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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 March 2006, 22:36 GMT
Eta: End of an era
By Paul Reynolds
World Affairs correspondent, BBC News website

PKK (now Kadek) fighters in south-east Turkey. File photo
The PKK (now Kadek) has an on-off ceasefire in Turkey
The announcement by the Basque separatist group Eta of a permanent ceasefire perhaps marks the final decline of the old-style nationalist armed groups in Europe.

In Northern Ireland, the Provisional IRA has laid down its weapons - destroying or putting them beyond use last year, according to an independent commission.

In Turkey, the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers Party, has an on-off ceasefire but has not been the force it was since the arrest of its leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999. It even changed its name to Kadek.

The reasons for this decline are several.

To start with, nationalism as a force has diminished in Europe as countries club together in the European Union.

The EU requires high standards of human rights and the application of these itself lessens tensions in affected regions.

Much of the support for violence has come from those who sought justice. Once granted that, their anger declined.

Era of compromise

In the new Europe, where populations are free to live anywhere, nationalism is not the force it was.

IRA gunman. File photo
The IRA has put all of its weapons beyond use
In a new atmosphere, where violence gives way to a ceasefire and then a cessation, there can be compromise.

Governments have made concessions to the nationalist aspirations of the populations that have supported the armed groups. They have realised that making concessions does not mean defeat.

In Northern Ireland, for example, there has been a power-sharing agreement, although it has not yet been implemented for the long term.

But day-to-day irritations like bans on nationalist symbols like flags have been removed and efforts have been made to restore confidence in the police. Such moves towards parity of esteem have been vital.


The armed groups have also been fought to a standstill.

They have come to accept that not only can they not defeat the forces of the state but their own populations have come to demand political, not violent action.

Without popular support they cannot last. War-weariness has set in.

Neither the IRA nor Eta managed to achieve their main aims of breaking the constructional link with the states they opposed.

They can claim to have won political advancement for their peoples but that was not the height of their ambition.

Growing intolerance

However, there is another factor at work that is also important.

It is the growth of the new Islamic movements led by al-Qaeda whose methods are so much more extreme that they have shocked populations into an intolerance of any kind of political violence.

This perhaps was seen especially in Spain after the Madrid bombings of March 2004.

There were huge demonstrations and the message must have been picked up by Eta that bombing and shooting would provoke Spain into fighting harder against and not conceding to it.

Call them what you will - terrorists, guerrillas, men and women of violence - none of them can win unless they sap the will of the governments they fight against.

And if governments are in a mood to fight, as they are these days, then those movements might feel that they should cash their political chips in and give up the gun.

Islamic radicalism has brought the world to a new height of violent expectations. It has stiffened the resolve of peoples and governments in the West to resist political violence.

A generation ago, an earlier group of left-wing organisations were active.

The Red Army Fraction in West Germany, the Red Brigades in Italy, even the Angry Brigade in Britain, small as it was, represented urban protest against the capitalist society.

But today everyone, it seems, is a capitalist and history passed these groups by. As it is doing with the violence of the nationalists.

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