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The argument for Spanish in Catalan schools

Catalan nationalists have made the question of teaching language into a central pillar of identity, defining those who dissent as unpatriotic – a deadly argument for any political debate. This is the second article in a two-part series.


Catalan children arriving at school.

Debate over the use of Catalan in schools has been raging in recent weeks.

Last week offered a highlight in the debate over the law proposed by Education Minister José Ignacio Wert.  Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida, one of the leaders of the Catalan nationalist CiU bloc, revealed in a speech to the Spanish parliament that in Catalonia, “often the majority language in the schoolyards is not Catalan, it regrettably continues to be Spanish”.

How much Spanish would not be cause for regret? Or should no Spanish-speaking children use their native language? In the schoolyard, i.e. during recess. During lessons they already cannot use it, except in Spanish language class. Certainly, there are shades of grey, but this is the overall policy that is being implemented in Catalonia: education in Catalan only.

Apart from allowing the above insight into the mentality behind this policy, Duran i Lleida also gave several reasons for its existence. The arguments are old, and they are still not convincing.

“It works” is one of them. Meaning that all children are fluent in both languages at 16. This is besides the point made by several courts, starting with the Constitutional Court, that all children have the right to use their mother tongue, be it Catalan or Spanish. Proposals brought forward by some parents and political parties do not aim at splitting the classes or the schools on grounds of language use  – which is what proponents of educational bilingualism are regularly accused of – but to reintroduce Spanish progressively until reaching a 50/50 parity with Catalan, and taking into account the “level of normalisation” of Catalan , i.e.: if and in how far its overall use has recovered after having been banned – notably from the schools – under Franco.

Another main argument is that Catalan offers “social cohesion”. Behind this stands the idea that Catalan is Catalonia’s “own” language, as the Catalan Statute of Autonomy has it, and, even more, that Catalans are “one single people”, as one of the regular slogans goes here.

This is nation-building. As much as, or even more so than what Minister Wert intends to do. And that reveals the real problem, two nationalisms are having another spate of their already traditional turf-war over whether children should be “catalanised” or “spanishized”.

Minister Wert’s most recent offensive is deepening the general conflict that exists between Barcelona and Madrid. And it is an unnecessary show of force, because the issue is not far away from the courts deciding about measures on how to implement their rulings, which so far have found no love from the Catalan administration.

Yet these final words by the courts are being dearly awaited by some plaintiff parents. They would objectivise the debate. In Catalonia, the published opinion sees Wert’s proposal as an attack on Catalonia and the Catalans, and those parents have already had to fight the perception that they, too, were doing just that. Wert is making it worse for them, not better.

Catalan nationalism has made the question of teaching language into a central pillar of “Catalanity”, and defines everybody who dissents as unpatriotic; a deadly argument for any political debate.

Indeed, a political debate about this issue is now impossible in Catalonia. Which is also why there is such a wide consensus in Catalonia: nobody dares to challenge it, except the usual suspects of the Partido Popular and Ciutadans, already brandmarked as botiflers. Traitors. One can only wait until the present storm dies down. As long as Catalonia is part of Spain, this is about constitutional rights. Should Catalonia become independent, it would be a question of human rights, linked to the issue of EU accession. The EU’s position on the matter is not entirely clear, but precedents from the 90s indicate that it would prefer a bilingual society to have laws that reflect this condition, especially concerning schools.

Meanwhile, one can observe some hilarious phenomena in Catalonia. Take its biggest dailies, La Vanguardia and El Periódico (yes, those are Spanish names). They have taken the Catalan nationalist side here. Yet both newspapers publish separate editions in Catalan and in Spanish. It’s their right. The right to choose their language. This should not be a right for some, and “regrettable” if others do it.

The last argument brought forward by the defenders of Catalan-only schooling is that, in the long run, Catalan would disappear without it. Any nationalism thrives on apparent emergency situations, because they allow for emergency measures. Such as disobeying the law, which is what already many have publicly called for, including such esteemed figures as former regional premier Jordi Pujol, who literally went back to the old “we shall not be moved”. Civil disobedience against constitutional rights, that’s a novelty.

The claim that a bilingual education would spell the end of one of those languages strikes one as odd. If it is true, it might be better to scrap the system, instead of silencing the people.

This is the second article in a two-part series. Click here to see the first.

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Published: Dec 19 2012
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70 Comments for “The argument for Spanish in Catalan schools”

  1. Thanks for your calm and reasoned article. It’s quite an achievement for either side to contribute to an honest debate nowadays. I’ll do my best to respond in the same way.

    “During lessons they already cannot use [Spanish]”
    During classes students can, and do, use Spanish. The teacher then responds in whatever language he feels like, and continues delivering the lesson in Catalan. This mirrors the way that conversations here often mix both languages, sometimes in mid-sentence.

    It’s true that the purpose of language immersion is to restore the damage made to the language by Franco. That does not mean equal status for both languages, but rather primary status for Catalan. The goal is to make Catalan the default language of Catalonia again, to make it the main language that someone needs to learn to integrate well into Catalonia, instead of Spanish as it is now. This is not a shocking revelation, we are quite unapologetic and explicit about it. This does not imply not learning Spanish perfectly and using it frequently.

    The view that Spanish should have exactly equal status with Catalan is a very respectable one, and is defended by PPC and C’s. So is the view that children have the right to be taught in their mother language if it’s not Catalan (and as long as it’s Spanish). How much parliamentary representation do they get? About twenty percent. It is true that this is nation building, and 80% of seats go to parties that defend Catalan nation building (with different intensities).

    This is also true about the general elections, by the way. 23% of seats chosen in Catalonia went to PP. Yet it’s that minority who wants to dictate to us what language we should use in our schools.

