Alberto Penadés, January 5, 2021
Image of a demonstration in defense of linguistic immersion in 2013 Enric Català
The language policy of Catalonia is based on cordiality and the desire to increase the dissemination of the language, as well as its results to achieve it. Although some want to make it something untouchable
The thesis that I defend is simple. In the case of Catalonia being an independent state, it would not be able to maintain the linguistic policies that it maintains (and that personally, if someone cares, I support in its general lines). Perhaps it could do so if it embraced the Visegrad group, or something similar, where the arguments that some nationalist politicians use to defend them have their natural place. The second thesis that I defend is that what is wrong with language policies in Catalonia are those arguments, not so much the policies themselves, since they make sense in the context of a friendship relationship and within the same State, sharing the same nation politics. They can be improved, as all politics can be, but they make good sense.
An obvious premise of these reasons is that these policies, especially the so-called language immersion policy, which was approved by general consensus in 1983, have been and are supported for very different reasons by people of different ideologies and identities: for some it is a policy of support to a language in recession, or in danger of being in it; for others, perhaps, a policy of social integration, to facilitate mobility; for some it may be a national baptism (immersion, after all); for still others it is a policy of national affirmation, “the Catalan school in Catalan” as a matter, let’s say, of natural law. Only the latter is clearly false, as a matter of law, although real as an ideology, but the important thing is that the balance is broken if a certain complicity is not cultivated. The essentialist arguments used to scandalize against any attempt at reform may have their place in the context of a dialogue between fellow citizens, but they would be intolerable issued by a sovereign Catalan government. (It is not that they are passable in an autonomous government, but imagine the famous little speech of the 300 languages of Mariàngela Vilallonga, with her grimace into Castilian included, in a minister of culture, in a parliamentary seat of a western state).
Neither Quebec nor Flanders, where the vernacular languages are those of the vast majority of the population, and not just half, have a monolingual educational system. In the case of Quebec, a personal principle applies: English-speaking children, but not immigrants of other languages, have the right to go to school in English. In Flanders a territorial principle is applied, but made more flexible by the so-called “facilities”: in towns where there is a significant minority of Francophones (30% or more), the administration is obliged to offer essential services, including education, in French. This happens in a not inconsiderable number of municipalities around Brussels, the capital inserted in that territory, but which Flemish nationalism, in general, has renounced.
The spread of Catalan as the first language in an independent Catalonia would be very far from the demographics of French in Quebec or that of Dutch in Flanders. Not even the one in Flanders plus Brussels looks like it. Can you imagine the application of one or the other principle in Catalonia? It would be a disaster for the Catalan and for the Catalans. Even for the nationalists, except perhaps for the most wild, since not even giving up Barcelona would an attractive ethno-linguistic project be feasible. In no case does it seem good, neither for coexistence nor for the future of the language. And yet these are the conditions under which linguistic nationalism can exercise its power in a democratic state. That, or egalitarian bilingualism for all intents and purposes; there are not others. If the distribution of Catalan speakers resembles a Canadian province, it is not Quebec but New Brunswick, which is fully and officially bilingual; to resemble Belgium at all, it would be more like Belgium as a whole than Flanders.
Some might think that if, when the country acceded to independence for the second time, the Estonian government was allowed to ignore some fundamental rights of 30% of its citizens, those of the Russian language, not even recognizing the right to be so, except that passed through a rigorous linguistic test, Catalan nationalists could well forget the recognition of the linguistic rights of Spanish-speakers in their educational system. However, as everyone knows, if you think a bit, that could not have happened today even in Estonia. The territory was separating from a dictatorship and it was doing so without an agreement; and it was certainly not a member state of the EU. Even so, if that 30% had been Danish speakers, they would have done better, and if it had been 50%, even being Russian, too. It would be a delusion to think that Catalonia can follow a vaguely similar path if it does not do so with iron boots.
If Catalonia were to become independent in some regulated way and with international recognition, it would have to mediate a separation agreement, such as the one required by the famous resolution of the Supreme Court of Canada in 1998 for the eventual secession of Quebec, contained in the Clarity Law of that country, and that almost everyone admits as a democratic model. An agreement also endorsed by the EU, in our case. And a separation agreement cannot but establish the application of the conditions of linguistic justice that are used in a modern democracy with a demographic like that of an independent Catalonia. Without this, Catalonia could not be a democracy, as they say, homologated; it would have to invent a neo-. In view of Twitter I do not doubt that there are professional thinkers put to it, but it is doubtful that they go from being specters.
Put clearly, in order to maintain some of its language policies in a hypothetical independent Catalonia, it would be necessary for the secession to be unilateral and, therefore, in some sense, “revolutionary”, and not recognized by the surrounding democracies, except for the suspects. An epic tale for some and tragic for others, but a tale. An agreed secession would lead to an inevitable regulation based on different rights for different speakers, or different policies for different localities. If this is coupled with the creation of new international borders among speakers of the language, it is difficult to understand how independence helps Catalan, I know what you are thinking, so let’s repeat it: assimilationism can only be authoritarian. The language policy of Catalonia is a balance that presupposes good understanding between fellow citizens within a democracy in which the majority, over 80%, have the Spanish language as their first language and in which the languages of 20% require special support; It is not something that can be reached by appealing to the international criteria of justice applied in other democracies for a situation comparable to that of Catalonia. Like all friendship, it has mistakes, problems, illogical things and practical corrections due to experience and good use; but if we go on to write it down in the divorce papers, it doesn’t hold up (1).
I do not intend to award the relative merit of a Catalan school in which Catalan is used in 75% or 90% of the classes. It would be best to experiment and see what works best for shared purposes. Personally, I am glad that there is no talk of a segregated system, which indicates that the craze has not spread as much as it sometimes seems. I think that Catalan should obtain this type of positive discrimination, as it should also obtain more support outside of Catalonia. You don’t have to be stingy and you have to be practical, what results from that combination will be fine; the rest should be to test and collect data. What I want to emphasize is that none of this implies accepting the ideology of the “Catalan school in Catalan”. Those who defend this as an essence do not admit gradation because any degree is incompatible with its symbolic character. A school almost everything in Catalan is like an almost honorable person or an almost celibate friar; for believers in the symbol, it is a complete disgrace. The rest of us must respect the more or less mythical beliefs of our fellow citizens, with whom we have many common goals, but we are not obliged to make a Goodbye Lenin of them either. If this common minimum is broken, it is inevitable that many will go from the code of civic friendship to that of justice and linguistic rights, and that can only be the route towards more nationalism and less Catalan (and Visegrad). …
(1) The confusion of friendship (for some) with national rights (for others) can be illustrated with something as commonplace as toponymy and public posters. Today care is taken not to offend by using Spanish to refer to the greater toponymy of Catalonia (as it would be natural to do) although Catalan does adapt the greater toponymy as normal and without this, of course, bothering anyone (it is say, you can say Saragossa, but it is delicate to say Lérida); and that is what the posters reflect, absurdly from the point of view of equality. In Flanders road signs are generally bilingual, in Quebec they have to include the English name of the sites, although it can be done in smaller block letters than French. British Canadians must be expected to have sharper eyesight. But I suppose that some users of a certain age in some public spaces in Catalonia would appreciate finding directions in Spanish, beyond the friendly ones, even if they had to put on their glasses.