Something took place in Gernika last Thursday. Something that should have happened years ago, but, politicians being what they are, it has only happened now that it is their own interest, rather than that of the people they represent, who have been saying it for years. What happened was that a Socialist became President of the Basque country, and this is an excellent thing.
Those who have been paying attention will wonder why I applaud the election of a Socialist government, so a little background is called for: since the restoration of democracy the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) has been in power. They are a perfectly legitimate centre-right party who have no connection whatsoever to the terrorist group ETA, and as long as they have been winning elections I say 'Viva la democracia'. In fact, when I lived up there I would probably have voted for them, if I had been allowed to.
However, that was in the days of José Antonio Ardanza, who was a tough, honest politician, who did sound economic policy and stood up to the terrorists with dtermined courage. The real point of the President of an Autonomous Community in Spain is to inspire confidence and get money out of Madrid. Ardanza was good at that. He was also good at ignoring the counsel of the president of the party, Xabier Arzalluz, a huge figure who unfortunately went completely off his rocker in the mid-90's.
The problem started in 1999 when Ardanza stood down as Lehendakari. He was replaced by Juan José Ibarretxe, an inept and cowardly man, controlled intially by Arzalluz and the hard left, including the terrorists, with whom he formed a coalition government. He did remove them from the coalition after a year or so, but he was clearly incompetent to govern a place with such serious security problems, and he was scared of ETA. His physical fear of the ETA MP's was obvious when they spoke or crossed in the Basque Parliament. They smelt it, of course, and they used it. He even allowed a known ETA terrorist to chair the Parliament's human rights commision. (It is the central government in Madrid, and the courts, which have done a good job of keeping the murderers under control in the last few years.)
A further note: The Basque Country is not a hotbed of bandits and killers, where the people hide the bombers from the half-dozen good guys who try to impose peace and order. It is historically one of the two wealthiest areas in Spain and, though shipbuilding and steel are not what they were, it has a great deal of modern industry and is a major financial centre, and would be wealthier still if ETA did not drive businesses away by extortion and threats. ETA recruit almost exclusively in a few working class areas in and around San Sebastián, and, like all tyrants, they use the power they have in some town and village councils to make sure the schools in these places do not provide any real education. You need to keep the peasants in ignorance, or they might start to think.
So, we have a useless puppet of a President, afraid of ETA, and in league with their mouthpieces in Parliament, without a majority these last ten years, governing because the Socialist and Popular Parties are too busy arguing with each other to mount an effective opposition. For years they have been urged to recognise that defending democracy, freedom and peace is what matters, and that they are in complete agreement on that, whereas the things they disagree on do not matter in the context of the Basque Country.
At these last elections they finally behaved like human beings and representatives of free peoples, and formed a coalition. They will soon remember that they are politicians, of course, and start behaving as such, but the importance of such a coalition, that owes nothing to the terrorists and will resolutely face them down, is very great. And the Parliament is free of terrorists for the first time.
So I welcome the arrival of a Socialist President, because he is a democrat, and a man of courage. The alternative was not a PP government, but more of the same.