    You might think that equal status for Spanish and Catalan is morally right, useful, reasonable. The vast democratic majority of us disagrees. Only a handful of crusaders, mostly from monolingual regions of Spain, believe that having to listen to too much Catalan and not enough Spanish at school violates human rights. Yet those few guys have the power to enforce their views on us.

    You might think “Tough luck, you agreed to respect the constitution, these are the rules of the game, and you’ll just have to take it if the rest of Spain wants decide how Catalonia is run, even if it’s against the will of the majority of Catalans. Because Law and Order is important, you beasts!”. Well, we disagree a whole lot to that. How could we not? Think about it! We are in a system where outsiders run many of our affairs, which we perceive to be against our interests and wishes. We would like to run our affairs differently, but those outside powers don’t want to grant us the right. They point out that the system is fair, because if they wanted to give us those rights, they would be able to. But because they don’t want to, we don’t get anything. All because my parents had to choose between voting yes to a constitution or risking civil war. A constitution they voted yes, apparently until the end of time and for all their descendants. A constitution that many perceived as the beginning of a process of finding a good integration within Spain, but that instead takes advantage of the fact that we are a minority to justify denying any request we might have. These are the rules of the life in Spain, and experience has taught us that Spain is utterly unwilling to change them. So if we want change, we have no choice but to force it. As far most of us are concerned, the constitution is now illegitimate in Catalonia (probably most of us. We could find out with a referendum!). Of course, Spain defends that the constitution is immune to illegitimacy.

    Going back to the language debate. Part of it is caused by people who simply want to create friction with Catalonia. The truth is that it’s hardly a debate here. Not because a silent majority is terrified being called unpatriotic. If that were the case, votes would go quite differently here. The reason there’s hardly any debate here on language immersion is because most people here agree with it. Many Spaniards can’t believe that. For them it’s inconceivable, because they think we’ve lost the demographic battle. They think that since most of the population of Catalonia either is or descends from non-Catalan migrants, most people won’t want Catalan to be the main language. They don’t understand that most of those descendants and many of the immigrants are fully Catalan, indistinguishable from what Spaniards believe to be “real” Catalans. They think Catalan identity is based on ethnicity. They really have no clue of what we are like.

    • Thank you for your comment. Let me reply to the point you raise about there being an agreement on the Catalan-only policy at schools. I wished I had found a more recent opinion poll, but 1998 must do it for now:

      Question 29 has the statement that in public schools in Catalonia teaching should only be done in Catalan. 27.5% rather agree with this statement, while 69.9 rather disagree.

      Well, there actually is a more recent poll, but it comes with the caveat that it was done on assignment by ABC newspaper:

      My personal opinion is that everybody living in Catalonia should speak Catalan. I myself do, and quite well, if I may say. However, I agree with the courts that Spanish should not be excluded. Which it de facto is at public schools, even though it is not outright forbidden. I’m afraid independence won’t help to come to the promised land of monolingualism either. Hence my point about the EU.

      If this conflict -the larger one, of which language is a main battlefield, but not the only one- continues, we might need another Badinter commission. That would be sad.

      • What can I say regarding the polls. We recently received a lesson on how trustworthy they are. If 70% of Catalans were against language immersion, surely parties that passionately and eloquently defend ending it would do a bit better. C’s and UPyD particularly. PPC too, especially since Sanchez-Camacho has brilliantly managed to dissociate it from the worst aspects of PP. Why the hell would someone vote CIU, ERC, CUP or ICV if they want to dial back nation building, as you aptly put it? There’s a clear democratic mandate to not move back on those issues.

        The notion that Catalans are clumsily voting against their own wishes, and that they must be protected from the effects of their own votes by politicized Spanish courts is laughable. What scholars are those in Madrid on the limits and flaws of democracy! How generous of them to supplement our votes with their corrective decrees.

        So, again, why are so many Catalans whose native language is Spanish (like myself) defending that the lingua franca should be Catalan? Simple; because Catalan identity, as you said, draws from the Catalan language. If you speak Catalan fluently and identify yourself as Catalan, pretty much everyone else will regard you as just another Catalan, no matter your origin. It’s not perfect, we have racists, we have idiots, but largely this works really well. It gives an opportunity for the rapid integration of immigrants, unlike an identity based on ethnicity. Many immigrants who come to Catalonia don’t want to remain foreigners. And almost all of them don’t want their kids to be foreigners. So they want those kids to learn perfect Catalan. So they support language immersion.

        Why do many of us think immersion is necessary to achieve fluency in Catalan? Because in many regions of Catalonia (mostly Barcelona) you can grow up and live without a word of Catalan. TV, newspapers, books, family, neighbors, all in Spanish. Any Catalan speaker in those districts will also speak to you in Spanish, because that’s they will assume that’s your primary language. You can’t then learn, become fluent in the language by a few hours of class in Catalan. You need an environment that’s fully Catalan. That’s how a descendant of Spanish migrants becomes just another Catalan. That’s how he won’t be perceived as a foreigner at university, in his job. Changing full immersion for 50-50 because it assumes a false equivalence. You can’t grow up in Catalonia without constant exposure and usage of Spanish. You will achieve fluency in Spanish even if all non-language classes are delivered in Catalan. The contrary is not true for many.

        Damn. I need to learn to be more brief.

        • I can see you’re honest, and honestly worried. The 50/50 I’d propose not only takes into account the rights of the speakers of each language, but also the necessity to up the level of Catalan where and when needed. Hence the point about the level of normalisation. For me, it would be normal that everybody speaks Catalan.

          Now comes the trick: that’s exactly the position of the Constitutional Court. It allows for flexibility and positive discrimination. It also leaves the decision to be made on the ground in the hands of Catalan authorities. So what you say about those apparent Spanish monolingual pockets in and around Barcelona does have an answer here.

