Basques reveal burning desire for compromise: Separatists embrace Sinn Fein and move towards peace

THE MAN from Sinn Fein looked distinctly surprised when two youths ran on stage and unfurled a Spanish flag. Then they set fire to it, and Alex Maskey, a Sinn Fein councillor from Belfast, knew he had come to the right place.

The impromptu bonfire, quickly put out for the safety of the 3,000 Basque separatists packed into a basketball arena in Pamplona, brought roars of approval. So did Mr Maskey's speech and his praise for Sinn Fein's Basque equivalent, Herri Batasuna - 'you who have inspired us for so long'.

The flag-burning and message from Sinn Fein almost overshadowed what had been billed as an important initiative by Herri Batasuna - the political wing of the Eta terrorist group - that would 'send convulsions through the Basque political scene'.

In the end, the unveiling of the 'Initiative for a Social Debate on the Right to Self- Determination' caused less convulsions in the audience than the cowbells strapped to Basque dancers that performed before the event. In fact, there were almost haunting parallels in the speeches by Mr Maskey, Herri Batasuna members and Euro-MP Carmelo Landa. These were the voices of men who appeared to be seeking a face-saving way out of what Mr Landa called 'This spiral'.

Pamplona is in Navarra, which is one of Spain's 17 'semi-autonomous communities', is partly inhabited by Basques and is claimed by separatists as part of the Basque 'homeland'. To stress that claim, Herri Batasuna made Pamplona the last stop in a four-day 'Self-Determination Cavalcade' of vehicles that had meandered through the Spanish Basque country. The fact that only 3,000 people showed up in a city with a population of 200,000, is some indicaton of the party's, and Eta's fortunes.

Contacts between Sinn Fein and Herri Batasuna, widely believed to run parallel with co- operation between the IRA and Eta, are an open secret. But the Irishman was the star attraction. Mr Maskey received a rousing welcome as the Irish flag was raised alongside its Basque equivalent. One wondered whether Mr Maskey was aware of the fact that the design of the latter banner was based on the Union flag.

' I bring Sinn Fein's best wishes to your (Eta) comrades who are dispersed in various prisons,' Mr Maskey said. 'The many forms of oppression used by the Spanish state are similar to those used by the British state to deny us our rights. Many of your forms of struggle, too, are similar to ours.

'The independence struggle in Ireland has reached a new stage of intensification. We have told the British state 'we will never allow you to govern us in peace'. A negotiated settlement is the only chance for peace. Without negotiation, there will be no peace.'

The Sinn Fein representative added that: 'You have demonstrated new and inventive ways of struggle.' That may have been a reference to the 100-day-old kidnapping of a Basque businessman, Julio Iglesias Zamora.

As the Belfast councillor was speaking, thousands of Basques, sporting the blue ribbons that have become an anti- Eta symbol, were defying years of intimidation by marching through the Basque port of Bilbao to mark the 100th day of Mr Iglesias Zamora's ordeal.

Mr Iglesias Zamora's kidnapping is the second longest in the more than 30-year history of Eta - a Basque acronym for Basque Homeland and Liberty - during which it has killed around 800 people. The abduction is said to have split both Eta and Herri Batasuna, as well as causing an unprecedented surge in public protests against Eta.

Mr Landa raised expectations by rejecting 'worn-out formulas and anachronistic attitudes' and calling for 'bold, rational behaviour . . . a new era of complete democracy and peace'. In the end, his message was that the 'right to self- determination is the key to a stable, just and lasting peace'.

The Basque parliament has already approved the principle of the right to self-determination. But with a large immigrant population and growing rejection of violence, that would not necessarily mean a vote for independence. And the Basques' de facto leader, Basque Nationalist Party chief Xabier Arzalluz, has promised Spain's Prime Minister, Felipe Gonzalez, that the self-determination issue will remain shelved during the current national legislature, scheduled to run through 1997.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Network Support Engineer - Hosted Telecommunications

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for a Ne...

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor / Partner - Cheltenham

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: A very rare high level opportunity with a fir...

Recruitment Genius: IT Manager

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This distributor of electronics...

Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client has a number of different bus...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower