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.

48 thoughts on “On the Catalan language

  1. ERC are the fourth biggest party in Catalonia.

    1. CiU (48 seats)
    2. PSC.CpC (42)
    3. ERC (21)
    4. PP (14)
    5. ICV-EUiA (12)
    6. C’s (3)

    Third.

    Speaking of Catalan in schools… First of all, never forget that:
    – Catalan is the only original language in Catalonia. If we speak Spanish too, it’s beacause of a) Spanish domination b) Spanish immigrants (like my grandparents).
    – There’s only a language in danger, only a language which is spoken less and worse than the other one, only one must be protected to avoid its extinction. Let’s face it, Spanish is not gonna dissapear.
    So, because Catalan is our only original language and it’s in danger, it’s understandable why Catalan government tries to protect it.
    I don’t know if that law is the way to do it right, but for sure teachers in public schools (if they ain’t teaching Spanish, English, French…) must speak Catalan. Like English teachers speak English in England and Italian teachers speak Italian in Italy. Moreover, because of the specific situation of Catalan language, teachers must be an example for students. They gotta speak it properly so students can learn it right and fluently.
    This doesn’t mean you gotta be banning students from speaking Spanish all the time, that would be a terrible mistake. But the Catalan public school system has to be Catalan, like it’s Spanish in Spain.
    I don’t see where’s the fascism here. What would happen if a French teacher started teaching in Arabic in some Paris’ suburb?
    Finally, I don’t get it why being nationalist is that bad. I do hate when people starts with nationalism and rapidly links it with racism or fascisim. Come on! Let’s be adult and accept it is normal to love your country and your culture and you ain’t no Hitler if you try to protect them.

  2. Nationalism isn’t about loving your country. That’s patriotism. Nationalism is about discriminating against members of other nationalities on the grounds of your and their nationality. It means believing that your nation is superior to others and treating people on that basis.

    One of my good friends is a Catalan from Hospitalet who has just finished his Ph.D. on the historical influence of Spanish on Catalan language. Despite wishful thinking to the contrary, languages do not develop in isolation but are constantly evolving and deriving form and function from languages that adjoin them and from the people who use them. If the people of a particular region WANT to speak Catalan, let them; if they want to speak Spanish, let them. If the only reason to retain a language is so that one group of people can artificially retain their distinctiveness, I think that’s a good argument for letting it die.

  3. Patriotism, nationalism… Don’t discuss about the words. Over here, we mean the same with patriotism and nationalism.
    I guess it’s so easy for you to say “let it die if the only way to preserve it is artifical” and bla bla bla cause your culture and language ain’t going to disappear. You just have to check out why Catalan is in danger. Look for the reasons.
    What if Germany decides to declare a war to Sweden, conquers the country and then 10 milions of germans move to Sweden. Obviously, Swedish language and culture would be in a serious trouble and you may say once Sweden recovers and gains a lil bit of liberty their laws to protect Swedish are artifical but there’s no other way. IT’S NOT THAT CATALANS HAVE SUDDENLY ABANDONED CATALAN FOR SPANISH. They defeated us in a war, conquered us and then we recieved milions of Spanish immigrants.

  4. It seems to me that Catalan is not in any immediate danger, due to the fact that millions of people speak it. However it is probably good to start taking mesures now to safegaurd its future. And I agree with grey, the nature of problems faced by Catalan have been forced, so it is fair that the soltuion to its problems may have to be somewhat forced. I dont mean literally forced. Anyway we should all be speaking Unwinese.

  5. It’s interesting to discuss this issue because I’m in Ireland, where the same debate has been taking place for years over the Irish language and its displacement by a “foreign” language of an occupier and oppressor. There isn’t the same sense of urgency here, however, because Irish people HAVE largely abandoned Irish, to some extent because the government tried to force people to learn it and in the process made it seem boring and irrelevant. There is some talk again of trying to enforce its use in the Gaeltacht, but I suspect this will serve to drive away investment, tourists, and even the resident population.

    However, just to be clear: I didn’t say, regarding Catalan “let it die if the only way to retain it is artificial,” despite your use of quotation marks. I said that that it would be a good idea to let a language die if it is being artificially retained just so that a group of people can retain their distinctiveness from others.

    It’s also interesting, if true, that patriotism and nationalism mean the same thing where you are. Is your patriotism based on the love of your own country or just hatred of someone else’s?

  6. I don’t think the exact literal definitions of the words patriotism and nationalism is the issue here.

  7. Oh right,
    His tone honestly doesn’t strike me as aggressive or intolerant.
    Anyway, I’ll leave you two to it.
    Peace.

