The latest twist in the neverending Catalan Independence debate came on Wednesday morning when Spanish Minister for Education, Culture and Sport, José Ignacio Wert said in Parliament that he would like to impose Spanish on Catalan students.
Before those of you who understand Spanish have a go at me for being biased, here is the complete sentence spoken by Wert not just the section that has been quoted in the the headlines.
“Nuestro interés es españolizar a los alumnos catalanes y que se sientan tan orgullosos de ser españoles como de ser catalanes y que tengan capacidad de tener una vivencia equilibrada de esas dos identidades porque las dos les enriquecen, y en esa línea vamos a continuar”
“Our interest is to ‘españolizar’ Catalan students and that they feel as proud to be Spaniards as they are to be Catalans and that they have a balanced experience of these two identities because both of them enrich, and we’re going to continue in this direction.”
The difficult word to translate is ‘españolizar’ so I’ll give you a choice between ‘to hispanize’, ‘to Spanishify’, ‘to impose Spanish on’ or ‘to make Catalan students more Spanish’. Just choose the translation you think fits best!
Wert’s Statement In Context
In fact, the rest of the statement which talks about being proud to be both Spanish and Catalan and that both identities enrich doesn’t sound too bad until we consider them in the current context of the Catalan Independence crisis.
A few days prior to making the offending statement, which has generally been abbreviated in headlines to “Our interests is to make Catalan students more Spanish” in headlines, Wert spoke about the effect of education on nationalist sentiment in Autonomous Communities on Telemadrid.
“sin duda existen evidencias que relacionen esta –digamos– identitad o sentimiento independentista en alguna comunidad con la dirección que ha llevado el proceso educativo” – “without doubt there is evidence that relates this – let’s call it – identity or sentiment in some communities with the direction that the educational process has taken.”
This was a direct alusion to Catalonia and the Basque Country and received a direct reply from Catalan Education minister Irene Rigau in which she accused Wert of wanting to ‘españolizar’ the Catalan Education system.
It seems clear then that the two statements, far from being blunders made by an inept politician, were a carefully planned attack on the Catalan Education system. This has been a reiterated desire of Partido Popular Education Ministers and places them firmly alongside totalitarian leaders, such as Hitler or Stalin, who put similar brainwashing programmes into place.
I know the previous sentence likens the Partido Popular to two of the twentieth century’s most celebrated monsters but I assure that I am not using these words lightly because central government’s treatment of the Catalans is full of totalitarian precedents.
This Has Been Happening For 300 Years
Following the fall of Barcelona to Castilian troops on 11 September 1714, the conquering Spanish King Felipe V immediately issued an edict known as the Nueva Planta which abolished all Catalonia’s laws and rights and also replaced all Catalan officials and civil servants with Spaniards.
By 1916 new Spanish Government in Barcelona had made the Catalan language illegal and those caught speaking it were liable to a prison sentence. To get an idea of what this must have been like, until 1714 Catalonia was a monolingual independent country who was ruled by the same monarch as the rest of Spain and the only people likely to be able to speak Spanish were politicians and traders who moved between the two countries. The banning of the Catalan language must have caused total chaos at all levels of society.
A year later, all six Catalan Universities were closed to be replaced by the University of Cervera, a town in the Lleida countryside some 100 kilometres from Barcelona which had supported Felipe V throughout the War of Spanish Succession. Brainwashing techniques were not yet very refined in 1717 so rather than influencing thought the University of Cervera became known for its lack of it as shown in the celebrated phrase attributed to its Rector in the early 19th century. ‘Lejos de nosotros la funesta mania de pensar” -”Far be it from us the dangerous craze for thought.”
By the second half of the 19th century restrictions on the Catalan language had relaxed and although mainly in Spanish, universities had reopened and the children of the bourgeoisie received private educations in Barcelona and the rest of Catalonia. Sure enough, once allowed to think again the dastardly Catalans started writing songs and poems and publishing books in their own language and by the beginning of the 20th century calls for independence were heard.
