Category Archives: Language

Alternative poll: is requiring a nivell C certificate for all civil servants “the same” as the forced tattooing of Jewish prisoners in Nazi concentration camps?

Because some people think it’s the same thing. Just wondering what visitors to thebadrash think about this issue.

In the nazi concentration camps the prisioners had to have a number printed on their skin – for being considered a genuine catalan you need to provide your catalan certificate in order to work. Could anyone tell me where are the differences?

Yeah, seriously. Or perhaps I’m the crazy one.

thebadPoll – should everyone understand Catalan?

I’ve been planning to add a polls feature to thebadrash for quite some time. Then South of Watford and Iberian Notes did it, so I thought I’d better hold off for a bit. Anyway, here’s the first one, and I’ve chosen a topic which has come up, yet again, in the Catalan news.

The Constitutional court in Madrid is deliberating on potential changes to the Catalan statute of autonomy, approved by referendum here about two years ago. One of the clauses that might be removed is the bit that says that people living in Catalonia should know Catalan. It’s basically copied from the Spanish constitution, which makes a similar demand in support of Spanish.

So my question is simple: in your opinion, should people living and working in Catalonia be able to understand Catalan? You can vote below in this post, or at the top of the sidebar to the right >>>>

UPDATE: By the way, I’ll try to run at least one of these each week, so it’ll be a regular feature. Of course, as well as voting, you are more than welcome to comment on the question or your response using the traditional comments system. Let me know if you have any problems voting, too.

Fox News and the ‘split’ vote

If you haven’t seen this video, it’s quite amusing. A Fox News Channel roving reporter asks the customers in a diner somewhere in Pennsylvania who they’re planning to vote for, and the vast majority raise their hands for Barack Obama.


My question: does the word ‘split’ always imply ‘into equal parts’? Or does the presence of a couple of McCain supporters actually make the ‘split’ word accurate, if still misleading?

Guardia Civil: “Esto es España, hable en español”

This story was sent to me by a fellow traveller.

Apparently, the mayor of pretty Montblanc in Tarragona province received a court summons for ‘disobeying authority’ after an incident with some cops over the weekend. Mayor Josep Andreu, of the left-wing Catalan nationalists, ERC, and a town councillor apparently came upon a police control point and approached the Policia Local and Guardia Civil officers in order to find out what was going on. The mayor spoke to the Guardia officers in Catalan but was told “This is Spain, you speak in Spanish”. Not the sort of line that goes down very well with any Catalan, sounding as it does, very much like something out of the dark years of the dictatorship… and even more so if you happen to be a politician in ERC.

Anyway, some sort of row ensued with the mayor refusing to identify himself until he had the officers’ names. Eventually, he showed his ID card and was allowed to leave, only to receive the summons a few days later.

Two things stike me as a bit mad in this story: firstly, I’ve been told that most Guardia Civil officers in rural Catalonia speak Catalan and are pretty jovial fellows, so long as you don’t get on the wrong side of them. So perhaps Senyor Andreu has already had some sort of falling out with them which precipitated this incident. Either that or the Guardia in question is a complete prick… both are utterly possible. Secondly, what the hell kind of offence is ‘disobeying authority’ anyway? I can’t help but think that it was inspired by one Eric Cartman of South Park, Colorado… or perhaps that should be the other way around?


Nazi Pop Twins documentary

Prussian Blue - the Nazi Pop TwinsYesterday, after watching Pirates of the Caribbean 3 (0/1) and Turistas (1/1) we flicked over to More 4 to watch a documentary which was first broadcast in July this year. It concerned Lamb and Lynx Gaede, the teenaged twins who comprise Prussian Blue, a Nazi pop band. I’d heard of Prussian Blue before, probably through the Popbitch message-board, but had never really given them much thought. The documentary offered some insight into these Nazi pop twins and the way they were manipulated and pushed around by their scary mother, April. The twins, aged around 14 or 15 in the film, were clearly? trying to distance themselves somewhat from the White Pride / National Vanguard movements.