          It is the exclusion of Spanish that is most vexing. You have to face the fact that it is a language of Catalonia, and that its speakers have rights. Those rights go before nation-building.

          • It’s hard for me to see how you would achieve this flexibility without it resulting in Catalan-speaking, Spanish-speaking and foreign kids going to different classes or schools due to their differing levels of fluency in Spanish and Catalan. That would be very negative. You want them all to be mixed.

            I do agree that if the situation arises where Spanish has become less ubiquitous, perhaps after a few years of independence, it would be time to dial back immersion across the board in order to ensure fluency in Spanish. There are some Catalans who believe Catalan should be the only official language of Catalonia, and they’re not in parliament anymore (ok, perhaps some ERC MPs).

          • Well, a new agreement has to be reached. A respectful one.

  2. This article is a tissue of falsehoods and distortions.

  3. MemorialHall:

    As you probably know, when people cast their vote for some party, they have in mind a few more things than the immersion issue. So the composition of the Parliament can hardly be considered a demographic proof of massive support for compulsory immersion.
    On the other hand, it’s not up to the government to decide which is the language of integration. That depends on the habits and behavior of the majority. And if it were true that the vast majority wants this language to be Catalan, there would be no need for the Generalitat to implement a normalization policy. Or are you suggesting that many Catalans are thinking something along the lines of “I speak too much Spanish, godammit, so I desperately need the Generalitat to sort me out! I’m gonna vote for a nationalist party!” Pretty schizophrenic, don’t you think?

    • Pere: See above my comment on assuming that what a democratic majority chooses does not represent what a majority wants. Democracy is not perfect, but mandates are a real thing, and the mandate of Catalan parliament is clear. Not a step back on immersion. You mean to override that with the guesswork of Spanish party-appointed judges?

      You defend a libertarian approach to language. Let the free market decide. If Catalan is going to decline gradually, let it. If most people are native speakers of another language, ease the replacement of languages and accelerate the decline. Or don’t do anything and allow Catalonia to be divided three-way between native Catalans, Spanish immigrants and non-Spanish immigrants. Luckily your view is not common. We want our government to defend our language, our culture, and ease the hard process of integrating new citizens into Catalan society as best as we can. This makes our culture stronger, and this helps us welcome immigrants into their new home.

      • I’m not disputing the fact that the Catalan Parliament has a mandate regardingimmersion. I’m disputing your assertion that “the vast democratic majority of us” would oppose equal status for Catalan and Spanish. There’s simply no proof of that.
        On the other hand, your alarmist claims about the inclusion of Spanish as a vehicular language in school posing a threat either to the survival of Catalan (which we all agree should be taught to ALL children) or to social cohesion, though commonplace in Catalonia, have no ground in reality.

        • Anyway, even if it were true that compulsory immersion is absolutely necessary for the survival of Catalan, that’s besides the point here. The debate should be centered on what is best for the children, not on what’s best for Catalan (or any other language) or even on what the majority wants. Pedagogical considerations should prevail over political ones. And they are barely taken into account, by both sides. Children should not be used as political tools.

  4. These catalans are the racists and should get with the 21st century. Try getting a job speaking catalan in a global business market. Forget it. The kids need Spanish and can keep catalan if they choose.

    • Try getting a job speaking Spanish in a global business market. You obviously never been in any global business market. Kids need to learn an international language in addition to Catalan or Spanish.

    • Try getting a decent job in Catalonia without being fluent in Catalan. Try climbing the ladder on that job.

      I have a decent chance of getting an English-speaking engineering job in Sweeden. But I won’t make it much further than junior level until I learn Swedish. I won’t integrate well into its society either, even though almost all of them speak perfect English.

      Easing the ability of residents in Catalonia to get by without learning the language is a disservice to those who want to live and prosper here.

  5. Accurate picture of nationalist less than reasonable speech.

  6. Hi, just bringing the debate over from the other piece.

    All of this sounds very well, and as a guy in favour of human rights I might go along with it.

    But then I think of the words of our leader Mariano Rajoy: “España no está para grandes algarabías ni para lios, sino para crecer y crear puestos de trabajo… … Catalunya tiene problemas muy graves, el primero el desempleo, problemas de déficit y de deuda, y esos problemas los tiene el conjunto de España y muchas comunidades y en este momento lo que no toca es el lío ni la disputa ni la polémica.”

    And then I remember that our Employment Minister Fátima Bañez hasn’t been to a single EU summit on employment since she took office a year ago, preferring instead to go to the Constitution Day cocktail party and chat to the king while she sends a substitute to Brussels.

    And I remember that Luis de Guindos is ranked last in a survey on the competence of all EU Finance ministers by an FT survey of independent economists.

    And I think, where are the priorities for the PP? I mean, really?
    Is anyone really going after the culture of cronyism, either in Catalonia, Madrid, Valencia or elsewhere, except as part of a dirty-tricks partisan war?

    The implications of a PP government centred on fighting Catalans rather than managing the crisis is spelled out by fairly objective observer Enric Juliana who suggests that Rajoy will fight early elections in 2014 using the Catalan challenge as his rallying cry to win votes from those who would otherwise vote against him.

    Now it all makes sense.

    • Good idea to debate at one place.

      I’m pretty sure neither of us would ever vote the PP. I, too, can see through their arguments to their real intentions. But this does not mean that others cannot use (some of) the same arguments honestly.

      In your article you make the point that Wert is using human rights in a dishonest way. D’accord, yet the argument is still valid. He even more has insisted that this is an issue of constitutionality that demands to be put in law. Does this now mean Catalonia can simply declare the Constitution “illegitimate”, as Memorial Hall has put it?

      This is a slippery slope, in which disagreement with a policy, a party or a government brings one to tear down the rule of law itself.

