Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia

Friday, 21 january 2011 | The Guardian


A Public Reply to The Guardian (IV)

The subject of The Guardian’s latest report from Spain (“Lost in translation? Spanish senators allowed to debate in five languages”, January 19, 2011) is something that ought to be a routine occurrence –representatives being allowed to use their respective languages in what is supposed to be their own parliament– but the headlines and the bulk of the article have focused instead on the hostile reactions from the Spanish nationalist camp. And we feel that the views from that camp are presented as more reasonable than they really are.

We would like to highlight a few paragraphs, calling attention to aspects that your correspondent seems to have overlooked and that he might want to take into account for future reports:

“Spain's regional languages have long been a point of bitter conflict. Arguments have rumbled on for several decades over which languages should be used by school teachers, university lecturers and for everything from shop signs to place names.”

In reality, this has been going on for much longer than just decades. Spain, like Britain, Belgium or Switzerland, is a plurinational state, a fact that has never been fully acknowledged by the central power. All through history, Spanish governments have sought to reduce the country’s diverse peoples to an artificial uniformity, among other things by making the Castilian language compulsory for them all. That ages-old policy of imposition of one language and suppression of the others would be a good place to start looking for the sources of this particular conflict.

“The insistence of some regional governments on their civil servants speaking both Castilian and the local language has led to accusations that they exclude other Spaniards from jobs.”

Is it being implied that the right of Spanish civil servants to take up posts wherever they please, without having to adapt in any way to a different setting, should take precedence over the right of Catalan taxpayers to receive in their own language the services that they are so dearly paying for? Doesn’t that smack of colonialism?

“There is even a row over whether Catalan and Valencian should be considered separate languages or whether one is merely a dialect of the other.”

A mere phone call to any of the 18 universities in Britain that offer programmes in Catalan studies, or even to the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language in Madrid, would have informed your correspondent that the academic community unanimously considers Catalan, Valencian and Balearic to be variants of the same language. Why is it that every Spanish government, including Mr. Zapatero’s, seems to be taking its cues from the Valencian right wing on this matter?

“ ‘Something like this would not happen in any normal country’, said the People's party leader, Mariano Rajoy.”

One may wonder about Mr. Rajoy’s idea of a normal country. Did he have in mind Switzerland, where three official languages are freely used in the Federal Assembly –and everywhere else, for that matter– or Turkey, for instance, where the Kurdish language is suppressed and even the existence of the Kurdish people is negated?

Col·lectiu Emma has commented more fully on such matters in the past, and we are now in the process of compiling a dossier covering, among other things, the question of language. We would be happy to provide your Madrid correspondent with an advance copy of that dossier, where he would find information that might be of use for more complete and even-handed reports in the future.

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Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia

Col·lectiu Emma is a network of Catalans and non-Catalans living in different countries who have made it their job to track and review news reports about Catalonia in the international media. Our goal is to ensure that the world's public opinion gets a fair picture of the country's reality today and in history.

We aim to be recognized as a trustworthy source of information and ideas about Catalonia from a Catalan point of view.
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Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia