Tag Archives: Francisco Franco

Revisionist history: Catalan under the dictatorship

"I never physically beat anybody and you can see film footage showing me not beating anybody!"
Peter Cook, Why Bother? "Prisoner of War"

Proving a negative can be rather tricky. As we all know, an absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence and so as epistemology shows us, anyone who states that x categorically does (or did) not exist holds the burden of proof.

The legend of how the Catalan language was treated during Franco's dictatorship comes in two forms. The first and more widely subscribed to says that Catalan was effectively outlawed from public life, that people speaking Catalan in reception rooms and shops were often told that they should "Háblame en cristiano!", and that it was only with the death of Franco and restoration of democracy that Catalan could be heard once again in the streets of Catalan towns and villages. The second, more recent version – we may call it a revisionist version because it is most certainly at odds with the first, received version – says that Catalan wasn't repressed during the dictatorship at all. That books were published in Catalan, kids could speak Catalan in the school playground, official business was conducted in Catalan, that the Catalan language was valued and that the received wisdom of the first version was imposed after the restoration of democracy as part of Pujol's infernal nation-building operation.

Proponents of both versions of this history bear the burden of proof, and both versions have some tricky questions that they need to answer. The question for me, as an outsider, is which version has the most convincing evidence.

It is clearly not enough to say simply that Catalan was outlawed during Franco's dictatorship. This must be proven with facts. And there are facts that lend support to that claim. Throughout the dictatorship, but particularly in the early years, laws and regulations were established to reduce the presence of Catalan in public life almost to zero. It was no longer taught in schools. Civil servants were prevented from speaking Catalan at any time (whether in public buildings or not), under pain of instant dismissal. The Civil Governor of Barcelona asked the publishers of a Catalan language magazine "Do you really think we fought the war so that Catalan could return to public use?". Telegrams couldn't be sent in Catalan. A friend of mine was slapped in the face any time he and his friends spoke in Catalan in their Barcelona schoolyard. Kids had to be given Spanish language names (probably the source of the 'Arturo Mas' legend). People were fined for speaking Catalan on the telephone. Streets and squares were renamed in Spanish in every Catalan city, town and village.

But at the same time, other things happened. In the 1960s especially, Catalan culture started to grow in official acceptance. Children's magazines were published in Catalan from 1961. They were even legal from 1968 onwards. Prizes were given for Catalan language books. Radio stations started to broadcast cultural or folkloric programmes in Catalan. Some schools (mainly either for the Catalan alta burgesia, or in distant villages) started to teach some Catalan language classes.

When you look at the evidence, it seems fair to say that in the early years of the dictatorship, there was widespread official repression of practically all use of the Catalan language in public life but that after a couple of decades in power, the regime rowed back somewhat from its initial position. Expression in Catalan never seems to have been wholly free under the dictatorship – but then it wasn't really free in Spanish either. At the same time, there seems to have been a tacit message in the regime's softening position on the language: that you may speak this language by the grace of our goodwill, and only for the purposes of cultural and folkloric expressions.

Of course, Catalan's use never completely died out in the home which is why you'll find plenty of people in their 50s and 60s here who can speak Catalan perfectly but are unable to write in anything but Castilian Spanish. But its absence from schools, particularly in the industrialized areas of Catalonia which welcomed hundreds of thousands of workers from other parts of Spain in the 50s, 60s and 70s, helped to guarantee that Catalan became a minority language and certainly one in decline. Excluding the regional language from the education system and pretty much all mass media left Catalan as a language of shepherds, fishermen, villagers, poets and die-hard patriots. But ideally not factory workers, bank managers or government officials. I can't prove it but I get the feeling that the intention was not to waste any more time repressing Catalan but instead to leave it as a culturally interesting but politically non-threatening rump of a language. Not erased from history but on its way to being left there.

To me, claims that the Catalan language was completely outlawed during the dictatorship are problematic most of all because by failing to recognise that some Catalan was permitted, some of the time, and in limited contexts, they are easily challenged with a handful of books, poetry prizes and posters for the Orfeó Català. Exaggerating the crimes of the dictatorship is wrong, albeit understandable. The revisionist claim, on the other hand, strikes me as more pernicious because it seeks to deny that the language was repressed – an entirely insupportable claim. The facts that the revisionists cling to are facts. But they always remind me of that wonderful Peter Cook line at the top of this post, which was his character's response to being accused of violence against the men under his command. Yes, there is evidence that Catalan wasn't always repressed. That doesn't mean that in general, and certainly in most professional, educational, civil and legal contexts, Catalan wasn't effectively banned through much of the Franco dictatorship.

