Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia

Monday, 9 november 2009 | The Times


A Public Reply to The Times

We are not sure that the article of November 5, 2009, about Catalan football (“Johan Cruyff, new coach of Catalan football team, refuses to speak Catalan”) has been given the most appropriate title. Mr. Cruyff himself is on record admitting that his linguistic abilities do not match his prowess as a footballer, so it shouldn’t really matter whether he chooses to communicate with his players in Catalan, Dutch, English or his famously idiosyncratic brand of Spanish. The real story is that having his name associated with the Catalan side will publicize the existence of a not inconsiderable team from a stateless nation that, unlike, say, Scotland or, yes, the Faroe Islands, is not allowed to compete internationally. In fact, all Catalan teams are effectively banned from official competitions, even in sports where they would be serious contenders. This is a result of the politically-motivated opposition of the Spanish authorities and their underhanded efforts to prevent the Catalans’ recognition by international sports bodies. Catalans have often expressed their massive support for such recognition, so it’s no wonder that the yearly football friendlies – against the likes of Colombia, Bulgaria or Brazil – tend to become occasions for a devoted public to push for a fully-fledged national team.

On the wider issue of the Catalan language and its place in society, Mr. Keeley seems to forget that language does have “political connotations”, but not only for “fiercely nationalist” Catalans. If laws about language are still needed in Catalonia it’s in order to counter the effects of a centuries-old, and still very active, policy of relentless imposition of the Castilian language that every Spanish government has applied in the way that best suited the political moment, alternating between a grudging tolerance and truly genocidal fervour.

Since the end of Franco’s dictatorship, Catalan governments from the right or from the left have all pursued, with general popular backing, a policy of normalization – that is, trying to put the language back to where it would have been without political interference from Spain – and inclusion, using language as a means to achieve the necessary social cohesiveness in a land that has received huge numbers of immigrants throughout its history.

Your correspondent seems to regard as an aberration the fact that in Catalonia “lessons in state schools are in Catalan”. Let’s just move back for a moment to the field of sports and take a look at the case of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a younger football star whose Bosnian-Croatian parents migrated to Sweden before he was born. Would anyone be surprised to hear that he was “forced” to learn Swedish in school? And yet the Catalan language has roughly the same number of speakers as Swedish –and quite a few more than Norwegian or Danish, for example. The only thing that makes it a “regional language” is that it’s not the language of an independent state –or, as some would put it, that it lacks the backing of a standing army. Does Mr. Keeley really think that such expressions of rabid nationalism as teaching children the language of the land where they live are only legitimate when practiced by a recognized state?

Catalans do indeed set great store on their language, but, since this is a trait that can easily be acquired by anyone who has the will, it seems a more civilized standard than race, religion or place of birth when it comes to deciding who belongs to a nation and who doesn’t. And that yardstick is loosely applied in Catalonia even by the “fiercest” nationalists, as proven by Mr. Cruyff, a once and future national hero in spite of his verbal shortcomings.

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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