The film was naturally full of unpleasant views , mostly espoused by the awful April and her equally unpleasant father. At onepoint, during a small argument about signing CDs for members of the White Pride movement, April could be heard saying to one of her daughters that she should help out for a bit and that “Then you can be as much of a cunt as you like for the rest of the evening”. I hope that Lynx and Lamb find the strength to make the break with the atrocious philosophy forced on them by their mother. She’s one of those annoying people, incidentally, who doesn’t understand language or logic: the thought that she could define racism and that what she promoted wasn’t racism because she didn’t call it that. Sorry, it doesn’t work that way.

Anyway, the documentary is well worth watching. It should be noted that such families are extremely rare in the USA… failure to remember this would be thoroughly anti-American.The reason they don’t make many documentaries about all the other, normal families is that they probably wouldn’t be as interesting as a film about some Nazi Pop Twins.

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.

Expats against immigration!

The BBC’s got a story on how some expats living in Spain are getting involved in Spanish municipal elections. All EU citizens are eligible to vote – or stand – in council elections. I mentioned last week that I’ll be voting for the Green/United Left (aka the communists) as they’ve done a lot to improve both the look and the feel of Cerdanyola.

Much further south (the traditional home of the British expat), people haven’t got so much to be grateful for. Successive administrations from the PP, the PSOE and other parties have been criticised for large-scale corruption, especially in their dealings with land and building permissions.

So some Spaniards and ex-pats have united in a party called ‘Progreso y Orden‘ (Progress and Order). The party’s platform is to do away with those problems that ruin life in la Vega Baja of Alicante. Problems like corrupt politicians, excessive land speculation, ‘delinquency’, drug use and… immigration! Unusual as it may seem, non-Spaniards are involved with a Spanish party which is opposed to immigration. As you might have guessed, I smelled a rat. A big fat racist rat.

So I had a look at Progress and Order’s homepage (web geek’s observation: probably the worst designed website in existence: I had to use Firefox’s ‘Page info’ dialogue to navigate the site!) (Updated: here’s the link to their homepage!). When I eventually managed to find the Spanish language ‘About us’ page, I found out a lot about the founder of Order and Progress. He’s called Fernando Gadea. He’s an ex Guardia Civil (not that there’s anything wrong with that), an ‘intelligence expert’, an expert in ‘electronic security systems’, a former Spanish legionnaire and a former municipal official. He spends quite a lot of time talking about himself (even more than I do in my ‘About’ section), and seems to be your typical ex-military, ex-Guardia, private detective sort of nice chap.

Unfortunately, he forgot to mention one thing on his new party’s site which might be of interest to residents of San Fulgenio, as well as the BBC journalists who missed this little tidbit. When he was a ‘concejal’ (town councillor), he was there as a listed member of España 2000. Those of you who haven’t heard of España 2000 can check out its Wikipedia entry which is both accurate and amusing. Other Nazis in Spain consider them to be something of a joke. A splinter-group of theirs is apparently based in Catalonia, and puts up stickers in Cerdanyola which call for the repatriation of ‘non-Spaniards’ (which we can assume doesn’t include wealthy Brits or Germans: the photos all seem to be of Muslims).

So there you go… not exactly surprising that a party called Order and Progress is a bit dodgy. The BBC should probably have done some better research for their story, as it would have been interesting to read a ‘Brits and Germans in far-right Spain pact’ headline, but never mind. It’s also worth noting that not all Brits in Spain are voting for the local equivalent of the BNP. While many expats see fit to spew invective about the ‘Asians’ back home, there are plenty of us who didn’t leave home because we were sick of seeing brown faces everywhere.

As has been reported on other blogs, British involvement in Spanish politics doesn’t stop at San Fulgencio. Bernie Ecclestone, short-arsed owner of the Formula One franchise, has just announced that there’ll be a new Grand Prix in Valencia ciutat. But only if the electorate remember to vote PP in the regional elections, as the local party boss is a chum. What a revolting little episode. I’m boycotting it. But good luck, Lewis, anyway!