Twentieth Century Dictatorships
Following a military coup in 1923, Miguel Primo de Rivera became Dictator of Spain and,in order to quash the troublesome Catalans, made the laws more restrictive and banned the language again.
Primo de Rivera’s Dictatorship only lasted till 1930 and with democracy restored and the Republic in place, Catalan President Francesc Macià declared independence in 1931 but was persuaded by the Spanish Republican President Niceto Alcala-Zamora to remain part of Spain in return for increased autonomy. However, following the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, Catalonia decided it was better able to defend itself against Franco’s Nationalist troops alone and declared independence in 1937.
Franco’s victory in 1939 meant the firing squad for thousands of Catalans, including President Lluís Companys – the only president of an independent country to have been publicly executed in the 20th century – and many fled into exile. The harshness of the regime goes without saying and inevitably speaking the Catalan language was made an imprisonable offence yet again.
This Is Very Recent History
Obviously all teaching was done in Spanish, which means that virtually no Catalan over 5o or who finished their education before Franco’s death in 1975 or the new Catalan education system was introduced in the early 80s is able to write in their own mother tongue. I’m 52 and most of my friends are in their fifties. We all speak Catalan all the time but it’s surprising how many emails I receive from them in Spanish.
Now it’s worth stopping and thinking about this for a while. Although Franco died over 35 years ago, his legacy remains and has a direct effect on the lives of people people on a day to level. This means that middle-aged Catalans are incredibly sensitive to declarations that imply a return to conditions that they consider violated their human rights.
The Regime Rewrote History
One of the other effects of Franco’s education system was to rewrite Spanish history to the detriment of Catalonia. For nearly 40 years, Catalan children were led to believe that the Christian Reconquest of Spain from the Moors began at Covadonga in 722 and from then on it was a completely Castilian affair. Since democracy the Castilian version is still taught in Catalan schools but the fact that La Reconquista began in different places including Navarra, Aragón and Catalonia has been added to the syllabus. The Reconquest of the Balearic Islands and the whole Mediterranean coast, for example, was a Catalan-Aragonese venture rather than a Castilian one.
Similarly, the idea that Catalonia was part of the Crown of Aragon is clarified. In 1137, the King of Aragón Ramiro II betrothed his baby daughter Petronila to Ramon Berenguer Count of Barcelona and effective ruler of Catalonia. Their son became Alfons II of Aragón, Count of Barcelona and Count of Provence and politically Catalonia remained dominant as the port of Barcelona allowed the combined kingdom access to the Mediterranean.
For the next three hundred years, the Counts of Barcelona/Kings of Aragón built an empire that included most of the south of France, the Balearic Islands, Valencia, Sicily, Corsica and Naples and southern Italy. The largest Mediterranean Empire since Roman Times was often known as the Catalan Confederation as the new territories although dependent on Barcelona were given a high degree of autonomy.
This period ended in 1410 when the House of Barcelona dynasty died out and the Castilian Fernando I of Antequera acceded to the the title of Count of Barcelona and King of Aragón. In 1469, the heir to the throne Fernando II married Isabel of Castile and the two crowns were united in 1479. From then on, Aragón looked increasing towards Castile, Castile looked towards the Americas and Catalonia and its Empire fell to rack and ruin.
When on a recent visit to Valladolid, one of our hosts began spouting about how the Catalans would still be Muslims if it weren’t for Castile and Catalonia had never existed in its own right because a Count always has to be a vassal of a King, I gently pointed out that she was regurgitating a fascist version of Spanish history. I have to admit she wasn’t particularly pleased.