  8. An entire sentence in capital letters, my argument characterised as “bla, bla, bla,” and my words misquoted and exaggerated. That doesn’t strike you as aggressive? Not even rude?

    Never mind. I shan’t be saying any more.

    Peace back atcha.

  9. Hey, I didn’t want to be agressive but clear. I just wanted to make it clear, that’s all. Perhapsit’s my latin passion that makes you think I don’t treat you with respect. I’m sorry.

    Anyway, it’s interesting I’m discussing this with an Irish and I think it’s quite interesting to see the differences between historically opressed nations from south and north. For us, it’s absolutely unbelieveble you stopped speaking your original language. Same in Scotland and more or less the same in Wales. Here in the south, language is like the most important symbol of a language. Language is what we created and it is the way it is because we are different than our neighbours. On the other hand, you still consider yourselves (no-english people in the Islands) a different nation but you’ve lost your language.
    While we’d consider practically dead if Catalan disappears, you didn’t treat it like something very important.

  10. Fuck, I can’t do two things at the same time. Especially if one of them is speaking English. I’m sorry for my mistakes. Hope you understand me.

    “is the most important symbol of a NATION”

    “while we’d consider OUR NATION…”

    The other mistakes are not important for comprehension, I guess…

  11. Tom, I am sorry but I think that you have missed the point of Esquerra -again.
    (http://www.thebadrash.com/2007/05/31/erc-breaks-tripartit-in-barcelona)

    The ERC proposal has been, unsurprisingly, manipulated by the pro-Spanish press. Nothing was going to be “illegal”. What ERC actually proposed is that teachers, during school hours, should always try to address pupils in Catalan and that this should be formalised in a protocol within each school. There is nothing fascist or nationalist about this: it is just common sense.

    Similar policies are in place in France (where teachers are not allowed to speak Arabic or any other language to students during schools hours) or in Belgium, both in Flanders (Flemish) and Wallonia (French). This kind of policy helps to integrate immigrants and to have a more cohesive society. In any case, after the media onslaught (another one) ERC has now backed down, so the proposal, like many others, will not go further. A storm in a teacup, and always stirred up by the same “friendly” press: La Vanguardia, El País and El Periodico.

    Your second paragraph is quite dreadful I am sorry to say: “Unfortunately, the dominant front in ERC is extremely nationalist and sometimes verges on the racist.”.
    If there was any nationalist or quasi-racist element dominant in ERC as you seem to believe, I can guarantee you than my mum (immigrant from Cadiz when she was 12) would not vote ERC. My mom does not speak Catalan. She, like thousands of people in the Barcelona area who emigrated from the south of Spain, votes for ERC. They have realised that ERC is the only party that stands for Catalonia AND for social justice. You are quite wrong too in assuming that you would not be welcome to ERC. Quite the opposite: the fact that you are English puts you in an advantageous situation, almost in any party apart from the PP probably. You should know by now that Catalans find fascinating the fact that England will allow Scotland to exercise her right of self-determination freely. There is no English army general threatening to roll over the tanks on Princes St should the SNP achieve a clear mandate for independence. There is no Bono or Ibarra, or a PP or a COPE or a Acebes/Zaplana in the UK. Your democratic genes (as an Englishman) would be very welcome in ERC and you would be subjected to endless questioning about the UK and how it does compare with Spain. I suggest you try to go with your girlfriend to ERC barraques one day, and have a drink or two, whenever the opportunity arises in your area. (Festa Major).

    However, I could not agree more with your last paragraph. For some reason, some of the ex-pats living in Catalonia are quite hostile to Catalan culture and language. Whether it is laziness or a fear of the status quo changing , a failed business venture, or a heartbreak caused by a Catalan lover in the past (I met someone like that a few years ago) I don’t know. But they are just that: a bunch of loonies, without a clue of what Catalonia is really like, unrepresentative of anybody, obsessed in their hatred against ERC and anything that leads to full legal equality between Spanish and Catalan at all levels.

    I wonder if recently you have been reading them far too often in the high summer temperatures!! 😉

  12. Well at the risk of walking into a minefield, I’ll have my say too; based on the view of a foreigner living in Madrid. There is a significant difference between acting to preserve a language and for it to have due recognition, and acting to impose it as a dominant language. The problem now in Cataluña is that you have two nationalist parties competing to be the main one, and the only way they do it is for each to try and be more nationalist than the other one. The difference between left and right in these moments becomes almost invisible. Parties which try to mix nationalism and left wing politics almost always end up with the nationalist side winning – apart from situations like anti-colonial struggles the two things hardly ever mix well.

  13. ???? I don’t see an argument there, not even using a microscope. I read many things and I argue my case – you missed one chance to do the same.