      So let’s think again and find alternatives.

      • What alternatives? The majority of Spaniards don’t want federalism. The Spanish parties don’t want to change the constitution. It’s either take it or leave it. Only, without the leaving part. It’s take it or take it. No matter what we want, no matter what we try, we hit the unmovable constitutional wall. Should we try dialogue for another 30 years? Should we continue to let the endless tug-of-war between Spain and Catalonia divert the majority of political energy from the urgent business of fixing our countries?

        And make no mistake, the tug-of-war will continue unless:
        1: Catalonia decides to give up on its claims of managing itself economically, socially and culturally without interference. This will not happen.
        2: Spain decides to grant Catalonia’s wishes, including allowing it to conduct education policy as it wants and allowing it to collect its own taxes and manage construction of its own infrastructure. This will not happen.

        Independence will grant freedom for us, and also for Spain. The last 30 years have shown that understanding each other is impossible. The friction from that prevents progress for everyone.

    • First of all a remark on Alan Murphy’s article: this paragraph “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” it is not exact: the language skills measured in PISA tests in Catalonia are referred to catalan language, not to spanish language.
      On the other hand, in general terms, this article seems quite biased on the current Spanish and Catalan situation.

      • Thanks for the clarification on PISA, the details of the language competence test I can’t find anywhere. Reports from teachers I asked were conflicting.
        Can you tell me if there is in fact a standard benchmark test of language competence in Spanish language across Spain?

  7. Candide I was surprised when I read the first paragraph “Catalan nationalists have made the question of teaching language into a central pillar of identity”. Do you think that it’s unconceivable or unacceptable that a catalan should study in catalan.
    Actually people that wants to study only in spanish can apply to. Do you remember how much new students (their parents, obviously) has chosen to study in spanish in Catalonia: only 12 between 40000. Should the 12 decide for the 40000

    • Let’s have a real dialogue, please. Above I have already said that everybody living in Catalonia should speak Catalan, and study in Catalan. Just normal.

      I don’t think people should be singled out by being forced to apply to study also in Spanish, or by having to go to the courts over it. I think a principled approach has to be taken, based on the linguistic composition of Catalonia, its history, too, and on a very few common standards, like human rights and constitutionality.

      Children should be motivated to use their mother tongue, not treated as if this were a regrettable deviance.

      Here’s an interesting article from today’s El País. I largely agree with it.

  8. A more easy example.
    Catalans think that the”lingua franca” in Catalonia must be catalan.
    Ultraebro spanish and onlyspanishtalkingpeoplesthatlivesinCatalonia that the “lingua franca” in Catalonia must be catalan.
    Who should decide what language to talk in Catalonia?

  9. Candide writes:

    “I don’t think people should be singled out by being forced to apply to study also in Spanish, or by having to go to the courts over it.”

    That’s exactly the principle of the Generalitat’s policy — that children should not be singled out by knowing only one language in Catalonia. It has been working beautifully for decades and has been singled out by the European Union as a model.

    Candide goes on:

    “I think a principled approach has to be taken, based on the linguistic composition of Catalonia, its history, too, and on a very few common standards, like human rights and constitutionality.”

    The linguistic composition of Catalonia is a result of that history — one of extreme repression and explicit steps to encourage the immigration of monolingual Spaniards of disadvantaged backgrounds. It is consistent with human rights, as practiced in democracies, that their children should be offered the same educational advantages that millennial residents have. “Constitutionality” is a red herring, since the Constitution is an undemocratic one forced through with armed threats of return to dictatorship/martial law. Catalonia was given only two choices: this Constitution drawn up under the remnants of Francoism or dictatorship. What this has to do with human rights is very remote.

    Behind your posts is an assumption, or an insinuation, that children in Catalonia do not have a good enough knowledge of Castilian (which is around them everywhere and not entirely dependent on school hours), while by Madrid’s own examination figures they excel the Spanish average in their skills in that language. They also study English, which means it is perfectly normal for a child in Catalonia to speak three times the number of languages known by a President of the Spanish State (and of the singularly maleducado Education Minister, who pretends to want to “reform” Catalan education under the guise of dividing the inhabitants of the Principality).

  10. The link to the Spanaish-nationalist newspaper El País is to an article that puts forward the same old Francoist point of view about Castilian as the “common language” that must be maintained. Nothing new there. This has been tried on the Catalans much of the time for 300 years, and still still Catalonia refuses to die out. And it really rankles for the rulers in Madrid (and the people among whom they constantly try to stir up hate against Catalonia) that many of them prefer English as a second language — a language historically and culturally associated with progress, openness, and democracy, unlike the Castilian language that has never spread by any means but the imposing of it. That doesn’t make it a bad language, but it makes the continued attempts to use it as a means of control as evil as it ever was.

  11. Roger, the Catalan immersion system has been “singled out” by the EU as a model….(keep reading, keep reading!!) so long as, on condition that….it is not obligatory!!!!!!! Unfortunately, that last little part is always, mysteriously, overlooked by those who think it normal for a Government to try to force a majority of their own population to give up their mother tongue in their children’s education in favour of the language of the minority, and for the good of “the Nation”..
    The rest of your opinion is eloquently answered by Felix Ovejero in the link Candide has kindly made available from “El Pais”. I’ve half a mind to translate it, for those English speakers not yet competent in Spanish.
    It is a mystery to me, that there are “native” English speakers – I’m assuming you are – presumably brought up in a mature Democracy, where your rights are protected, as most English speaking states are, and yet who fail to recognise the injustice in this system, combined with the Generalitat’s flagrant breaking of the most basic democratic pillars -( which allow us all, agreeing or disagreeing, to enjoy a high level of personal freedom )- by refusing to comply with 5 (or 6?) Court rulings. You think rogue Governments are a good thing? You think it’s ok to get what you want by simply taking it? That working for what you want is too hard perhaps, too time consuming?
    The only people with this point of view normally, are young people, adolescents, who haven’t worked out yet that their best interests are tied up with the best interests of others. Didn’t Einstein say that nationalism was an adolescent illness, like measles and chicken pox.? Something most people get over.
    Meanwhile, do read Felix Ovejero.