The Dictator Redefined The Language
By the 1960s speaking Catalan in public was frowned upon by the authorities but was no longer imprisonable. However, the Regime always referred to Catalan as a dialect of Spanish, when in fact it is a separate language that is significantly older than Spanish. Furthermore, the Regime now applied a linguistic divided and rule tactic by redefining Catalan and its dialects spoken in the former empire territories of Mallorca and Valencia into three separate languages – Catalán, Mallorquín and Valenciano.
If you speak Catalan and regularly hold conversations with Valencians or Mallorcans, this idea is so ridiculous that it shouldn’t even be worth bothering about. However, so many Spanish speakers have been taken in by this Francoist lie so it definitely needs clarifying and let’s use Spanish as an example.
Just imagine for a moment that Cuba had not gone through its revolution but rather had become a US possession and this had led to a complete breakdown in relations between Washington and Madrid. After this imaginary dispute, the two countries hated each other to such an extent that the US wasn’t prepared to accept anybody speaking Spanish within its borders.
As this wasn’t possible, it decided to rename the Spanish spoken in California and Miami and call them Californian and Miamese. The residents of Spanish-speaking of California and Miami still believed they spoke Spanish and had no problem communicating with friends and family in Mexico and Cuba, but the government and their English-speaking neighbours insisted they had no idea what they were talking about because they were different languages.
This is what happened to the Catalan dialects of Mallorquí and Valencià, and to add insult to injury the PP-run Aragón Government have recently decided to rename the Catalan spoken in the border region of La Franja del Ponent as Aragonés Oriental. One of my best friends is from La Franja and she is up in arms about it!
Critical Of The Catalan Education System
Here in Catalonia, we are fearful of Partido Popular Education Ministers when they use the word ‘españolizar’. Wert and his predecessor Esperanza Aguirre have it clear that way to stop Catalan children growing up into Catalans is by teaching them the Spanish history syllabus in Spanish rather than Catalan, and furthermore criticise the current Catalan education system for being ‘totalitarian’.
Regarding language, the main criticisms are that it’s unfair on Spanish-speaking children to have their schooling in Catalan and that Catalan children don’t learn to speak Spanish. To be perfectly honest, my experience of talking to Spanish-speaking parents of my daughter’s schoolmates is that the vast majority are very happy to have their children taught in Catalan because it gives them a better chance of integrating into Catalan society and also of getting a job. Remember both Catalan and Spanish are official languages in Catalonia, so a good written and spoken level in both languages is required in most companies. If you only speak Spanish at home, your access to Catalan will be very limited because most books, newspapers and TV programmes are in Spanish.
Catalan children, however, have many more opportunities to use Spanish even if they come from monolingual homes. This is backed up by the fact that according to tests such as ‘La Reválida’ or ‘Selectividad’ Catalan children leave school at both 16 and 18 with a higher average level of written Spanish than children educated in the rest of Spain.
The truth is, Catalan children receive the same number of classes in Spanish Language as they do in Catalan Language so that’s where they do the necessary analisis, and they all learn to speak it through constant contact in the street and through the media.
Tired Of the Pro-Spanish Bias
Furthermore, the bias towards the Spanish Language is actually so overwhelming that it’s the Catalans that have cause for complaint. According to the constitution Castilian, Catalan, Basque and Galician are all official languages in Spain. Do pupils learn Catalan as a foreign language in schools in the rest of Spain? Are Catalan children in Madrid entitled to a complete education in their mother-tongue? I don’t think so.
Similarly, the Instituto Cervantes is a cultural institution that promotes Spanish language and culture and is paid for by all Spaniards. However, it never promotes Catalan or the other minority languages in Spain and always features the greats of Spanish literature, such as Cervantes and Quevedo, to the detriment of our own Joanot Martorell, Jacint Verdaguer or Mercè Rodoreda.
José Ignacio Wert’s use of the word ‘españolizar’ just shows how far away he and the rest of the Spanish government are from the feelings of the people here in Catalonia. Spain has been ‘españolizando’ the Catalans for just too long, and it appears that they taken the decisin that it won’t go on any longer.