  14. “Parties which try to mix nationalism and left wing politics almost always end up with the nationalist side winning”

    To my mind this looks like a pretty good description of the conundrum the PSOE have traditionally found themselves in. In a country like Spain there can be simply no “leftwing Spanish nationalism”. All lefties who have ever fallen for it wind up sooner or later in the middle of a military exercise yard being put through their paces by the unforgiving Spanish Right. Like all roads lead to Rome, all strands of Spanish nationalism eventually converge in sheer & retrograde reaction.

  15. The problem is that “left wing” regional nationalism also goes in the same direction. ERC’s main competitor for votes is the right wing wing CiU, not the national “left wing” parties. ERC is pulling out of the alliance with the PSOE and Izquierda Unida on nationalist grounds, nothing else. It’s worried that it loses nationalist votes by alliances based on social policy rather than the national question.

  16. I wouldn’t be so sure about ERC’s chief competitor being CiU…remember, Catalonia is not like the Basque Country. The PSC, unlike the PSOE, isn’t a party too keen on waving the “rojigualda”. The main dividing line in Catalonia isn´t about Spanish or Catalan, but rather the rift between Left and Right.

    What chances would the Left be left with in Spain as a whole anyway, without its age-old strongholds in Catalonia and Andalusia? I’ll leave it to you to do the maths. I suppose this combination of leftwing hegemony with a questioning of the very essence of the Spanish State by the mere fact of existing is the reason why the Spanish powers that be have always viewed Catalonia with a deep-seated distrust.

  17. And, anyway, let’s face it: are there any real “leftwing” parties to speak of, national, regional or otherwise? A scrutiny of their paltry social policies across the board would make the Bavarian CSU appear as dangerous, subversive anarcho-syndicalists by comparison.

  18. I think its fair to say that the rise of ERC in recent years has been mostly at the expense of CiU, and the reversal of that trend very recently is what has provoked the swing in ERC back to more hardline nationalism. Some parts of Cataluña are important sources of votes for the left, but that is mostly Barcelona and the surrounding region. On the question of whether any of them are left wing at all I’m more in agreement with you – but thats not just a Spanish problem.

  19. “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.”

    Tom, can you provide some article links to those blogs that give this impression?

    I’ve never encountered such a blog that is silly enough to state such a thing, but some people do use statements just like the one above when trying to make their own point.

  20. Ok, I’ve slept for 12 hours and no hangover is gonna stop this (like the other day).

    About nationalism and left-wing. It’s absolutely impossible to make such a statement. First of all, PSOE and PP are both Spanish-nationalist parties. Why? Because they fight for the unity of the Spanish state and they would never let us decide if we wanna be part of it. Moreover, they would really like to live in a more homogeneous place where minorities’ languages and traditions were weaker (like in France). On the other hand, IU is not nationalist because, while they fight for a federal Spain, they would eventually understand we don’t wanna be a part of it.
    I’d like you to remember classical examples of left-wing (nice and ugly, cool and uncool) and nationalism: South-American indigenous guerrillas, Stalin (remember ‘russification’?), Slovakian independentists…

    Now we know left-wing and nationalism is a quite normal combination and that it has actually taken place in our recent history, let’s see if Catalan politics are a more left-wing or Spanish-Catalan thing.
    Understanding Catalonia is not so easy cause we really are a complex society. First of all, it is not possible to analyse Catalonia like Basque Country. In Basque Country it’s pretty clear the main point in their politics is Basque-Spanish. Things are changing a little bit cause there’s some people in PNV (leaded by Josu Jon Imaz) that are abandoning a strict nationalist attitude and also PSOE-PSE is moving to a less Spanish-nationalist attitude (leaded by Patxi López). Anyway, it’s still very very clear Basque politics move around Spanish-Basque nationalitites cause PNV (conservative) has always prefered to make alliances with left-wing Basque parties than other Spanish conservatives like PP. Even though things are experiecing a modest change in the last few years, there have always been two sides: PP/PSOE (Spanish) & PNV/Left-wing independentists (Basque).
    Why does Catalonia not work like that? Because of our own nature as a nation. After all, Catalans and Spaniards are all Latin people, which means an understanding between us is not that hard. Catalonia has never been a closed country (like Basque country has been). We’re open-minded and even Catalan farmers with 1000 years of Catalan roots (like my grandfather) got married with Spanish immigrants when they came after the war. So, the Spanish immigration after the war and during the 60’s mixed with Catalan society and we never exeperienced a divided social structure around the Catalan/Spanish issue.
    What do we care about when we are going to vote? Spain/Catalonia? Right/Left-wing? Both and it depends only on every single person if one of these two elements is more important than the other. No generalitzation is possible here.
    There’s only a strict Spanish-nationalist party in Catalonia, PP (always isolated in the Parliament, getting the same votes in every election). Like someone said before, PSC is quite different than PSOE and Basque socialists they are not firmly pro-Spanish but federalists. And most of their member come from a large Catalanist tradition (like president Maragall). But, wait a sec, even Montilla (who’s actually Andalusian, do you imagine an Andalusian president in Basque Country? I don’t) supports our language policies in public schools, he says we’re a nation and is councious about our national issues. Let’s think about it! Please! It’s not a Catalan-nationalist party who made the last law about it! It’s an Andalusian president who actually supports it! You don’t need more examples to check out that both left/right-wing and Spain/Catlonia issues are relevant here (ERC with no-nationalist left-wing parties in the government, CiU making friends both with PP and PSOE, etc.).

