- Get rid of foreigners. Or maybe they’ll be allowed to stay. Or some of them. Come back to me on this one.
- All new trade deals to replace current trade deals. (TBC).
- Nothing will change but everything will be different.
- Get rid of pseudo-democratic, opaque government. (Not Westminster, obv).
- When Britain leaves the EU, it will be able to impose steel tariffs. We will then find someone to export our steel to.
- All else is scaremongering.
“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….
Q: Can anyone who has visited the Topography of Terror museum in Berlin seriously compare Catalan civic nationalism with the atrocities of the German NSDAP?
A: Yes I can and you are a Nazi
I admit that this conversation is slightly paraphrased – I can’t be bothered to sift through all of Twitter to find the actual tweets, but that’s more or less how it went. I think I had a go at someone on Twitter for their constant use of a hashtag like #CatalanesNAZIonalistas or something. To be fair to him, he gave as good as he got and insisted that like me, he had visited the Topography of Terror museum [which, were it about almost any other topic, I’d call ‘excellent’ but that seems in rather poor taste], in fact he’d been there twice [beating me, you see] and yes, it was definitely a fair comparison. Well, you can’t argue with that, can you?
Another conversation I had went something like:
Man: Oh living in Catalonia now is like being at the Nuremberg rallies
Me: But it’s obviously not. You can’t really mean that.
Man: Yes I do they are the same [I suspect he really did punctuate properly but it this is the way I remember idiots writing]
And maybe they are. For all I know, they are the same. I mean, I wasn’t around then. All I have to go on is archival evidence, witness accounts, half a century of scholarship on the subject, hundreds of documentaries and books, and extensive museums like Berlin’s Topographie des Terrors. And that’s probably not enough. There are only two logical conclusions I can draw from this: either the initial statements are wrong and Catalonia isn’t “the same as Nuremberg” or Germany as the Nazis rose to power was a very pleasant place to live – a place in which I’d have thrived. I almost feel cheated.
For my learned friends who have shown me the truth, I only have a few questions before I settle down to life in my new fatherland. When will they burn the parliament down? Are people wearing Barça shirts the equivalent of the Print My Logo UK SA? Why don’t they beat more people up? In fact, where are all the beatings?! I was promised beatings! When will the Generalitat burn/quietly sell off all the degenerate art it owns? Why did Mas step down if he’s to lead us to the new dawn? Who’s the Catalan Julius Streicher? What the hell are they doing allowing people like the CUP to run around, causing mischief? Why can’t they get the real Nazis on board? That, for me, is a big one. They should have a quiet meeting with the real Nazis and say “Look guys it’s OK, you can stop calling us “Nazis” now: we’re real Nazis like you” and then we’d all be on the same team. Also why do they keep inviting the opposition on TV and radio. All the time. I like my totalitarians to be a little more total, dig?
It is with great sadness that we announce that Juan Arza, former correspondent on these humble pages, has stepped down as a member of Societat Civil Catalana. Not because he was caught lying. Or because he couldn’t argue his way out of a bag. No, it’s because as an activist for the PP, the poor chap couldn’t stomach SCC’s endorsement of a PSOE-Ciutadans coalition in Madrid.
When you think about it, about the only thing sadder and lonelier than being a member of SCC is being a member of the PPC. Bon vent, Juan, i barca nova. Oh and watch out for those seagulls. They can be vicious brutes.