President of Spain responds to victims of terrorism march in Madrid

Last Saturday hundreds of thousands of demonstrators marched in Madrid in protest against the Spanish government’s proposal to begin talks with Eta. The march was led by members of the Association of Victims of Terrorism (AVT) and leaders of the Popular Party.

The past month has been a difficult one for the Spanish government as far as its anti-terrorism policies are concerned, and things don’t look like they’re going to get any easier either.

Since the Spanish President sought the approval of Congress to start talks with ETA last month:

  • The Popular Party has withdrawn its participation in the Anti-Terrorism Pact (in which both major political parties «agreed not to disagree» in Spain’s fight against terrorism)
  • The leader of the outlawed political wing of Eta has accused the government of lacking the «maturity» necessary to negotiate with Eta.

  • The Association of Victims of Terrorism has promised to organize future protests and demostrations unles the Socialist Government promises not to talk to ETA and to return to the anti-terrorism policies implemented by the previous government
  • Even the Washington Post has published an article in which it criticising Rodriguez Zapatero’s policies against terrorism and claiming that the march this weekend marks the end of the Spanish president’s «honeymoon» with the Spanish electorate.

One of the characteristics of Spain is that absolutely everything in this country somehow ends up becoming politicised: football, education, culture, wine…. and victims of terrorism. Instead of there being just one large association, there are several associations, organizations and foundations for victims of terrorism and their families in Spain.

And each one has an, albeit undeclared, political allegiance.
Saturday’s march was organised by the AVT, tradicionally more at home with the policies of Aznar’s Popular Party government. Because of this the leaders of the Popular Party turned out in force. Even ex-PM Aznar participated in the march organized to protest at the proposed talks with ETA (a little ironic given the fact that when he was leader of Spain, Aznar authorised talks with Eta without even consulting Congress). Meanwhile, members of other victim associations (including victims of the Madrid train bombings) and political parties stayed away.
Yesterday President Rodriguez Zapatero offered to meet the leaders of all groups representing victims of terrorism and so far his offer has been welcomed by all involved. The talks will take place on June 21st and will consist of individual meetings between Spain’s president, the Commissioner for Victims of Terrorism and the leaders of each association, followed by a general meeting with all groups and political leaders.

Zapatero said this morning that he did not intend to change his policies according to the demands of the AVT, but that he was prepared to listen first-hand to the concerns expressed during Saturday’s mass demonstration. He also said that, unlike Spain’s previous government, he was willing to acknowledge counter-opinions, explain his position, and seek consensus.
Although Aznar will probably use this as another example of «Zapatero the appeaser», if Rodriguez Zapatero succeeds in reconciling some of the differences which divide the different associations of victims it will be a step in the right direction along the very difficult road ahead.

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