  21. Plenty of blogs around peddling that kind of bilge, I should think. Not that this is in the least surprising. The smug, wholesale lambasting of minorities along with their languages and cultures seems to be a pastime much favoured by otherwise-challenged, self-appointed ‘citizens of the world’.

  22. Tbe reasons behind the steep rise of ERC in recent times are fare more complex and manifold, as tends to be the case with Catalan politics. They’ve drawn a fair share of votes from CiU discontents, that´s true, particularly after Pujol pledged support for Aznar during his first term in office. Subsequently, Aznar went on to win a second term outright, ditched the Catalan (moderate) Right and got Spain into the Iraq mess. All this certainly spelled a lot of trouble for CiU, especially in a country with a deep-seated culture of anti-mility feeling like Catalonia, where such traditions go back centuries. However, ERC also appears to have been successful in capturing support from first-time voters and abstentionists, along with a fringe of leftwing voters disappointed at the lacklustre policies of the mainstream Left. Carod Rovira was quite clear about this when he appealed to former militants of the far Left to support his party by calling the roll parties and organisations engaged in the underground struggle against Francoism, including Trotskyites, workerists, leftwing Socialists, post Maoists, etc. He acknowledged the fact that many former militants felt deeply frustrated by the way things had turned out after the first few heady years of political transition and insisted that his was the only party still effectively challenging the post-Franco status quo so many Catalan leftists had tried to overturn in vain.

  23. I’m afraid I’ll have to repost this for the sake of intelligibility, sorry:
    The reasons behind the steep rise of ERC in recent times are fare more complex and manifold, as tends to be the case with Catalan politics. They’ve drawn a fair share of votes from CiU discontents, that´s true, particularly after Pujol pledged support for Aznar during his first term in office. Subsequently, Aznar went on to win a second term outright, ditched the Catalan (moderate) Right and got Spain into the Iraq mess. All this certainly spelled a lot of trouble for CiU, especially in a country with a deep-seated culture of anti-military feeling like Catalonia, where such traditions go back centuries. However, ERC also appears to have been successful in capturing support from first-time voters and abstentionists, along with a fringe of leftwing voters disappointed at the lacklustre policies of the mainstream Left. Carod Rovira was quite clear about this when he appealed to former militants of the far Left to support his party by calling the roll of parties and organisations engaged in the underground struggle against Francoism, including Trotskyites, workerists, leftwing Socialists, post Maoists, etc. He acknowledged the fact that many former militants felt deeply frustrated by the way things had turned out after the first few heady years of political transition and insisted that his was the only party still effectively challenging the post-Franco status-quo so many Catalan leftists had tried to overturn in vain.

  24. + Grey, nice one to remind everyone that PSOE and PP are also nationalist parties, especially the PP, whose electoral base ranges from liberal free-marketeers, to catholic populists and far-right Franco nostalgics. The usual suspects in the blogosphere usually keep quiet about the PP’s dirty little secret. Their apologetic discourse for such an extremist party betrays their own bias. I would only add that you forget Ciudadanos in your list of Spanish nationalist parties.

    + David: I could not agree more with you. ERC is the only party that wants to change the status quo we inherited from the failed Transición and that’s why so many people hate it so much.

    In general, I can’t help thinking that most of our new Catalans do not understand the country as well as they think. They believe that everyone who votes for ERC is a madman or something. Well, my mum, an immigrant from Cadiz, votes ERC and she does not speak Catalan much…There are thousands like her.

    What some in the ex-pat community need to realise and accept once and for all is that ERC is the third party in the Catalan parliament and that is very unlikely to change, despite the constant hostile media coverage. The only truly extremist party in Catalonia are the PP and their appendix of Ciudadanos.

