A farewell to arms

The Basque terrorist group ETA has announced that it will be laying down its arms for good. Seven years after its declaration of ceasefire, the organisation has decided to dissolve.

ETA formed in the 1960s with the aim of securing independence for the Basque region. In response to the Spanish government’s heavy-handed attempts at suppressing Basque regional identity, a group of university students in Bilbao started organising clandestine meetings to discuss Basque history and culture. At a time when even the most casual use of the Basque language was an offence punishable by imprisonment, the group rebelled by flying the Basque flag, putting on cultural nights and distributing nationalist literature.

The use of violence was always controversial within the group, but ETA was inspired by similar revolutionary movements of the time and the philosophies of thinkers such as Franz Fanon, Mao Zedong and Lenin who viewed violence as – if not justified, a necessary evil.

Some have argued that ETA’s decision to turn away from violence was due to a normative shift against terrorism. After the events of 9/11 terrorism no longer seemed to be a legitimate revolutionary tactic, and civilian casualties were much more difficult to justify. Whether this was a contributing factor remains unclear. The dissolution of the organisation may enable some former members to discuss their motivations with more candour.