  12. Sorry, AZ, your reference to the notoriously politicized Spanish courts as part of “democratic pillars” negates your whole point of view.

    And how is it that you Spanish unionists blithely quote something like Einstein’s saying about nationalism without any evident consciousness that Spanish nationalism has been one of the most poisonous in modern history?

  13. Roger Roger.. (I’m aware I’m being paternalistic but your histrionics leave me ho-humming). The Law is one of the democratic pillars – and this law, the Spanish Constitution was voted for, overwhelmingly (more than any other region!), by the Catalans. If you don’t like it you can work to change it. That’s the only democratic option you have. The rest is hooliganism. The Spanish courts (which includes the Catalan courts) are unfortunately politicised. Spain – which includes Catalunya – is not a mature Democracy, but the Constitution is clear on this point. Spanish is not only the common language of Spain, it is also the common and majority language of Catalunya, so what we are talking about is the rights of roughly 60% of the Catalans themselves.
    And don’t tell “El Pais” that they’re a Spanish Nationalist newspaper!! They would have a fit! (by the way, Felix Ovejero is a Catalan)

  14. You people just keep saying the same things over and over, while attributing very different meanings to words that the democratic world uses. OF COURSE the Catalans voted more than others for that constitution! It’s just one more proof that they were the most opposed to dictatorship, the only other option they were allowed!

    There is nothing sacred about The Law (as you absurdly and idolatrously capitalize it). Franco had laws, too; and his followers managed to make a constitution that they hoped would make just enough concessions to keep captive the “vanquished” that they always have labored to keep distinct from the “victors.”

    I see that there is no point in trying to bring reason to this kind of discussion in this kind of forum. It beautifully illustrates why Catalans want to be free of rule by people who think and talk like this. I wish Spain the best when it is left to stew in its own prideful incompetence and brutish use of power. Its economic situation will be pitiable once it has driven out the only creative forces it has.

    • Thank you Roger. This debate is now much more fun. Basically everything you have said we have heard many times in Catalonia, usually from local people. Thanks for wrapping it up for a foreign audience.

      • Sorry, Roger, I was being sarcastic. I admit that this is because I’m a little fed up with the hermetic, and radical, argumentation that Spain is evil and the Catalans are oppressed, and -fallacy alarm- therefore right.

        The Constitution undemocratic. The courts politicised, the parties and newspapers -from left to right- nationalist. A common language for a state, Francoist. At that last point every reader wakes up and says: what? Isn’t that normality in democracies around the world?

        And even if all the above were true, and independence the solution, one can expect from the Catalan authorities, from any public administration for that matter, to respect the present legal system until a next one is in place. Simply because without that democracy does not work.

  15. “…one can expect from the Catalan authorities, from any public administration for that matter, to respect the present legal system until a next one is in place.”

    Except, of course, when that system is carefully designed to block such democratic change. Your argument has always been the stock argument of authoritarian regimes.

  16. Same effect. And it describes the current case of the hopelessness that the Spanish majority will allow any positive change for the minorities. They have such a poor understanding of democracy and of world opinion that they don’t see that every action, every verbal attack, they are now taking is an “own goal” in favor of Catalonia’s national sovereignty. Just look at their self-deluding spin on the results of the recent Catalan election and compare it to what happened today in the Catalan Parliament. Madrid has completely lost control of events, and there is no remedy for that open to them so long as they want to be a member of the EU or of NATO. Their old tactics won’t fly. They are stuck and don’t even seem to know it.

    • It’s odd, Roger, that on the one hand you demand “positive change for the minorities” -I understand because you see the minorities as having a right for this- while on the other you are apparently willing to disfranchise those who rely on the Constitution (which you call “undemocratic”) and the courts (which you call “notoriously politcized”).

      • Candide, I’ll explain to you how this is meant. For nationalists there are two types of minorities: those they belong to (Catalans inside Spain), and those they don’t belong to (Spanish speaking folks in Catalonia; even though they are really a majority, they are disenfranchised; no those are not Catalans, those are charnegos or botiflers, depending on how informed they are). The first group deserves respect and protection, and everyone has to like them. The second one are not really people, as they belong to the enemy that wants to destroy Catalonia. This second minority should be dealt with as they deserve, their culture denied and their people absorbed; if they resist, measures will have to be taken and it will be their own fault, they are traitors to their Nation.

        So, now you know how it is meant.

  17. I claim nothing of the sort. They all of course have the same right to self-determination. Just not to other-determination, which is what their constitution endows them with.

  18. Shame! You more and more reveal your true objects. How many of those families were there? One account I’ve seen said 7 families and another cited 11 that have ever demanded that exception. Far, far more Russian-speaking families are demanding Russian in the Baltic states and for the same reason — and of course incited to do so by the same type of colonizing power.

    We’re clearly not going to agree, especially since you ignore the glorious parliamentary demonstration of democracy in Barcelona that today has inspired a nation, championing the perennially oppressing power instead. Your affection for that kind of authoritarian civilization is clear, and I have nothing more to say to you. You will probably be one of those people in a year or two claiming to be “independistes de tota la vida.” Alternatively, there are lots of backward Spanish-speaking places you can move to.

    • I really cannot deal with expressions such as “glorious” when connected to nationalism. Nor with somebody else’s suppositions about my future intentions.

