Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Is Consensus a Genuine Democratic Value? the Case of Spain's Political Pacts against Terrorism

Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Is Consensus a Genuine Democratic Value? the Case of Spain's Political Pacts against Terrorism

Article excerpt

This article considers the history of the Spanish political pacts against

terrorism and the political contexts in which they have been implemented since the beginning of the 1980s. This sociohistorical approach is necessary in order to understand the current Spanish unanimous repudiation of terrorism. It suggests that these political pacts helped build a consensus that has frozen the political field in Spain. Such a perspective takes into account some of the arguments of the CASE manifesto "Critical Approaches to Security in Europe" related to the need to proceed through meticulous examination of the logics of exceptionalism and decisionist politics that neutralize politics. KEYWORDS: Spain, political pacts, democracy, consensus, ETA, terrorism, political violence


There are many academic (and nonacademic) publications on the politics of contemporary Spain. (1) Most focus on Spain's evolution toward a parliamentary democracy, on the dynamics of regional politics and nationalist demands, on Spanish foreign policy inside and outside the European Union, on ETA's history and bloody career since the Francoist period, and on the Spanish police and judicial responses to violence. Concerning this last issue, it has been widely demonstrated that even though Spain has followed the trend of other European countries in dealing with political claims using violence since the end of the 1970s, Spain has also established the most impressive antiterrorist arsenal in Europe. (2) This arsenal was so important that Spain did not need to adopt any special antiterrorist legislation following the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington. Indeed, the Spanish state already had enough laws and rules of procedure to deal with the arrest and interrogation of those suspected of organizing and carrying out the March 11,2004, bombings in Madrid and of preparing for any future attacks. (3)

None of these publications ignore the fact that it was really only in the second half of the 1980s, and under the socialist government of Felipe Gonzalez, that the Spanish antiterror capacities were enlarged. The second half of the 1980s was also the time of the Antiterrorist Groups of Liberation (GAL). This death squad was created and financed by the socialist Spanish government in order to settle the diplomatic controversy with French authorities over asylum and extradition of members of the Basque separatist group ETA who lived in France by killing them directly on French territory. (4)

Despite this impressive literature on Spanish response to ETA, little attention has been paid to understanding the political background of the unanimous condemnation of terrorism in Spain through the implementation of antiterror political pacts and the constitution of antiterror political alliances. Most of the publications on contemporary Spain, whatever their scholarly value, focus on the bloody evolution of Basque terrorism to explain the Spanish political consensus on terrorism.

At first glance, this widely accepted argument about the causes of and appropriate responses to ETA's violence has a compelling logic: the violence of ETA was so unacceptable that unanimous condemnation came very naturally. This understanding follows the multiplication of ETA actions after the end of the Francoist regime. However, it is not clear that this action/reaction's explanation is sufficient to understand and analyze how the entire Spanish political class came to condemn ETA unanimously, to the extent that in 2002 Spain provided an instrument to render constitutionally illegal a political party that would fail to condemn terrorism. (5)

In the history of contemporary Europe, there is no other example of such a political instrument. In the Northern Ireland conflict, British authorities never banned Sinn Fein, even if they were occasionally tempted to do so. Very pragmatically, British authorities (including Margaret Thatcher) always thought that one day the enemy might become a partner in a peace-negotiation process. …

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