Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia

Friday, 10 august 2012 | hate


The world should be paying attention to hate speech in Spain (Notes on the recent death threats against a Catalan Olympian)

"Àlex Fàbregas, I want you dead". "We should kill him slowly, to make him suffer". "Gas chamber for Àlex Fàbregas". The target of these threats, and of at least one thousand other offensive messages, is a Catalan field hockey player in Spain's Olympic team. There were milder ones too: "It would be so good if in the next match you'd get a hard blow with a stick right across your face so you'd have to go back to your fucking Catalonia".

The young man's unforgivable crime was stating in an interview that he played for Spain because he had no other option. "I feel Catalan", he said. "I do not feel the same way listening to the Spanish anthem as I do listening to [the Catalan national song] Els Segadors".

It is a fact of life in the Olympic movement that some athletes are forced to compete under a flag for which they have no particular esteem. For historical, cultural and political reasons, this is the case for many Catalans. Most of them will just gloss over this situation, possibly because the few daring to be candid about it will immediately incur the wrath of those who find in sports a vent for their aggressive nationalism.

Just a few days earlier, another case of malicious communications, involving English diver Tom Daley, resulted in the swift arrest of the responsible party. The Spanish authorities, on the other hand, have not envisaged any legal action against the host of offenders, most of whose names are known, and not so much as a word of condemnation has come from official Spain. Only the Catalan regional administration has issued a vague statement of support.

The Spanish press, which did publicize –and harshly criticize– the Olympian's words, has been for the most part revealingly silent about the threats he received. International media from CBS Sports to The Guardian have divulged instead the complete story, expressing the appropriate indignation. But the affair has generally been treated as an isolated event, when it's more likely a symptom that the perennial conflict between Spain and Catalonia is taking an uglier turn.

There is now in Catalonia a lively debate about the need, or the wisdom, of continuing with the present political arrangement in Spain. More and more people feel trapped within a state that is clearly working against their interests, and the idea of a peaceful and democratic process of independence is gaining strength. The immediate reason may be found in the very real grievances about the way in which the present economic crisis is being used against Catalans by the Spanish government, but the conflict has much deeper roots –in culture and in history.

Proof of it is that the ruling Partido Popular, whose full attention should be taken up by the financial turmoil now shaking the country, is finding the leisure to mount a crusade on various fronts against every aspect of Catalan identity, most visibly the normal use of the Catalan language. At the same time, open calls are being made to revoke the limited amount of self-rule that Catalans wrested from the central government thirty-five years ago, after General Franco's death and the end of his dictatorship. In this design the nationalists from the right are abetted by the guilty silence of the Socialist party, whose centralist soul has never been comfortable with the principle of devolution. And the Madrid-based media are happily going along with the trend, when not enthusiastically applauding the idea.

In this favorable atmosphere, many in the rank-and-file feel empowered to say what they really think about a people within their borders whom they've never considered wholly Spanish. Catalans are fair game. Hate speech has been around for some time, and not only in the virtual world of social networks, but hostility against Catalonia is now showing more openly –in radio talk shows, TV debates and the op-ed pages of supposedly reputable papers, not to mention private conversations, blogs and websites of all kinds giving a free run to an army of self-appointed defenders of the nationalist faith.

The unfortunate hockey player's case is only the latest in a series of such incidents, and certainly not the silly anecdote it might appear. It should be read instead as an indication of a widespread refusal among Spaniards to allow within their state the existence of another people who have their own distinct culture and a very different set of values. A refusal which, ironically, might end up pushing Catalonia away from Spain.

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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.

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Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia