Monthly Archives: July 2007

On the Catalan language

One of the big points for debate here is language. Here – as in many other places around the world – language often seems inextricably linked to culture, politics and identity. The issue of Catalan versus Castilian Spanish is probably the most abused and  over-discussed issue in Catalonia. I’m not really interested in prolonging this pretty irritating debate but I would like to try to clarify a couple of the key sticking-points.

First, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) – the Catalan Republican Left – and their language policy. ERC are the fourth biggest party in Catalonia (and third partner in the regional government, la Generalitat) and their policy is pretty much totally dictated by nationalism. Culture and language, of course, play a major role in their strategy. And from time to time, they propose policies or laws which  are frankly unbelievable. Take, for example, the proposal that it should be illegal for teachers to speak in any language but Catalan while they’re on school premises. That’s a ridiculous policy which regularly earns the well deserved moniker ‘fascist’. It is clear that their policy is directed against speakers of Castilian Spanish and thus anyone who is ‘non-Catalan’.

As far as I see, ERC consists of several different movements. I have some sympathy for the ‘republican/left’ element of the party because I’m a left-winger and would rather live in a republic than a kingdom. Unfortunately, the dominant front in ERC is extremely nationalist and sometimes verges on the racist. I get the impression that they probably wouldn’t much like me as a member, because I use the odd Spanish word when speaking Catalan. I’m not from here, remember.

The crazier of ERC’s policies are reminiscent of laws passed by Francisco Franco’s fascist dictatorship in Spain. Under the Generalissimo, the country was reinvented as the home of Catholicism, empire and homogeneity. Of course, this was  revisionism gone mad. Spain has always been an amalgamation of different kingdoms, peoples and cultures. Passing laws to cancel that out has never worked.

This is another sticking point. If you read other English-language blogs from Catalonia, you might get the impression that the story of Catalan being banned under Franco was made up by Catalan nationalists. This is completely untrue. Certain bloggers seem to have a perverse interest in undermining the history of Catalan, Catalonia and the repression during the Franco years. Make no mistake: under Franco, hundreds of laws and judgments were passed which effectively outlawed the use of the Catalan language. At best, the blogs which promulgate this myth are disingenuous. I reckon that they’re aiming for an audience-pleasing tone of contrariety, which is, after all, the natural tone for successful blogs. Doesn’t make it true, though.