  25. “The only truly extremist party in Catalonia are the PP and their appendix of Ciudadanos”

    As chance would have it, both parties have activated the self-destruct countdown in the last few days just within hours of each other. I wonder to what extent the ongoing split(s) among Ciudadanos and the Stalin-like purge of moderate Joe Pique in the Catalan PP by hardliner Acebes, sent to BCN on terminator mission from Madrid headquarters, have anything to do with Basta Ya regrouping as a new Spanish National Front across the left-right divide and trying to become Spain’s third most voted party and kingmaker par excellence, thus effectively forcing both Basques and Catalans into politically irrelevant roles.

  26. Spot on stuff, Tom.

    Catalan Nationalists are, in the vast majority, middle class. Catalan nationalism hence tends to support their interests. Esquerra certainly have more concern for public services than CiU did, and Carod has had some grand ideas about people taking on board a sort of ‘public-service nationalism’ (if they see nationalism delivering public services, they’ll vote nationalist), but this also dillutes and detracts from the purity of the nationalist message. The core support of the party is more interested in the nationalist side of things. And the divide in Esquerra will push it further towards nationalism.

    Nationalism in itself is not necessarily good or bad, it’s just a way of whipping up support for a certain cause. In Catalonia that’s been the perpetuation of the privileged position of established Catalan-speaking and -feeling middle class, and a way of drawing attention away from government ineptitude. As mentioned earlier, it’s also been used for worthy causes, such as in anti-colonial struggles, but in Catalonia the social make-up of scoiety means nationalism is a middle-class affair.

    Catalan Nationalism can’t empower the working classes without first converting them to its cause, which is nigh on impossible with the methods it uses. So it excludes and derides anyone not ‘on board'(anti-Catalans, Fatxes, malintegrats etc.)

    Nationalism is a bit of a luxury here though at the moment. With public services feeling the strain of 23 years of neglect and house prices, mortgage payments and flat rentals through the roof, people are likely to opt for what suits their immediate needs, especially the working classes, so messages about “desconexió” (Carod’s latest euphemism for independence) are unlikely to hold much sway.

    Whereas a previous generation felt a debt to nationalism for its role in the fight for democracy, the younger generations, especially in the BCN area, see it as something quite alien which does little except dominate dull debates in minority-viewing slots on Canal33.

  27. “Nationalism is a bit of a luxury here though at the moment. With public services feeling the strain of 23 years of neglect…”

    I beg to differ Daniel. The reason for the under-investment in public services and infrastructure is the disgraceful fiscal deficit Catalonia has to put up with, something without precedent in Western Europe. During the early years of democracy, fiscal deficit used to be in the 5-7% range but since the second legislature of the PP it doubled to an extortionate 12-15%. In Germany, they have a law whereby the maximum fiscal deficit for any Land is 4%.

    The reason for this fiscal deficit is purely political, a way to punish Catalonia and restraint its economic development, and they only way to reverse this fiscal robbery is by political means, ie: voting for parties that want to put a stop to it, which in practice means voting for ERC, and CiU to a lesser extent. Therefore, nationalism or “sovereignty” is the only solution to the chronic under-investment in Catalan public services.

    I admit though that neither ERC has not been very apt at explaining the fiscal deficit issue to the Catalan public, however, one has to concede that ERC does not have any friendly media through which it could explain its policies to the masses. If anything, it is quite extraordinary the ERC is the third party in Catalonia despite the constant criminalisation and hostility by the establishment media.

  28. But Rab, it’s like I said, nationalism is used to draw attention away from government ineptitude. You bring up the deficit fiscal and it’s all Madrid’s fault, and nobody mentions the gross misuse of funds under CiU.

    Why did CiU choose to dole out money to newspapers (including La Vanguardia, for fuck’s sake) to ensure they were on message rather than invest in hospitals, nurseries etc? Why let your mates build hospitals and then pay for the services rather than build hospitals and not have to pay for the services indefinitely? Why use the ICF to subsidise loss-making firms run by mates? Why have two publicly-funded TV stations and cut social spending at the same time? Why reject money from Madrid to desdoblar the Eix Transversal and then complain about infrastructure shortages? Why give money to elite Opus Dei run schools?

    It comes down to preferences at the end of the day, and the preferences of CiU were to help out mates and ensure a long stay in power via media control rather than invest in social services (spending on this went down as a “percentage” of the money available under CiU).

    The problem with explaining the deficit fiscal is that the idiots that try to do it always come out with the old “paguem més, per tant hauriem de rebre més”, when they should really be trying to explain that Catalonia has needs to meet and thus needs the money (the needs arising from 23 years of misspending). You don’t receive government money as a direct percentage of what you contribute.

    Regarding Esquerra-friendly media, I’d have thought Avui fitted the bill.