The revisionists have a place in this story, most of all to remind us that history can never really be black and white and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. But their narrative is wrong because at heart it seeks to diminish the harm done by the dictatorship to the people of Catalonia and the rest of Spain. I don't doubt that now these revisionist myths are established, they will grow and mutate into fascinating new forms. How long before we hear that actually, if it wasn't for Franco, Catalan would have died out? I expect my mysterious friends at Dolça Catalunya are already drafting that one.

And what about Catalan under the 2nd Republic? Now that's another story….

State of alert: How the PSOE used Franco's strike breaking tactics

[I intended to write this sooner but I've been rather knocked out with flu since Saturday.]

The press was full of it: on the evening of December 3rd, the Spanish military 'took over' air traffic control towers across Spain at the request of the government. Air traffic controllers (ATCs) had, we were told, abandoned their duties en masse, calling in sick in a wildcat strike that brought the 'public infrastructure' of the airports to a grinding halt. But once again, the story we were being told was a narrow and distorted version of events. One that omitted key details intentionally. So it was little wonder that Spanish workers fel little solidarity for the ATCs.

The truth is that the air traffic controllers strike of December 2010 was precipitated intentionally by an agressive PSOE government, and then dealt with by that same government using the weapons of Franco's dictatorship.

Step one is always to demonise the strikers, removing the risk that solidarity poses.

  • We were told that ATCs had an average state-funded salary of €370,000. LIE. ATC salaries are paid out of airport levies. Last available figures point to an average salary of €138,000. Which sounds like a lot, but bear in mind that ATCs are held criminally responsible for mistakes, and the awful stress that this must put on people. There are plenty of other people who earn a lot more than ATCs but few with such a horribly stressful and injurious type of work. Spanish ATCs are among the lowest-paid in Europe.
  • We were told that ATCs phoned in sick, en masse, asking for more money. LIE. On December 3rd, the government announced plans to partially privatise Spain's airports (the 'public infrastructure' that the government fought so hard to protect the very next day). Simultaneously, AENA (Spanish airports management agency) had been engaged in a policy of cancelling vacations, demanding that people 'pay back' sick leave. AENA also intentionally named fewer personnel than were necessary for rotas that week, knowing that the puente weekend would see increased air traffic. AENA, without question, intentionally precipitated the situation.
  • We were told that the ATCs operate a closed shop and keep numbers down in order to keep their pay up. LIE. AENA is responsible for all hiring. AENA has not announced public entrance procedures for four years.
  • We were told that ATCs carried out a strike. LIE. After AENA deliberately sabotaged air traffic control, delays were always going to happen. But AENA publicly claimed that ATCs had walked out. These false accusations led to verbal and physical attacks on ATCs.

So the stage was set for interior minister Alfredo Rubalcaba to deal a vicious blow against the ATCs. And that he did. On December 4th, he declared a 'state of alert' (you could also use the term 'state of emergency' but that lacks something of the nuance of the various 'states' Spain can be in, like alerta, excepción, etc). It was the first time in Spain's current democracy that such a measure had been used. And unless you'd been here in the 60s and 70s, you might well think it was a pretty standard, if very grave, response to a crisis.

The truth is that the state of alert is a peculiar item of Spanish law that has its roots in Franco's fascist dictatorship. Throughout the 60s and 70s, Franco's government used the state of alert to smash strikes. It works by declaring all workers of a specific convenio (like metro drivers or, in this case, ATCs) as 'mobilised' military personnel. So you start the day an ATC and before you know it, you're a military ATC with orders from military staff to attend work as and when they demand it. It doesn't matter when your shift was supposed to start because the army can tell you to start when it wants you to. And if you fail to do so? Because you've just become a member of the military, failure to turn up for work on their command means that you are committing sedition. Mutiny. And anyone who does this is sent to court martial and can end up in a military prison for up to 7 years.

So the state of alert is a method controlling workers by bringing in the army. Thus, ATCs were forced to work at gunpoint in some Spanish airports.

The lessons here are clear. Firstly, whenever there's a labour dispute, the last people to trust are (a) the government, (b) the management, and (c) the media. This should have been clear before but it bears repeating. Secondly, the failure of the general strike on September 29th had one major effect: as we warned, the government felt it could move on and get away with anything. Thirdly, the PSOE has once again displayed a flagrant disregard for workers' rights. The state of alert has set a nasty new precedent. By breaking one of the last taboos of Spanish democracy (the army permitted to take command of civilian infrastructure and the militarisation of civilian staff), the PSOE has made Spain a less just, more dangerous country. Now the cat is out of the bag, we can only wait and see when the state of alert will next be used.

We've been warned by the PSOE not to undertake more strikes against its dismantling of Spain's social system and public infrastructure. Now is the time for another general strike. This time, lets make sure it works.

Reference links:

http://www.diariodemallorca.es/mallorca/2010/11/28/razones-atasco-acabado/623975.html

http://www.corrientemarxista.org/estado-espanol/9-estado-espanol/348-decretado-el-estado-de-alarma.html