Francesc Valls. – 2 JAN 2021
Josefa Pérez, 89, after receiving the covid-19 vaccine. Emilio Morenatti AP
“We can’t play today, mama, everyone is Spaniard”. This is how the children of Jordi Pujol and Marta Ferrusola lamented more than once, according to the matriarch, to illustrate the linguistic marginalization of Catalan, the use of which did not abound in Barcelona on Avinguda General Mitre. They could have played in their mother tongue in neighborhoods like Gràcia, Sants or Sant Andreu del Palomar, where language was never a problem. But for this it was necessary to cross the Río Grande of Diagonal Avenue, with a northern area where during the Franco regime it was elegant and convenient to opt for Spanish. If centralist power facilitates enrichment, why bother?
Far from the select neighborhood guarded by blue-robed porters — in Santa Coloma de Gramenet, Nou Barris or L’Hospitalet — it was also quite exceptional to hear Catalan spoken. There were blocks inhabited by citizens from the same area, some even shared a flat as rented. Spanish was the vehicular language in these cities-ghetto of cement that the Franco regime built with almost no basic services: no schools, no shops, no public transport, no asphalt, no sewers.
Catalan was despised from Diagonal upwards and unnecessary in the new alluvial neighborhoods. That’s why it’s not uncommon to hear Josefa Pérez, a woman born 89 years ago in Ourense, speak Spanish fluently. She was the first citizen vaccinated against covid-19 in Catalonia last December. And she was addressed to in Spanish in a private conversation by the notable pro-independence Pere Aragonès, acting president of the Generalitat, and Health Councilor Alba Vergés, although in public both politicians used Catalan. A pro-independence fundamentalism, however, did not like at all that “a Galician” living in Catalonia (although not “Catalan”) spoke in Spanish in the media, that the city chosen to start vaccinating was Hospitalet, and that at the entrance of the Feixa Llarga home a legend wished “Merry Christmas” in the language of Cervantes.
There is a pro-independence segment that, although a minority, is uninhibited on social media, where it explodes its exclusionary vision, as happened with the election of Josefa. And that is why it does not hesitate to consider as articles of faith the writings where Pujol recanted himself several times about the “anarchic Andalusian man”, who “for hundreds of years has been hungry and living in a state of ignorance and cultural, mental and spiritual misery”. Or the texts of former president Quim Torra about “those beasts who are disgusted by any expression of Catalanness” and “live in a country of which they do not know everything: their culture, their traditions, their history”. In fact, those who were upset by the importance given to Josefa have a mental framework in which immigration poses a threat to the genuine Catalan essences. They cultivate an imaginary they want to preserve from the dissolving ways of life and ideologies that in their opinion the migratory waves bring. There are many precedents in the Catalan nationalism of this school of thought. At the beginning of the last century, the doctor Hermenegild Puig Sais —who ended up militating in the Lliga and had the Dencàs and Badia among his epigones— warned that the low fertility of the natives threatened the future of the Catalan race. Both Puig Sais and Severino Aznar, a journalist and sociologist who would end up being a member of the Francoist Cortes, fought from opposed nationalisms for economic and class reasons against free migration or birth control, as points out the historian Eduard Masjuan in his studies on neo-Malthusianism.
It has rained a lot since then, but the intransigence doesn’t die. Xenophobia, racism and class contempt are not a Catalan differential fact. The emergence of political forces such as Vox and the patriotic exhibitions of the Popular Party confirm the transversality of the slogan “first those at home”. The difference is that Spanish nationalism has a state while the Catalan one doesn’t have it, so it tries to seduce with the hook that the dreamed republic will be a social and linguistic paradise for the inmigrants. However, intolerance on social media or events such as the attendance a few weeks ago by Josep Costa, vice-president of Parliament and JuntsxCat parliamentarian, at a meeting with far-right secessionist groups, cast more shadows than lights on this pro-independence ecumenism, for which the purpose justifies the means. The support received by Costa from Laura Borràs or from ex-president Torra is not very encouraging in order to banish the racist or supremacist attitudes that emerge too often.