Letters: Exchange on Catalonia
After 25 years of receiving and enjoying The Volunteer I was saddened by the unbalanced and misleading article by Eric R. Smith entitled How to understand the Catalan Independence Movement published in No. 3 of Vol. XXXIII.
Though I’m too far removed from my research to properly comment on the simplistic statements about tax structure and GDP I’m hoping you will feel readers would be interested in hearing what life is like today in Catalonia for those deemed to be non-Catalan or non pro Catalan independence.
“Fascist Nationalism,” a phrase used in the article, is a good description of what is being perpetrated by the Catalan pro-independence movement. A few examples: (1) Registering to vote for people with non Catalan names or those suspected of not being pro-independence is often made difficult and problematic, in the hope no doubt that these people can be kept from voting. (2) While it is true that Spanish is not legally banned in schools, students that speak it are routinely taken to task. Parents do have the right to request that their children be taught in Spanish but the procedure to enact this is made very difficult. In addition, they are then labeled anti-Catalan and have to suffer the consequences. (3) The pro-independence movement in an effort to bolster its cause shamelessly distorts history referring, for example, to The War of the Spanish Succession as their war of independence. I’ve even met young Catalans under the preposterous impression that the 1936-1939 Civil War was that of Catalonia against the rest of Spain.
“The national government of Spain has long antagonized Catalonia” is a statement in the article I find amusing in view of the very deliberate insults I’ve witnessed to the Spanish head of state and the deliberate lack of respect demonstrated to the Spanish national anthem and flag. In the face of these disgraceful acts and bad manners the national government has, I feel, been tolerant to a fault. I’m referring to the post-Franco era of course.
Smith’s statement that Franco’s acrimony with the Catalans lives on in Castilian speaking regions is truly ironic and possibly, I suspect, intended to disguise the acrimony non Catalan speakers are subjected to in Catalonia. I personally know 2 waitresses, originally from other regions of Spain and who work in my favorite café, who were “denounced” for not attending to customers in Catalan. An official was sent from Barcelona to confront these girls and investigate their heinous crime.
If you live in Catalonia and happen to like flamenco or the bulls, arts deemed to be un-Catalan and therefore the object of derision, you must be prepared to endure insults.
In spite of the tenor of what ‘ve written please understand that I loved living in a small Catalan town for several years. I have beautiful Catalan friends. I love the great food and wine of the region and was dazzled by the Mediterranean. Also, I can understand the aspiration of an ethnic group to have their
own state. But the mendacity and ugly nationalism of the Catalan independence movement has, for me, made it not worth living there. Especially when there are so many other wonderful places to live in Spain.
Eric Smith replies:
I have no doubt that there are incidents of overbearing Catalanism, but my point is that the Franco dictatorship fanned these flames and put the Catalans on the defensive. If they are now aggressive in their protection of the culture in a moment of economic and political turmoil then it’s to be expected.
Let’s take the reader’s personal experience. If my children were attending, say, a school in France where English was also taught but my kids insisted on speaking only English, I would expect there would be immense pressure on them to speak French, as well. But it is common I have found for Spanish speakers to not apply such a test to Catalan speakers. Instead, they view Catalan as an irritant as if the Catalans speak their language just to annoy everyone else rather than being an actual language native to a group of people whose historical territory happens to be in Spain. Franco tried to stamp out the language, as I pointed out. But I think that the reader’s experience in a “village” is further relevant. In the villages, Catalanism has long been evident. Why has it now spread to the cities with such strength?
If, as the reader suggests, that strength is an illusion and the Catalan-sponsored elections are unfair then that is also more of a reason to hold an official nationally sponsored vote that would permit international observers to determine if the vote is fair or not. That too has been off the table for reasons I have already described.