      So I will simply answer the one question you have asked me: it does not matter how many there are. Or is it not disfranchisement, because they are few? So… if the minority is really tiny, it’s got no rights?

      Even though these rights were given to it by the majority?

      (Oh, and thank you very much for your invitation to leave Catalonia. It was motivated by my disagreeing with you, correct?)

      • Sorry for being Catalan

        Hello Candide,

        I often read your blog, and there is a question I must ask to you: Why all this hatred against Catalonia and the Catalans? As a Catalan citizen, such blind, insane hatred is difficult for me to comprehend. Honestly, what have we done to deserve this?. Is there any bad experience with any Catalan? If it’s the case, I really regret it (we’re not perfect, of course, assholes can be found everywhere), but please, stop shitting on us, ok? Thanks.

  19. One inch to the ground

    Nice to see that the candid reporter is not saying any more that catalan nationalism has a violence track.

    Nevertheless se has to improve her fiction writing skills.

  20. Interesting historical parallels coming out of the UK with the 30-year release of private papers from the Thatcher Era.

    In 1982 Mrs Thatcher wanted to dismantle the public health service and public education system, just as the PP govt aims to do today. She had a popular war with Argentina to boost her popularity, just as the PP today has a war with Catalans for the same reason.

    Then why didn’t she do it? In fact because of the opposition of powerful Tories like Nigel Lawson who opposed her from within cabinet, causing what they describe as a “riot”.

    So Thatcher, bolstered as she was by war against the Other, still couldn’t convince her Tory colleagues to go all the way and scrap the welfare state.

    Meanwhile, what’s happening in Spain 30 years later? There’s certainly no sign of opposition from within the PP to the present dismantling of the public health system, which begins in Madrid. In fact the party stalwarts are much more interested in playing videogames on their iPhones than in considering the issues

    [I love the first apology “Lamento mucho lo sucedido, no volverá a pasar”, copied word for word from the King’s apology for the Elephant-hunt]

    So it looks as if Rajoy will be able to succeed where Thatcher failed, and within just a few months we will have parts of Spain with only private health services available.

    The important thing for them, the really vital consideration, is *not to let the war against Catalonia fade from public consciousness at any time*. If the mainstream media lose interest in the Catalan conflict, they will start to run stories which at present you can only read in the alternative press. That would provoke public opposition to the Grand Plan (privatisation of everything) and ruin their chances.

    Just as with Mrs Thatcher in 1982, the socialist opposition here in 2012 is down and out. Lacking any internal opposition inside the party, the only thing Rajoy has to worry about on the domestic front is public protest, but as long as Catalan issues are front and centre, he’s got it made.

    Result – We can predict a 75% likelihood that all public health services will be fully privatised in Spain by 2015.

    The public education system will be next – IF there is another election in Spain. It’s quite possible by this point that the whole country will be in revolt and that the present Kingdom of Spain will collapse in an Egyptian scenario. Likelihood of full nationwide citizen revolt on the Tahrir Square model – 10% next year, 30% in 2014, 50+% in 2015. [Note – If Spain fails to win the world cup in 2014, the likelihood rises considerably]

    So the answer to growing explosive citizen discontent, as far as Rajoy is concerned, is 1) pray and hope; and 2) keep the focus on the Other, the pesky Catalans and their weird anti-Spanish attitudes, and to a much lesser extent on the Basques. Because in hard times, a clearly-identifiable enemy is always needed to “unify” the nation:

    “The specific political distinction that is the basis for all political activity and impulses is the distinction between friend and enemy. [The enemy] is in some specially intensive sense something existentially different and strange, so that in the extreme case conflicts with him are possible which cannot be decided by some predetermined general norm or by the pronouncement of some “disinterested” and thus “unpartisan” third party… The enemy is our own question in visible form.”
    Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political (1928)

    • There are interesting elements in what you say, Murph, but I can’t agree with the general idea. First of all, the Catalan issue is front and centre all by itself, and if Rajoy’s game is to “unify” the nation, he’s got an easy one here: separatism is the antithesis of unity. I have several times warned that adding separatism to the economic crisis is dangerous.

      So the responsibility for what you decry is clearly on both sides.

      On the other hand, CiU in Barcelona is economically doing largely the same as the PP in Madrid, take the privatisation of heretofore public services. They even use to vote together, both in Barcelona and Madrid, to implement this overall policy.

      Privatisation is said to be needed to bring money into the strained budgets. In Barcelona, Madrid is being blamed for the lack of money in Catalonia’s coffers. Quite directly and consistently so with the slogan that “Madrid steals from us”, or the talk that Catalonia suffers “fiscal spoliation”.

      And just yesterday, ERC leader Oriol Junqueras announced that they -maybe he means only ERC, maybe also the new Catalan government ERC supports- will reroute all public protest and discomfort about future spending cuts by the Catalan government towards the Spanish government.

      It’s both sides, Murph. This doesn’t make it better, it makes things far worse.

      • Every country gets the government it deserves – except for Catalonia, which gets the government Spain deserves.

        Seriously, both you and AZ make the valid point that the political establishment in Catalonia is as rotten as in Madrid. That is almost certainly true. But on the other hand I don’t think a thousand Casos Palau or Casos ITV could add up to the PP-driven megascam that is Bankia. And the manipulations of TV3 news pale into insignificance when you have a secret police unit in Madrid churning out fictional reports designed to disrupt elections.

        But the point is not to moan endlessly about the corruption of our society – it is to change it.

        Change is absolutely impossible in the existing Kingdom of Spain, except in the direction of a National-Catholic autocracy, so by elimination that leaves only Catalonia as susceptible to the creation of an accountable and transparent democracy.

        That’s where we’re at: Catalonia is almost as rotten as Spain, but since it has begun the process of reforming and reconstituting itself, there is a real chance that it can be reborn as a modern and participative state, with independent judiciary and accountability. Of course that will only happen if we keep the pressure up on Mas to modernise the emerging state, open the windows and let the light in.