  29. If only it were so easy, Daniel. The way you put it, Catalan Nationalism comes across as a conspiracy theory of sorts, a social-engineering mechanism that can be switched on and off at will, just to uphold the interests of the Catalan ruling classes. This description would actually fit the Italian Lega Nord much better than it would anything happening around here. Catalan Nationalism, a by-product of Spain’s sheer inability to modernise as a capitalist state, has been with us for the better part of the last 150 years and it doesn’t look like government-tolerated real-estate speculation & rocketing property prices are going to make it vanish into thin air in the near future.

    I agree Catalan Nationalism is first and foremost a middle-class concern, but, like it or not, one that goes against the grain of the idea of Greater Spain worshipped by fascists and reactionaries. So long as the Spanish left cannot break loose from its atavistic dreams of imperial glory Catalan Nationalism will be seen by many, also outside Catalonia, as a progressive force. This is also the dilemma facing the working classes in Catalonia: many view – not without reason – Catalan Nationalism as intrinsically middle class, and yet, owing to the nature of these things, there’s no neutral default option. Whatever ‘nationalism-free’ social spaces there might appear tend to be seized in the short or the long run by forces with an agenda hostile to Catalanism and, by extension, to Catalan language and culture, thereby pandering more or less explicitly to old-fashioned Spanish nationalism and coming full circle on the issue.

  30. I’d have thought ‘Avui’ was run by folks from the ‘Catalunya Oberta’ foundation. Business-friendly as they are, you can hardly expect these CiU bigshots to give up on any readers whatsoever. Hence the slot allocated to contributors with ERC leanings.

  31. David,
    The main beneficiaries of Catalan nationalism are the ruling classes, so yes, I do see it as a mechanism for ensuring that nobody from outside their group gets their hands on the levers and spoils of power.

    I don’t think Catalan Nationalism is going to disappear overnight, but it’s definitely on the wane. I work with young people and over the past 5 years I’ve noticed a big drop in the amount of youngsters who are committed to nationalism (the ones that are interested have become more radical though). I do straw polls with quite large samples of 18-21 year-olds and 5 years ago about 80% were voting Esquerra (when it was a bit of an unknown quantity), now that’s down to about 30%.

    I agree that the lack of an attractive alternative option is a problem, especially for young people.

    I don’t pick Avui up very often, but the content has always seemed fairly hard-line nationalist to me and more or less in line with the ideas of ERC.

  32. Exactly my point. If Spanish nationalism is unacceptable, you presumably don’t want Catalan nationalism to copy its worst aspects, do you? Nationalism as a tool to benefit the privileged few is not good wherever it happens.

    I would say that Esquerra’s nationalism takes a different tack from CiU’s though (to which I have been mainly referring) and does take a broader look at society rather than just considering its own boys. Unfortunately, the grand idea of creating mass interest in independence is more about moulding society to its own ideas rather than reflecting society, and as such is unlikely to get off the ground. And though Esquerra’s key ideas (at least those emanating from Carod’s circle) do have a certain logic to them, when it comes to policy ideas, they simply do what their ‘bases’ (middle-class nationalists of a slightly more intransigent bent) expect of them and abandon their integrationist philosophy. Carod regularly mentions depoliticising the language, which makes sense, but then comes up with policies such as the playground language police referred to in Tom’s original piece.

  33. Catalan nationalism cannot possibly replicate the worst excesses of Spanish nationalism -or come to that, of the much more subtle and capable French nationalism, the mother of all modern state-nationalisms as we know them, see Turkey- no matter how hard it tried and how futile and pathetic the attempt. For that kind of thing the Catalans would need to avail themselves of their own state with a monopoly on the use of violence.
    Catalan nationalism, as Daniel has pointed out above and is often the case with nationalism, is not intrinsically progressive or regressive. In fact it can go both ways, as borne out by its century-old history of shifting alliances with Spanish mainstream parties. On the other hand, though, ever since its inception Catalan nationalism has always had to contend with another nationalism -namely Spanish- for hegemony over the same territory. It is thus the nationalism of a minority group within the larger framework of a Spanish state traditionally hostile to notions of multiculturalism within its own borders.
    I suppose in the end it all boils down to two pretty simple facts:
    a) as conventional states go and given their track records in terms of political culture, a Catalan state would probably be less backward and authoritarian than the present Spanish one
    b) nonetheless, Catalan independence will hardly ever happen because the Catalan ruling classes have been divided over the issue ever since nationalism came into play. The issues here are mainfold: the intrinsic structural weakness of the Catalan economy, particularly vis a vis foreign trade, the all-important Spanish market, the need for a strong Spanish state to suppress the unruly working classes in Catalonia and counting.

  34. OK! Lots of comments on this post. Thanks for the comments and insults, as well as for a genuinely educational and exciting debate.