The new ‘anti-nacionalismo’

Spanish-language blog, El Siglo de las Luces, has a well written and interesting post about moves by the Spanish right to expand its influence by forming and supporting supposed NGOs and pressure groups around the country. These groups traditionally start out as single-issue before becoming more and more embroiled in the two topics which seem to excite the political extremes in this country: left versus right; and the question of nationalism (this term usually only referring to Catalan and Basque nationalism/separatism.

The classic example of this is the AVT (Association of Victims of Terrorism). Ostensibly formed as a support/pressure group for victims of ETA and their families, the AVT long ago became a sort of rent-a-mob for high profile, low impact demonstrations in Madrid where protesters gnash their teeth and do the whole Two Minutes Hate thing.

I’ve written about the AVT before (I stand by everything I wrote six months ago) and currently words fail me to describe how bitterly I dislike their nasty mixture of pressure politics, rhetoric and sheer anti-reason. There is simply no point in attempting an ordinary criticism of the AVT because they are so astoundingly out of it. Sometimes, I think it’s part of a clever plot to utterly confound critics: where do I start? they’ve opened a battle against logic on so many fronts that I get headaches just trying to list them.

Instead, I recommend reading that blog post at El Siglo de las Luces. And consider that even though it may not be working that well, the PP’s strategy is pretty clever. By politicising members of the Spanish working class (nominally against one thing they don’t like, e.g. subsidies for Catalan language, ETA, etc), the PP have forged a plan which, should it eventually start working, could well extend their platform of support and – more importantly – their political influence throughout Spain.

Those horrid Catalans

Whenever the topic of Catalan devolution is argued about, at least one person will draw attention to the ‘fact’ that Catalans are rude and horrible people. The argument, though it has absolutely no bearing on the topic of devolution, is fallacious, and is employed as a tactic to make the debate about the conduct of Catalans rather than the fact of their desire for further devolution from Spain.

The classic form of this argument is: “Why should I have to speak in Catalan when I know they speak Spanish?“. This is generally asked by foreign visitors to Barcelona who have allegedly undergone awful treatment at the hands of vicious Catalan waiters, shop-keepers and officials all intent on making their lives a misery.

My first response to the question is that it’s just good manners to make an effort to connect with people when you come to their country. If I have dinner at a house where they say grace before eating, I don’t just sit on the sofa with the TV on waiting for them to finish. I’ll go along with it, bow my head and say Amen with the rest of them. Similarly, in Catalonia, I’ll make an effort to say just a few words in Catalan: of course people here speak Spanish, but a lot of them speak English too and would we really expect them to deal with us only in the language most convenient to ourselves? This smacks of a huge double-standard. Is it really the Catalans who are obstructing communication? Or is it the people who refuse to make any effort whatsoever to use the local language?

My second argument is much simpler: this never happens anyway. Catalans do not refuse to speak in Spanish to people. This is a lie which is bandied about by people who’ve had some sort of bad experience here. How can I make this claim, I hear you ask? Simple: I’ve lived here for four years. In this time, I’ve visited numerous (hundreds) of bars, restaurants, night clubs, shops, bakeries, offices of the state and businesses. From Cadaques to the Ebre, from Vic and Lleida to Sort and Tarragona, I’ve travelled all around this country and not once have I experienced this alleged rudeness. I’ve probably had contact with thousands of Catalans and not a single one has ever treated me in this way.

Indeed, my experiences suggest that the true situation is the opposite of what the original question suggests: I have found that if I’m talking with a Catalan and trying to get by in Catalan, they will invariably switch to Spanish or English to make things easier for me. This can be very frustrating when you’re trying to learn Catalan, but it’s done out of courtesy and kindness rather than any malicious intent.

Why is it then that my experiences with Catalans and language seem so totally contradictory to those of the complainers? I can only assume that the extent of this rudeness and bad behaviour is grossly exagerrated by people who have a fixed anti-Catalan agenda.