        By contrast, Spain will never reform itself until and unless it collapses in citizen discontent. For lack of anything better, the proposed Catalan Republic is the ONLY chance anyone in Spain today will have of living in a modern democratic state without emigrating. However slim that chance may be.

        • I did not make the point that corruption exists on both sides. And I don’t see this as a major point one should build a state on. States are built on the law, and the problem that in Catalonia the rule of law is being systematically eroded is a huge one. Here we see that ideology is put before the law, and many other principles that make a democracy.

          This is what nationalism is presently doing to Catalonia. If nationalism gets its way and independence is declared, it will have to swallow some of those basic principles, the demands to do so then no longer coming from Madrid, but from Brussels. Spanish will be used as teaching language, and the dreams of creating a Greater Catalonia will definitely be over.

          It is in this sense that I can conceive independence as having positive effects. I see no reason to believe that a smaller state is a more democratic one.

          • “The law” in the present context of Spain is meaningless as a cornerstone of democratic legitimacy because it is controlled from top to bottom by political masters. For the citizens to be required to obey the law, that law must be demonstrably independent of political manipulation, otherwise it’s nothing more than the instrument of political power.

            I don’t know if they’ve ever had a poll on this, but how many people in Spain would agree with this statement? – “The judicial system in my country guarantees equal access to justice for all and is independent of political power.” Anyone care to agree with that statement?

            Thought not. So that’s your legitimacy of law.

          • I was not speaking of the citizens, but of their political representatives. They are the actors. It is them who have the responsibility to represent and implement the law for the sake of their citizens, who have rights, and for whom the law is, above and before all, protection.

          • PS – I did not suggest that Catalonia has more chance of becoming a real democracy because it’s smaller. Spain could just as well reform itself until it created a real democracy. But there’s no will to do so.

            That’s the difference, not the size of the unit – Catalonia is reforming itself and we’ll see what results, while Spain has no intention of any type of reform. Which can only result in disaster as the state steadily loses the legitimacy it once enjoyed and is opposed by more and more of its own citizens.

          • And if they don’t? If the powers that be think that a policeman who is convicted of torture should be pardoned by means of an 1870 law while a writer who criticises the monarchy should face two years in prison? What if the Spanish mortgage law is declared invalid by the EU Court of HR because it fails to guarantee consumer rights, and it isn’t changed or reformed in any way but remains the law of the land?

            If the representatives are really not interested in upholding citizen rights, except when it serves as a pretext for their political campaign, what happens then?

            Total discredit for the judicial system, end of any claims of legitimacy.

          • Is there a special will to become “a real democracy” in Catalonia? I’d say the thrust for change is purely nationalist.

            The “reform” is separatism, nothing else.

            And to your last point: it matters a lot if the judicial system works, and if it is respected. There are presently two groups who erode this respect, the first one are Catalan nationalists, the second one are PP hawks.

            And whether or not it works well has to be measured with the law itself. So there’s no use to criticise the courts by refusing the rule of law as such. Yet this is the demented position of Catalan nationalism, and it has it because it does not care for the law, but only for its own ideology and aims.

        • Is that true, the only people who suggest the justice system is dysfunctional are Catalan nationalists and PP hawks?

          I must have hallucinated the statement from Felipe González where he said that Spanish justice has never been democratic.

          Oh no, I didn’t. Here it is:

          En concreto, la tarea pendiente más fundamental es la renovación del poder judicial que “no se ha oxigenado por la democracia”. “Lo más deficiente de la democracia española es la justicia”, sentenció González.

          Then again there is the CGPJ delegate Margarita Robles – is she Cataloonie or PP hardliner? – who said that
          “la denuncia de los jueces contra la Ley Hipotecaria que permite los desahucios, claramente beneficiosa para los bancos, “pone en evidencia al ministro Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón” cuando dice que el colectivo judicial sólo se preocupa de sus intereses corporativos. “Lo que piden los jueces es más medios para trabajar en unos juzgados colapsados por miles de asuntos, mucho de ellos planteados por los bancos”

          And then there’s Fernando Valls in El Pais

          “lo que une a PP y CiU por encima de riñas identitarias. Ambas formaciones se han puesto de acuerdo para salvar los pilares del corporativismo policial y burlar los fundamentos del Estado de derecho.”

          I doubt if he’s a PP supporter or CiU fan, otherwise he wouldn’t have singled them out as the ones trying to undermine rule of law.

          I could go on… Zarzalejos in La V, no friend to Catalan nationalism, extremely concerned that the police and justice system are totally discredited by the UDEF dirty tricks interventions.

          Or this report today that a banker friend of Isidre Fainé will now be on the Supremo to decide on cases of preferred shares.

          “el presidente del CGPJ auspició un almuerzo de todos los presidentes de tribunales superiores de las comunidades autónomas y él mismo con el ministro en Madrid, en plena batalla de todas las asociaciones judiciales contra las reformas del Gobierno.”

          Are all the associations of judges PP hardliners and Catalan extremists?

          Conclusion – It most certainly isn’t just those sectors who believe the justice system has lost (or in the case of González, never had) legitimacy. It’s basically everyone except those in power.

          Would you personally agree with the statement I placed above? That you are in this country are guaranteed equal access to justice and an independent judicial process?

          • Oh, certainly, I’m not satisfied with these phenomena. But my criticism is that elected officials cannot simply use a justice system that is (perceived as ) working badly as a fig leaf to ruin the law per se.

            They still have to uphold it. The law. What other solution would there be?

          • This idolatry of “the law” is reprehensible, if it is not hypocritical. Hitler had laws, Stalin had laws, Franco had laws, the survival of which is reflected in the Constitution that his successors forced through. Enough of this veneration of such.

