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March 23, 2006
Spanish Insurgency Hangs It Up

The decades-long insurgency of Basque separatists has come to a sudden end, with the insurgent group ETA announcing an end to its operations. According to the London Times, the Basque terrorists have quit in the face of Spanish disgust over the tactics used by al-Qaeda as well as being thwarted by Spanish democracy:

AFTER four decades spent purveying death, Eta was finally put out of business by someone else’s act of terrorism: the bombing of Madrid commuter trains by Islamic fanatics in March 2004.

By then the organisation was already a fading force, but those attacks created such revulsion against terrorism in Spain that they destroyed any residual support for Eta’s violent tactics.

The Times draws a comparison to the exhaustion of the ETA and that of the IRA in Northern Ireland, and even has a Gerry Adams quote to toss into the story. However, the exhaustion has come from a world that has seen terrorism for the atrocity it is and not some romantic adventure. In the 60s and 70s, when people around the world formed groups such as the Weathermen, Baader-Meinhof, Red Brigades, ETA, and the PLO, the notion of popular change through violence had a patina of hipness to it, as long as their victims were all the right people -- entrepeneurs, diplomats from decadent Western nations who had the temerity to hold elections to determine national policy, and Jews. As long as they could fly the flag of aggrieved oppression in some lunatic way, they continued to receive support from benighted fools and appeasement from nations that should have known better.

After 9/11, perceptions changed, and it affected how these groups were seen, especially here in the US. That contributed mightily to the IRA's "exhaustion"; Americans quit ponying up money for the IRA when they finally got a taste of what terrorism means. After Madrid's 3/11, the Spaniards came to the same realization after experiencing the scope and damage of that attack. AQ taught many people a harsh lesson on the romance of bombing for political purposes, and it effectively killed ETA, which just took a couple of years to realize it was dead.

Besides, the entire purpose of ETA had long since disappeared. Basque separatists founded ETA almost 50 years ago when a military dictator ruled Spain with an iron hand. Generalissimo Francisco Franco has been dead a long, long time, and Spain adopted democracy decades ago. The Basque regions were granted limited autonomy in the Statute of Guernica years ago, and their right to engage in their language and culture restored. It may have fallen somewhat short of their goals, but no one can claim that Basques are oppressed with a straight face any longer. ETA operations have largely focused on self-sustainment through ransoms and robberies rather than advancing the Basque cause. It ran out of philosophical gas years ago.

I suspect that when historians look back at the political movements of the last four decades, they will shake their heads in wonder that these violent, criminal gangs met with such success merely by mouthing the clanging rhetoric of radical leftist revolution. Having lived through it, the sympathy accorded such nutcases and murderers still amazes me.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 23, 2006 5:15 AM

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