Spain's dirty war

Ruán O'Donnell reviews Dirty War, Clean Hands, ETA, the GAL and Spanish Democracy by Paddy Woodworth, Cork University Press, IR£19.95 hbk

Paddy Woodworth's new book is long overdue. Given the parallels perceived by political scientists between the protracted conflict in the unrecognised Basque Country, which spans northern Spain and south-eastern France, and that of the north of Ireland, it is remarkable that this is the first major treatment in the English language.

Both situations share the phenomena of community support for armed actions, paramilitary organisations with legal political affiliates, peace processes which could and should have progressed far beyond their current stages and the experience of state sponsored counter-insurgency through Kitsonian style 'countergangs' and direct military action.

Sinn Féin and the Basque nationalist party Herri Batasuna have had links for many years and Dirty War was also the title of Martin Dillon's book on similar activities in Ireland.

Woodworth's much-needed volume is well researched, well-written and well-constructed. His feel for the subject goes far beyond the usual journalistic memoir of a 'tour' and will probably remain the primary account in English for some time.

The book's theme is vitally important given the serious questions raised in relation to official attitudes within a EU member state towards the values assigned to civil liberties, self-determination and democracy.

The heyday of the anti-ETA death squads of GAL, well chronicled and analysed by Woodworth, may have been the 1980s but the repercussions of Madrid 's anti-Basque policy continue to reverberate.

October/November 2001

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