          • Please, do one day learn to distinguish between democracy and dictatorship, just so that you qualify to partake in the most basic kind of political debate, Mr Evans.

          • This is the essence of it – you actually think that the KofS is a democracy, because it has the external trappings of one and holds elections once every 4 years. But this only conceals the true situation, that in fact it is a oligarchy of political-banking interests with two groups of oligarchs based on Catholic v non-Catholic beliefs, a bit like the old Guelphs and Ghibellines of Florence. This means that with periodic elections, we get cycles of “progressive” and then “conservative” social control policies.

            But the essence of a democracy – accountability, transparency, separation of exec and judicial powers – none of that exists. So the elections, and all the pro- and anti- abortion/gay marriage/minority language/smoking, the transformation of State TV from new age to papal dogma every few years, all those phenomena are just window dressing for the continual transfer of cash money €€€€ from us to the elite, while at the same time European laws regarding consumer protection and freedom of speech are blithely ignored.

            Exhibit A
            Consumer protection on Spanish mortgage contracts inadequate by EU standards, EU court rules the law in violation of EU rights


            This illegal and clearly unjust law is still in force.

            Exhibit B (1)
            2011 EU Court of Human Rights rules that Arnaldo Otegi may not be jailed for “Insults against the Crown” as this violates fundamental EU laws on freedom of speech, orders the Spanish govt to pay him €20,000 of our tax money in compensation.


            Exhibit B (2)
            2012 Colonel Amadeo Martínez Inglés is on trial for “Insults against the Crown” and faces 2 years in prison, as demanded by the prosecutor. If he’s convicted it will take approximately 10 minutes for the EU Court to rule that Spain is once again in breach of fundamental human rights. How much of our taxpayer cash is going to be given to Martínez?


            Exhibit C
            A rogue secret police unit cooks up a number of fake reports about Catalan politicians.


            In the KoS there are Ministries of Interior and Justice. Notice that there are two ministries directing “law and order” where in a normal country there would be one, basically administrative in function. But here these two ministries are most definitely active controllers of the judicial process, intervening directly at whim.
            Anyway, they put the brakes on any investigation of what’s going on in the UDEF-El Mundo conspiracy.


            Although for you this is just a thing you don’t like very much, others who share your respect for the Spanish Constitution recognise that this whole UDEF-El Mundo-Torres-Dulce nexus is a bomb which has exploded its credibility.


            Here Zarzalejos, who has defended exactly the same position as you throughout the Catalan debate, shows that he himself has now lost faith in the legality of the Spanish state:

            “la España que queremos muchos con Catalunya en ella -antes de cualquier otra consideración- no se construye sobre la insidia ni la infamia y, mucho menos, sobre un Estado-Leviatán, que, manipulado por los que deben servirlo, traicionan la libertad, infringen los derechos constitucionales y son desleales con su Gobierno y con la sociedad.”

            Interpretation – I want Catalonia to fit easily inside a democratic and just Spain, but Spain is really a manipulated and corrupt authoritarian state, and I can’t reconcile those two concepts so I’m very upset.

            No time to go into – pardons under dubious 1870 law for police torturers, use of police infiltrators to spark violence in protests, unjustifiable police brutality, etc

            So you can look at all that, and so much more, and despite everything, and very much in contrast with Zarzalejos, say that the KoS is a democratic state. This is a police state. The very idea that the Wert reforms are being enacted in the defence of human rights might work if the govt showed any interest at all in human rights in any other field. (Espe defending the human rights of her little PP friend in Cuba doesn’t count).

            And I notice that you still, despite my repeating it, haven’t answered my central question. Do you believe that you have free and equal access to a judicial process that is guaranteed independent of political authority? I’m waiting…

            My wrapup – This state most definitely is not a democracy, not a legitimate authority over us as people, and not representative of anyone except moneyed interests. It’s a gigantic scam machine. The poor lost souls who are herded around in it and occasionally sacrificed to those interests are beginning to see what’s going on,.and the Catalan challenge is about the only thing that focuses their attention on this situation.

            There are only two coherent responses to this mess – get out of it, like the Catalans wish to do; or overthrow the unmoving Spanish Leviathan (Zarzalejos, not me) and constitute a representative authority. Will Catalonia create a better democracy?

            I actually do believe so, simply based on the way that political debates occur in mainstream Catalan society (not referring to your dark little Cataloony caverns here, talking about real people). I haven’t been to Spain for about five years or more, but from what I see on the TV and read in the newspapers, it’s not a place where open interchange of views occurs readily.

            Sorry for the length of this response, but I have only time for one post today, and won’t be able to post again for a few days.

          • There are so many observations I share with you, Murph. But many of your conclusions I don’t.

            I have known police states, Spain is not one. We do have equal access to justice here, as much as in any other democratic country. Or as little. Let’s not forget that EU law is part of the Spanish legal corpus. I do believe that there is more corruption in Spain than in France, Britain or Germany. And I do also observe that there is a much weaker political consensus about the things you do and don’t in a democracy.

            But you do sound as negative as a German student in the late 60s. Today we know the 70s and 80s did modernise society there. Spain’s maybe just lagging behind a bit, it came out of its own dictatorship 30 years later. And it is a dynamic society where a lot of criticism is being uttered, some of which you have quoted. Give it time.

  21. Thanks, Alan Murphy. Fascinating.

  22. “And just yesterday, ERC leader Oriol Junqueras announced that they -maybe he means only ERC, maybe also the new Catalan government ERC supports- will reroute all public protest and discomfort about future spending cuts by the Catalan government towards the Spanish government.”

    Surely this is appropriate so long as Madrid refuses to allow Catalonia to manage her own finances?

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