With hindsight, the Algiers process could be described as an attempt to unlock a protracted situation of armed confrontation that had acquired the characteristics of an infinite deadlock in the political-military strategies implemented by both sides. In fact, ETA’s initiative was aimed at overcoming this deadlock, by trying to bring the confrontation to the political field, on the basis of the democratic framework proposed by the KAS alternative.

ETA undertook the responsibility of taking the first step towards such new dialectics, by supporting a “negotiated political solution”. This formulation, agreed by both parties with the decisive support of the Algerian mediation, contained the key essence of the negotiation and dialogue process, and it was precisely its rejection by the Spanish government which precipitated the breaking-up of the so-called political conversations in Algiers.

The state and the Basque Country engaged in the dialogue process with very different assumptions and expectations. On the one hand, the Spanish government went to Algiers in a favourable power position, as although it had failed to defeat ETA militarily, it had scored some decisive points by gaining French collaboration in its repressive policies and reaching political agreements to isolate the abertzale left (i.e. the Madrid and Ajuria Enea agreements). So the state’s goal throughout the Algiers process was to ‘finish’ the ‘ETA issue’ once and for all, ratherthan searching for a democratic solution to the political conflict.

For its part, ETA considered that it came to Algiers having reached a situation of relative power parity on the military field, as it was able to significantly destabilise the state through sustained operations involving the use of middle-range weapons. However, its leaders also became aware that the fight was unsustainable from a purely military perspective (see above, section 4.1) and that they might have reached the limits of their armed uprising strategy. Faced with two possible options – a utopian pursuit of conventional military confrontation or a more progressive process of national liberation, they opted for political pragmatism, envisioning negotiations as a tool for conflict resolution by means of dialogue and a political agreement.

Two fundamental elements were present in Algiers that should guide any negotiation process. Firstly, both parties were recognised mutually and internationally, through the role of the Algerian host country and mediator, and sat at the table in order to discuss the political conflict in which they opposed each other. Secondly, a mutual détente scenario was generated by ETA offering a unilateral 15-day truce, and later through both parties agreeing on a two-month bilateral ceasefire, which enabled talks and the suspension of armed confrontation.

A third element, equally fundamental, failed to be achieved: namely, respect for the procedural rules and the parties’ own responsibilities. The Spanish side failed to fulfil the commitments made at the table, and used diplomatic means to repress ETA delegates. It was clear that the Spanish state had not acknowledged that there was a political dispute at stake. As always, it tried to turn the problem into an internal issue among Basque people, so that the state couldplay the role of referee by choosing the field and the rules of the game to manage it. The Basque side, for its part, lacked the required patience for such dialogue and negotiation processes. It failed to understand the specificities of timing in diplomatic and political processes (as opposed to military ones), as well as the ways and methods that are useful to move such processes forward. It underestimated the capacity for diplomacy and good will of third parties in such crucial times,and it did not understand the limits of armed coercion.

Given the incompatibility of the two sides’ approaches, the failed outcome of the process was probably unavoidable. However, despite its eventual failure to bring peace, the experience in Algiers represents a political and ideological milestone as it outlined mechanisms, methodologies, political objectives and purposes, and above all, a philosophy, a new way to approach conflict resolution by means of dialogue, negotiation and agreement.

Formation of a new paradigm: the democratic process