    The blogs I was referring to are not simply the product of ‘loonies’. That’s the sort of language they use – and I don’t like it. I’m pretty sure that what their position really comes down to is a hatred of socialism that obliges them to attempt to rehabilitate the truly atrocious history of Franco’s Spain. They’re revisionists, pure and simple. While popular, I don’t find being an apologist for fascism to be a particularly wholesome attitude.

    Incidentally, the same writers love to use terms like ‘national-socialist’ or ‘nationalist-socialist’ when referring to the Tripartit, PSC or most especially ERC. This has always struck me as both disingenous and malicious: the intention is clearly to give American readers the idea that these parties or government are Nazi-like. And yet, the PP – founded by fascists – is somehow simply ‘centrist’. Funny, that.

    Those of you in Catalonia: enjoy the lovely weather. I’ve just made it back to el poble (in England) and it’s pretty miserable here.

    Fins després.
    Tom

  35. Hello to all on this forum

    I can understand why Catalan people want to protect their culture and their heritage. Everybody does.
    But let’s discuss some of the arguments presented by the Catalanistas in support of their nationalist cause:
    1. Spanish language and culture were imposed upon them and they have the right to impose catalan language and culture on others:
    Catalunya was an imperialist, colonialist power. Catalans went out and conquered Sardinia, Corsica, Sicily, etc.
    If you want to be neutral and keep to yourself, you don’t go out and build an empire.
    There’s no use crying big catalanista tears about language and culture being imposed upon you when you did the same to others.

    2. Catalan language and culture must be protected:
    No problem. Do so by celebrating your culture openly and with maximum participation by catalans and non catalans alike. Open your arms to foreigners and embrace them. They will embrace you in return and marvel at your self confidence and pride; they will tell stories about how nice an experience it was to break bread with you and to dance your national dance, etc.
    Instead, catalanistas use their language to EXCLUDE others. The attitude towards non-catalans is positively negative and xenophobic. Disgusting!

    3. Catalanistas complain that they have to pay taxes to Madrid:
    One can’t help but draw a parallel with fascist Spain during the civil war: Fascists were afraid that the republicans would take their land and posessions. “Hands off our money!!”
    Catalans are privileged to occupy some prime real estate. This doesn’t mean they are better than people in Extremadura, for example. Catalans have become relatively rich with money pouring in from abroad. Gifts from the EU. Tourism. Foreigners spending their retirement savings here. Instead of being grateful, catalanistas have an attitude.

    The idea that rich provinces should keep all the money for themselves and not share with the less fortunate is based on pure greed. No wonder people in the rest of Spain have negative feelings toward catalans.

    3. FC Barcelona and catalá are national symbols.
    Language is for communication; football is a sport. Language and football are not gracefully used as political tools. Yet that is all that Barça and catalá are: crude political tools in some war for, wait for it….POWER.

    In a war for power the weak ultimately lose. Catalanistas display their weakness in their humorous belief that they exist on the peninsula of Catalunya. Ignoring the rest of Spain is not going to make it disappear.
    Strength comes from engagement, from dialogue, from inclusion. The more you separate yourself, the weaker you become. It’s funny that in today’s global village this escapes catalanistas completely.

    Until catalans start to operate from their strengths instead of their weaknesses, they will always lose, as they always have.

    Dick

  36. QUOTE: The attitude towards
    non-catalans is positively negative and xenophobic. Disgusting!

    Dick, sorry mate but that is utter rubbish. Every catalan person I have ever met has been sound and I am english. In my experience, they dont want to be spanish but they dont hate the spanish. Its your prejudiced attitude that I find disgusting. You are just living up to your name mate.

  37. I am in the priveleged position to come into contact with many foreigners on a continuous basis and they all, I repeat, all have the same opinion. Catalanista attitude towards non-catalans is ugly at best. (I said Catalanista, not Catalan.There are plenty of very simpatico catalans.)

    The reason quoted most often by foreigners who leave Catalunya is that they were made to feel unwelcome and found it almost impossible to make friends. This is mostly among younger people with whom it is fashionable to be catalanista and seperatist.

    When visiting Madrid, for example, people are shocked at the difference. After having spent a lot of time in Barcelona you almost forget what it’s like to be in a friendly city.

    Within Catalunya there is an area called Val d’Aran. It is quite isolated. The people there are notorious for treating people from the rest of Catalonia with the same disdain as with which those in Barcelona treat foreigners.

    But I’m sure Mr Morrison has never met an unfriendly Aranese person either. He’s very lucky indeed…

  38. Firstly I’d like to add that there needs to be a better definition offered of the term ‘Catalanista’. What does this word actually mean, and to whom does it refer? I don’t know if I’ve ever met someone who I’d tag ‘Catalanista’ so I’m just not convinced that there are that many of them about. Probably they’re just noisy.

