Living in Catalonia (I&II)

Spain Catalonia

Clemente Polo | Living in Catalonia is becoming increasingly oppressive. Even for those of us who decided one day to pack our bags and move to an Autonomous Community that stood out from the rest for its social and cultural dynamism and its cosmopolitan vocation. When I was offered a place at the Autonomous University of Barcelona after giving a seminar in June 1984, nobody thought to ask me where I was from or what language I was going to teach in. Similarly, it had not crossed my mind since I landed in Barcelona in September 1984 to ask anyone to speak to me in Spanish. It was enough for them to listen to my presentation and appreciate my professional career, and for me the desire to be part of the Economics and Economic History department, which had such notable economists and historians.

Since then, the scenario has changed completely in Catalonia. And today I read with horror that the campaigns of harassment and denunciation against professors who teach in Spanish in Catalan universities are multiplying. They are `promoted by the subsidised association Plataforma por la lengua, despite the fact that Spanish is the majority language in Catalan society and the only language understood by the majority of foreign students. I have escaped the burning by the skin of my teeth! Even if one has written hundreds of articles detailing the sectarian policies of the Catalan government and the oppressive situation in which we constitutionalist Catalans, left and right, survive, I have been astonished to see that the government of the Generalitat no longer limits itself to imposing language fines on companies. But it openly encourages the persecution of schoolchildren and teachers.

The secessionist leaders are counting on the connivance of Prime Minister Sánchez to continue with the insurrectionary process. He was promoted to La Moncloa on 1 June 2018 by the two parties, JxC and ERC, whose leaders promoted and led the process that culminated in the constitution of “the Catalan Republic, as an independent and sovereign state, under the rule of law, democratic and social” on 27 October 2017 (27-O). Sánchez more than repaid their support by pardoning the ringleaders on 23 June 2021, ignoring the strong legal arguments put forward by the Supreme Court (SC), which had tried them and sentenced them to various prison sentences for sedition and embezzlement. Even before regaining their freedom, they were on the loose, shouting from the rooftops “we will do it again as many times as necessary”. And once free and more emboldened than ever, they are demanding that Sánchez negotiate the holding of an agreed referendum on self-determination. How are other countries going to take seriously the European extradition order issued by Judge Llarena against the fugitive Puigdemont when the Spanish government pardons the seditionists?

The secessionist parties’ new strategy is to avoid at all costs a head-on confrontation with the state, such as the one that forced President Rajoy to apply Article 155 of the Constitution on 27-O, dismiss the government of the Generalitat and dissolve the Parliament. The well-oiled apparatuses of the two major parties (JxC and ERC), and of the three main associations that drove the insurrectional process (the Catalan National Assembly, Ómnium Cultural and the Association of Municipalities for Independence) remained intact. However, the secessionist leaders realised that losing control over the resources of the institutions of self-government could prove lethal to their interests. They have not changed their goal, to achieve secession and establish a republic. But they have changed their strategy, from reconstruction to republic, so as not to give the opportunity for Article 155 to be applied, this time in earnest.

Measured provocations and covert contempt are the formulas that Aragonés García’s government has opted for. Let’s see how it implements them in practice. On 23 November, the SC rejected the appeal filed by the government of the Generalitat against a ruling of the High Court of Justice of Catalonia (TSJC) and ruled the obligation to guarantee at least 25% of education in Spanish to those who request it. This is a requirement that in practice means teaching in Spanish, in addition to Castilian Language and Literature, another subject. This is something that Cabrera, Minister of Education under Rodríguez Zapatero, had already attempted with the decrees on minimum teaching standards approved in 2006 and 2007, which the government presided over by Montilla (PSC) never complied with. How has the government of the Generalitat now reacted? Instead of openly flouting the SC ruling, it has written to school principals asking them “not to change their linguistic teaching project” and has committed itself to putting “two teachers in 25% of classrooms” to provide a “personalised education”.

This is a democratically shameful and practically unfeasible ploy to circumvent the SC’s mandate. Shameful because it puts potential claimants in the spotlight and unfeasible, because you tell me how two teachers can simultaneously explain a subject in a classroom in two different languages. Not content with avoiding compliance with court rulings, the Aragonese government is preparing a campaign to “encourage both pupils and teachers to use Catalan more… so that they never lose its use and fall into bilingualism”, and do not commit the mortal sin of “changing language” and using Spanish occasionally in the classroom. Lastly, the government has taken to the streets the supporters of the subsidised association Somos Escuela, which has been defending for years the absurd slogan “for a country of all, school in Catalan”. Faced with this campaign of a markedly totalitarian nature, it is incomprehensible that Prime Minister Sánchez has limited himself to saying that “the socialists are where the majority of Catalan and Spanish society is: with common sense”. Apparently, harassing those who call for Spanish to be the vehicular language and teachers who express themselves in the common language does not tarnish the ‘common sense of the socialists’.

Constitutionalist convergence

While the secessionist parties are growing and returning to their old ways, the constitutionalist parties are very weakened after the defeat of Ciudadanos in the regional elections of 14 February 2021. In my article “Fewer voters, more of the same” (Expansión, 15 February) I warned that “these election results could exacerbate the entrenchment of the political situation in Catalonia… because they ensure that the fuel which has been feeding the insurrectionary fire since 2009 will continue to flow”, and advised the constitutionalist parties, “regardless of how each of them has fared in the elections… to draw a conclusion from these elections: each one going on their own is going nowhere”.

The secessionist parties ended up once again agreeing to share the succulent cake, the budgets of the Generalitat, while the PSC plays the role of Don Tancredo and VOX, Ciudadanos and the Popular Party continue to wage war on their own. Nothing indicates that the situation will change in the immediate future. With incomprehensible blindness, Carrizosa reiterated a few days ago that he has “no desire to reach any kind of electoral agreement with the Popular Party”. The leader who led Ciudadanos to the 14-F shipwreck seems not to have understood that “a good electoral result for these three forces is the only way out that could force Illa’s PSC to discard its still preferred option: to bring about a new tripartite with ERC and the ‘podemites’. There is no alternative to the desirable constitutionalist convergence.

About the Author

The Corner
The Corner has a team of on-the-ground reporters in capital cities ranging from New York to Beijing. Their stories are edited by the teams at the Spanish magazine Consejeros (for members of companies’ boards of directors) and at the stock market news site Consenso Del Mercado (market consensus). They have worked in economics and communication for over 25 years.