For an expert view on the ETA ceasefire, Euronews turned to Brian Currin in Johannesburg. He has been a key mediator in several conflicts and is now involved in efforts to start a peace process in Spain’s Basque region.
Javier Villagarcia, euronews: Mr Currin, you’ve welcomed ETA’s declaration. Why are you so optimistic?
Brian Currin: Well I’m optimistic because the political situation in the Basque Country has changed irretrievably. There are certain basic fundamentals that are in place that they have never been in place before. And I firmly believe that Abertzale Left are on a course that is irreversible.
Javier Villagarcia, euronews: As you know the Spanish Government dismissed the ETA ceasefire as insufficient, and ruled out any negotiation. Is this, for you, an appropriate reaction or too much of a hardline response?
Brian Currin: Well I’m not surprised that the Spanish Government took the line they did. Their position has been since the end of the last ceasefire that there will be no negotiations until such time as ETA not only declares a ceasefire but terminates its armed struggle. So from their perspective there needs to be a total end — a permanent end — to violence.
Javier Villagarcia, euronews: You are close to Izquierda Abertzale, the Basque pro-independence left. Is their collaboration with you an attempt to internationalise the resolution of the Basque conflict?
Brian Currin: I’m not sure that their involvement with me is to internationalise it. I certainly don’t see it that way. I mean one aspect for moving forward is to try and engage the international community.
Javier Villagarcia, euronews: According to analysts in the Basque Country the next step of ETA would be to declare a permanent ceasefire before the ending of the year… do you have any information about that?
Brian Currin: As I said to you, a declaration of a permanent ceasefire won’t be sufficient for the Spanish Government. The Spanish Government has made it quite crear that they not prepared to negotiate with a gun to their heads. There have been previous permanent cease fires. The objective really is to get ETA to suscribe to the same position as the Abertzale Left. And their position has been made clear on a number of occasions, and that is: non violent political means and certaintly an irreversible end to violence.
Javier Villagarcia, euronews: The next ceasefire needs to be verified and monitored internationally by an independent body. Would you be in charge of that body?
Brian Currin: Well I doubt it. There are sides that probably view my involvement as partial — which it is not. I make it quite clear what my objectives are. But having said that I think it would be preferable, because perception is so important, I believe it would be preferable if there is an international body verifiyng the ceasefire that they chose someone who has had no involvement whatsoever in the moving towards the situation that we hope to achieve.
Javier Villagarcia, euronews: Do you think the Spanish Government would recognise you as a mediator?
Brian Currin: I haven’t offered my services as a mediator. I cannot for one moment even anticipate what the Spanish Government might believe is necessary. It is conceivable that there won’t be a need for a mediator. It’s concevable that if we get to a stage that there is a permanent end to violence and Batasuna is legalised — that they can do politics in the Basque Country — and then there can be direct negotiations.
Javier Villagarcia, euronews: Are we closer to the beginning of a peace process in the Basque Country?
Brian Currin: I certainly do believe that we are closer to a peace process in the Basque Country, and it’s not only a question of being closer to a peace process. I believe that the circumstances as such that we are closer to a peace process in the Basque Country that will be sustainable. And a critical ingredient of that would be, in my view, the legalisation of Batasuna. In past peace processes they’ve been banned as organisation, unlawful. It is very difficult to have a peace process with the organisation that represents the people who believe that they are oppressed. It’s unlawful. They can not negotiate openly, other parties are not prepared to meet with them. You can not have an open and transparent peace process.
Javier Villagarcia, euronews: But Mr Currin, you are aware that in Spain for any political party to be in the elections they must condemn violence beforehand.
Brian Currin: If ETA were to declare an end to their armed struggle then there’s no terrorist organisation that needs to be condemned. And if that is the case there would be no need for Batasuna to condemn violence. At the moment there is a view that there is a connection between Batasuna and ETA. On the other hand, if ETA decides that they not going to declare an end to their armed struggle and they continue with their acts of violence, well in those circumstances clearly Batasuna would have no choice but to reject the violence.
Javier Villagarcia, euronews: Isn’t the real goal of this ceasefire to bring Batasuna back to life as a political force? There is local elections next year.
Brian Currin: The situation as it is at the moment cannot go on indefinitely. The people of the Basque Country have an expectation that political processes move forward, that this conflict-tranformation process where we are at the moment comes to an end, which would then enable Batasuna to participate in elections.