    Secondly, I’d question a lot of your generalisations about Catalanistas, foreigners and the rest of Spain. I’ve travelled a fair bit in Spain and I’ve never noticed much of a difference in the treatment I’ve received. I do know, however, that my mother in law (a Manchega) got told “Fuck off you Catalan” by a Madrileño in Sevilla. I guess that means that all Madrileños are arseholes.

    Likewise, your claim that “The reason quoted most often by foreigners who leave Catalunya is that they were made to feel unwelcome and found it almost impossible to make friends” smacks of being a made up statistic. Could you back it up with some data? Also, what of the foreigners who don’t leave Catalonia? Do they stay here because of the unfriendliness or despite it? Out of the nearly 1M British citizens living in Spain, some of them must live in Catalonia and not be desperately unhappy about it. I’m one for starters.

    “Within Catalunya there is an area called Val d’Aran. It is quite isolated. The people there are notorious for treating people from the rest of Catalonia with the same disdain as with which those in Barcelona treat foreigners” yeah yeah and the Mallorquins refuse to speak Catalan with people from Barcelona. And the people of Zaragoza are racists who throw bananas at black athletes. And all Moroccans are thieves. Way to go with the stereotyping.

  39. Bullshit. That’s all you’ve written, Dick. Anyway, we Catalans don’t need no guiris to decide what we are and to judge us with such stupid prejudices. So if we are like you think we are, don’t you ever come here and tell people who thinks like you not to come either. You’ll make us a great favor. We are not just a cool city, sun, beach, cheap alcohol and bohemian bars. It’s kinda funny how a few foreigners try to adopt such pseudointelectual points of view when they actually don’t know anything about us. I don’t know what moves you to decide what we are and I’m fucking sorry if you find out we ain’t perfect Spaniards once you come here.
    Besides I’ve been in Valh D’Adran

  40. Oops… some problems with my conection. I was about to say that I’ve been in Val D’Aran many times and I haven’t suffered any discrimination for being Catalan. It is true that sometimes they joke about our city accent as we joke about countryside accent, but it’s all about healthy humour.

  41. A Catalanista is a radical, seperatist, nationalist catalan who believes Catalonia is for catalans only.

    There are plenty of them. They are not the majority, thank goodness, but they sour the experience nontheless.

    I live here despite this and so do many others. No place is perfect. As far as data is concerned, you’ll just have to take my word for it. I’m not going to divulge who I am or what I do on the internet.

    To deny that Catalans are more cerrado, as they call it is to deny something they freely admit themselves. Catalanistas exhibit an exponent of this cerrado attitude.

    The bit about Val d’Aran is a fact. Why don’t you ask Catalans who’ve been there. I’ve been there half a dozen times, both in summer and in winter.

    There are always exeptions to the rule. For instance, Scots hate the english. But during my travels there, I found one who doesn’t.

  42. “A Catalanista is a radical, seperatist, nationalist catalan who believes Catalonia is for catalans only.”

    89% of Catalan Parliament considers itself catalanist. Catalanism is just the will to protect Catalan culture, which doesn’t mean being independentist. Catalanist parties are CiU, PSC, ERC and IC. Non-catalanist parties are PPC and C’s.

    The only cerrado here is you. You don’t even know Catalan words for Catalan issues. We don’t wanna know who you are, we’d just be pleased if you leave.

  43. Dick – no, I refuse to ‘take your word for it’. No one’s asking who you are or what you do (though I’m perfectly open about my identity, check the ‘About me’ page)… but there’s no point making specific, statistical claims which you can’t back up with hard data.

    My five years in Catalonia have not once been ‘soured’ by contact with people who are proud of their heritage or language. But this is probably because I approached life in a new country with an open mind. In short, I don’t call the locals stupid or evil for believing in themselves.

    I imagine that had I adopted the position that I would never learn Catalan because it’s a waste of time, or if I decided to laugh at people who describe themselves as Catalan not Spanish, or if I expected every Catalan to be a sombrero toting expert in flamenco, I too would be feeling lonely and unwanted. But that’s because adopting those attitudes would make me a complete prick: it’s not for me to tell the people who are originally from here what they may call themselves or how they should behave.

    As to the so-called ‘cerrado’ thing, I’ve never met a Catalan who describes himself in this way. I live in a suburb of Barcelona which has large populations of Catalans and Spaniards. Both groups go to the Irish pub to get drunk, both groups moan and grumble at the Penya Barcelonista, both groups seem to enjoy the Correfoc when it marauds down their streets.

    Maybe it’s just that all the Catalans I know are perversely friendly, open, kind and cheerful.

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