tortured – were arrested. The Basque Assembly Udalbiltza was also banned for being considered part of the “ETA complex”, and a police operation against its members led to the arrest of several mayors and councillors of the country.

The abertzale left reacted to these policies by organising huge demonstrations, supported by most of the political and social forces of the country that opposed the repressive approach. Meanwhile, Batasuna had been keeping secret contact with representatives of the PSE since 2001, through which the parties agreed on the political character of the conflict, and set as an objective the setting up of a conflict resolution process.

In this context of extremely hard repression and secret contact with the PSE, a few days before the state’s general election, the terrible attacks of March 11th, 2004 took place against four lines of commuter trains in Madrid, resulting in hundreds of people killed. Although the patriotic left-wing reacted immediately to show its absolute “rejection” of such acts and ETA publicly denied any connection with the events the next day, and in contradiction with reports from several international intelligence agencies, the Spanish state officially put the blame on ETA, lying about the kind of explosives that had been used, pressuring foreign embassies and the media into sticking to the official version, and even forcing the UN Security Council to condemn the attacks and ETA. The government continued to hold the same version until the day before the March 13th election, even though most of the population did not believe it, with the electoral consequences of its defeat and the PSOE’s victory.62

Zapatero and the peace process

62 Unfortunately, these imputations and the social alarm which had arisen caused the death in Iruñea of a patriotic left-wing follower shot by a plainclothes police officer, the beatings of several Basque political prisoners, and the death of a demonstrator in a police attack during a protest against the first death.