Federalistes d’Esquerres – UEF Catalunya
Barcelona, Saturday, 11th March 2023
Federal call for a linguistic entente
These last few years, marked by the “procés” and the severe judicial response to its challenge, have left open wounds among Catalans, as well as an unhealthy feeling of misunderstanding and mistrust with the rest of Spain. Some of the fundamental consensuses that allowed for the democratic transition and the recovery of self-government have been eroded. The harshness of events has cracked them and we now need to formulate them anew.
The language agreement was decisive in the cohesion of civil society during the period of democratic recovery. The will to promote the Catalan language, cornered under the dictatorship, had an enormous unifying potential. It brought together the Catalan-speaking population’s desire for recognition and full use of their language, and the aspirations for progress and equal coexistence of “the other Catalans”, those men and women from all over Spain who were the workforce in the factories and the lifeblood of a decisive workers’ and neighbourhood movement that was decisive in the conquest of freedoms.
However, with the passing of the years and the changes we have lived through, that momentum began to dry up. The social lift stopped working. Inequalities became entrenched and have worsened with the successive crises. Catalan has lost its appeal as a language associated with the promise of a better future for the new generations. School segregation has meant not only a distancing according to income levels, but also a loss of mixture between Catalan-speaking pupils, Spanish-speaking pupils and those who speak the many other languages that the migratory waves of globalisation have brought to Catalonia. And while this was happening, an idea was permeating a whole swathe of society: the dream of a Catalan national identity defined around a single language. The notion of “one’s own language” became tinged with exclusion. Instead of simply designating Catalan as the language historically shaped in a given territory, it has come to mean that Castilian, which has been present in Catalonia for centuries, would be a language alien to its culture. A mere language of imposition. For years, the Generalitat and the public media have been feeding this feeling.
However, its translation to the educational sphere has had the opposite effect: Catalan has become unpalatable to a growing number of pupils. The language of Pompeu Fabra reigns in the classrooms… and Spanish is the lingua franca of the playground and groups of friends. The political crisis of recent years has accentuated this dynamic. The fever of the “procés” has favoured the affirmation of homogeneous identities, and language is the most obvious differentiating factor and also the most emotionally charged. The evocation of the language that has rocked our childhood and in which we will utter our last words moves intimate and powerful springs. And this has become a political weapon. Men and women, who have come from all over Spain fleeing from misery and ‘caciquismo’, have come to be branded as “colons of Francoism”. In a word: a threat to Catalan culture and uniqueness. It is not easy to describe the pain and the feeling of expulsion from Catalanness that this discourse has caused in a large part of the citizens of this country. Exclusionary nationalisms thrive on mutual rejection. A certain centralist Spanish nationalism has always regarded the existence of “peripheral” languages with disdain. In Catalonia, a supposed defence of the autochthonous language has sometimes led to an attempt to corner Castilian.
Nothing could be more counterproductive than to confront two languages as expressions of irreconcilable and closed identities. Identities change and are in perpetual construction. Languages reflect each other, influence each other and fertilise each other. Catalonia is multilingual. And Spain is an extraordinary bundle of languages, cultures and diverse roots. We cannot face the challenges of the new century, which demand cooperation and collective projects, from tribal and fractured societies, nor by turning our backs on this diversity, its richness and its creative potential.
For all these reasons, we, Federalistes d’esquerres, address ourselves to the Catalan and Spanish civil society, and we call on our leaders to demand dialogue and common sense in dealing with linguistic issues.
Catalan is a minority language and needs special protection. But it is not just a question of the rights of its speakers. Languages contain unfathomable treasures of humanity and seeds of progress. They do not survive as anthropological curiosities, but need to flow through the veins of society. And for this to be so, they must be loved. The vitality of Catalan does not depend so much on its core presence in education or in the communication of public administrations – legally guaranteed and necessary – as on the feelings of affection it inspires in the population. The obligation of the education system is to ensure that students achieve a perfect command of the two official languages – three, including Aranese.
We always hear that ours is a successful school model. Perhaps we should be more attentive to some warning signs. Something is going wrong. It is common sense that the proportion of subjects taught in the different languages should follow pedagogical criteria, adapting to the needs of the pupils and the sociolinguistic environment of each school. Nor does it seem debatable that, despite the centrality of Catalan as a vehicular language, Spanish cannot become something marginal, alien to the acquisition of knowledge. The correct learning of Spanish requires that some subjects be taught in this language, as is already the case in many state-subsidised and public schools. However, we have a serious problem when the school’s treatment of Spanish is seen as discrimination.
We are in a bad way if it is necessary to resort to the courts to try to unblock an issue that the educational community should be able to resolve by itself with restraint. And we will be worse off if the Generalitat only deploys its ingenuity to circumvent the courts. By the way of grievances and cunning, things can only get poisoned. We do not want language wars. Nor do we want a country of separate ethno-linguistic communities. That would be contrary to Catalonia’s best democratic traditions and an obstacle to its progress.
The majority of citizens have a desire for understanding in Catalonia and wish to project its cultural potential outwards. Catalan, like the other languages of Spain, must be heard normally in its institutions, starting with the Senate. The State must protect them and promote the dissemination of their literary, artistic and audiovisual production. Consensus is needed to protect us from manipulation and excesses. Catalan, which is present in European academic circles, must also be present in the EU itself.
For all these reasons, our society and its representatives must adopt the language of respect and fraternity. Languages should be used to talk to each other, not to confront each other. This is the call of federalism. Respect for diversity and the use of languages as an element of communication, richness and personal growth.