The ‘Spanishization’ crusade of José Ignacio Wert
The Spanish government claims its education reform is based on human rights and raising academic standards. But other motives become apparent in a law that seeks to roll back the use of Catalan in the northern region’s schools. This is the first article in a two-part series.
By Alan Murphy
If we take a quick look around Spain today we see a number of issues that are clearly in need of urgent action: the judicial system is facing the rebellion of judges who are sick of the political manipulation of justice; thousands of tax-dodgers enjoy the protection of the state while tax-haven whistleblower Hervé Falciani languishes in a Spanish prison; the police are exposed as criminally complicit in a number of cases of financial scandal and political dirty tricks, as well as grossly incompetent in investigating serious crimes; the wave of suicides caused by mortgage repossession continues unabated; and leading figures from all political parties and even the royal family are on trial as alleged fraudsters. Meanwhile, nobody has any solution to the most obvious problem: the unemployment rate which puts Spain at the bottom of the “developed” countries for actually doing productive work.
But strangely enough, we’re not talking about this. Instead we’re talking about the use of Catalan in schools.
So why is the top issue on the Spanish political agenda the use of a minority language in a single region of this vast, sleaze-plagued land? The most obvious reason is so that we don’t think about the other issues. The second reason is provided to us by the refreshing frankness of the Education Minister José Ignacio Wert: “The Conseller for Education Rigau said the other day that our aim is to ‘Spanishize’ (españolizar) the Catalan children. Well, yes, that is our aim.”
All the other talk about human rights, educational standards, and so on, is merely window dressing for this primordial goal: to convert incipient rebel Catalan kids into obedient Spanish adults.
Third reason: anti-Catalan actions and rhetoric have always helped ailing parties to garner support in Spain. Not pretty, but undeniably true: rabble-rousing in the Spanish heartland around the issue of “those pesky Catalans” has always been a vote-winner.
So we have the real trio of reasons for Wert’s education reform – sleaze smokescreen, social engineering towards a monolingual Spanish identity, and rabble-rousing – as opposed to the “false flag trio” of reasons given by Wert and his supporters as a justification for this initiative: human rights, educational standards and effective central control.
If Minister Wert were in fact serious about improving educational standards he might take some of the excellent advice recently offered by working teacher and Iberosphere journalist Olwen Mears: improve the status, pay and training of teachers, and reduce class hours while making the teaching methods more effective. But we know he’s not concerned about standards because he quite openly tells us that he’s motivated by cultural-political goals: the “Spanishization” of a sector of the population.
Educational benchmarking in the standardised PISA tests shows that Catalan kids have a higher-than-average level of Spanish language skills, much higher than in some monolingual systems such as Andalusia, the Balearic Islands and Valencia. Guess what? It appears that competence in this and other skills doesn’t depend on the language you’re taught in; rather it correlates with the quality of the system that teaches you.
As for human rights, the EU Commission 2007 special report praises the immersion system in Catalonia and other regions as a model for preserving a minority language with guarantees of rights for speakers of other languages, stating: “these methods should be disseminated throughout the Union.” And in my 22 years living in Catalonia I have never met a single person who resented having been trained in Catalan. Rather, those who have passed through the system – as opposed to those outside it looking in – appreciate the fact that they are able to operate in good Catalan and Spanish and are not condemned to a Spanish-only ghetto.
Nobody’s fooled by these false flag justifications unless they really want to be. The Economist’s resident linguist, “Johnson”, knows better, recognising that it’s really all about who exercises political power in a state: “A nation-state has the sovereign right to insist on the primacy of one language. Catalans constitute Europe’s biggest language group without a state.” In a more recent article he describes Wert’s initiative as an own goal: “Efforts to marginalise minority languages often make speaking them a point of pride… he must have known that it would appear as a provocation.” Indeed he must, because of course provocation is the whole point of the exercise.
So the bandwagon is hitched up and ready to roll, and the band is climbing on board. As they mount up, they discard their Spanish flags and pick up banners reading “human rights”, “constitutional law” and “educational standards”. The band starts playing some stirring zarzuela tunes, and the wagon sets off, raising a tremendous dust cloud. Just behind the cloud of dust, barely visible and impossible to hear behind the noise of the band, is a mass of dispossessed poor. Behind them, deep in the shadows, is a smart man in a smart suit, carrying a suitcase full of cash. Nobody takes any notice of him.
This is the first article of a two-part series. Click here to see the second article.
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Published: Dec 17 2012
Category: Featured, Iberoblog
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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Tags: catalan independence, catalonia, human rights, language, spain, spain news, spanish news, The Economist