Jaume Rexach, 23 January 2023
Picture: Catalan Parliament (Ramon Boadella)
Confusing Catalonia with the Catalan language is a blunder and a very dangerous mistake. Firstly, because to fix the use of a language with the identity of a territory is completely outdated by the dynamics of history. Are English-speaking Canadians English? Are French-speaking Canadians French?
Secondly, because language can never be a barrier to the right to be part of a community. In India, for example, there are 22 recognised official languages.
Jordi Pujol was right when, in the 1970s, he said that “everyone who lives and works in Catalonia is Catalan”. At that time, there was a strong migratory wave of people from other parts of Spain (Andalusians, Extremadurians, Galicians…) to Catalonia and the decision was made, intelligently, to welcome them with open arms and a willingness to welcome and integrate them.
The result of this positive attitude is that many of the new arrivals showed interest in learning about Catalan culture and learned to speak Catalan. I know many Spanish-speaking migrants, both first and second generation, who have made the self-taught effort to speak Catalan because they see it as a gesture of consideration, empathy and cordiality with the people who have welcomed them.
Many of them speak it as they know how, but it is the predisposition that counts. “Where you go, do what you see done there”, says a Castilian proverb. It is in this spirit of respect and nobility that, during Franco’s regime and during the first years of the democratic transition, many Spanish speakers – mostly simple, hard-working people – took the step of learning and speaking Catalan, without any need for persuasion campaigns, or normalisation courses, or threats, or diplomas.
It is this “miracle” that took place before TV3 and language immersion in schools that attracts my attention and that I am interested in highlighting. How, naturally and without any obligation, a very important part of the new Catalans arriving from the rest of Spain took an interest in and voluntarily adopted the Catalan language.
It is precisely when we have placed the language at the epicentre of nationalist/independence claims that steps have been taken backwards. Spanish speakers – be they Spanish or Latin American – perceive that we want to impose on them not only compulsory learning at school, but also the use of Catalan in their social relations, and this is objectively counterproductive for the expansion of the Catalan language.
Let it be clear: I am totally in favour of teaching Catalan at school and of the existence of public media in Catalan. I only criticise the strategy that the Generalitat has used in recent decades to guarantee the survival of our language and to extend its knowledge to people who do not know it.
By means of imposition and repression, we only succeed in making the Catalan language unpopular and arousing rejection among Spanish speakers. Then come the cries and complaints when the statistics reflect the decline in its use in Catalonia.
In this sense, it is worth recalling the formula followed by the new Bourbon authorities in the 18th century to introduce the use of the Castilian language in Catalonia: “Let the effect be achieved without the care being noticed”. We Catalan speakers should do something similar with our language: introduce its social use in a gentle and kindly way, without acrimony or authoritarian promptings, as, unfortunately, some hyperventilating supremacists do.
Jordi Pujol, despite his fall from grace for promoting and being complicit in the corruption of his family and his party, continues to be a point of reference for a large part of the Catalan nationalist movement. They regret what has happened to him, but they continue to respect him, listen to him and follow him.
It is no secret that a very large number of his staunchest supporters during his long presidency of the Generalitat (1980-2003) constitute the mass that gives body to independence. Therefore, his political ascendancy, even if he has voluntarily retired to winter quarters, continues to be very great.
That is why I regret that in his old age, Jordi Pujol has abandoned the principle that “anyone who lives and works in Catalonia is a Catalan”. Now he has changed his mind and has taken the abysmal step of identifying being Catalan with speaking the Catalan language. The book “The Last Conversation”, by the Japanese Ko Tazawa, reports it: “We, with a low birth rate and so much immigration (…), are threatened with being reduced to a minority in Catalonia”, says the ex-president, adopting the typical and abominable discourse of the ultra-right.
It must be said and repeated: Catalonia is all of us, wherever we come from and whatever language we speak. Far from catastrophic forecasts, we must have faith and hope in the future of the Catalan language. If a considerable part of the Spanish-speaking migratory wave of the 1960s and 1970s adopted it normally, out of sympathy, there is no reason to think that that “miracle” will not be repeated, now that we have all the wind behind us and the sails are set.
We just need to get our strategy right. In any case, the one the Generalitat has applied so far has clearly not worked. The “Taliban”, neither in Afghanistan nor in Catalonia or anywhere else: they only bring repression, regression and frustration.