More Pain in Spain

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A politician in Spain's northern Basque country dared to venture almost exactly three years ago that the separatist movement ETA "has committed suicide." His obituary for the terrorist group came after nearly 6 million people had taken to the streets of Spain to protest the murder of a young man called Miguel Angel Blanco, a councilor in a small Basque town for the Popular Party. The national revulsion followed ETA's kidnapping and then execution of Blanco after failing to blackmail the Madrid government, also run by the Popular Party.

Last week, however, ETA made it abundantly clear that reports of its demise were exaggerated. And after it carried out its 10th attack since the start of July, Spaniards' strong sense of solidaridad with its victims was giving way to one of helplessness and despair. There were silent protests, as always, but the numbers were in the thousands, not millions. A weeping neighbor of the latest victim, army officer Francisco Casanova, shot in the head outside his home in Pamplona on Wednesday, asked: "Do they want to kill every one of us who doesn't agree with them?"

An irony of Casanova's murder was that he lived in Askatasuna Street, the third word in ETA's name, Euskal ta Askatasuna, which translates as Basque Homeland and Liberty. Another macabre irony for a nation numbed by ETA's disregard for the liberty of the citizens it shoots and bombs — some 800 have been killed since the late '60s — was that four of its members were blown up by their own car bomb as they drove through Bilbao last Monday night. One of them is believed to be Patxi Rementeria, a 39-year-old veteran terrorist, wanted for his role in 20 acts — among them the killing of Miguel Angel Blanco.

The mood of pessimism about ETA's resurgence since it ended a 14-month truce at the start of this year was echoed by Javier Balza, interior minister in the regional government headed by the Basque Nationalist Party. "ETA is stronger than ever," said Balza. "It is waging a full-scale terrorist campaign." Another of last week's victims was a member of Balza's own party, Jose Maria Korta. President of the region's employers' organization, Korta was blown up in a car bomb attack outside his steel company in the Basque town of Zumaia. He had criticised ETA and had refused to pay the "revolutionary tax" it exacts from local employers to fund its violence.

In the Basque country last week many who share the general disgust over ETA's bloodletting were arguing that the only way to put "an end to this madness," as the mayor of Bilbao, Iñaki Azkuna, put it, is some kind of dialogue with ETA. In Madrid, however, the central government of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and the opposition Socialists were united in insisting that democracy should never cede to violence. While most Spaniards would agree in theory, increasingly they are realizing that, as in Northern Ireland, one-man-one-vote doesn't have the political clout of one-man-one-bomb.

Reported by Jane Walker/Madrid