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My response to The Economist

Sent by email to letters@economist.com  on November 12 2008

I know for a fact that many Catalans who have read your article on devolution in the special report on Spain, "How much is enough? Devolution has been good for Spain, but it may have gone too far" (Nov 6th 2008) have taken umbrage, and rightly so.

Firstly, "leading novelists" as the author puts it are quite free to give their opinion, of course, but to call former Catalan first minister Jordi Pujol a "cacique or provincial political boss" is not a term even his political opponents in Catalonia would use. How many of his generation, who in a democratic regime like the UK (or almost anywhere else in western Europe at the time) might have been attracted to a political career, actually did so? Under Franco, noone without the firmest of convictions would have dreamt of doing so. 23 years in power, having won the first regional elections to be held in over 45 years does not, in my view, entitle anyone to the title of cacique.

Secondly, and more importantly, the author has fallen foul of the media campaign being fuelled since the Partido popular failed to win the last general election, in part by a new nationalist party with a single MP for Madrid, the Unión Progreso y Democracia, whose main aim seems to be to stir up ill will in the Spanish-speaking centre of Spain, against Catalans and Basques (by no means a new pastime in that part of the world). Their main hobby horse is the language of public schools in Catalonia. They reject a system which produces bilingual school-leavers, and claim that Spanish-speaking parents have a right, which is certainly not an internationally recognised fundamental human right, to send their children to schools which, in practice, fail to achieve generalised bilingualism. This right does certainly not exist in the most exquisitely respectful country in the world as regards language (Switzerland, or in Flanders or Wallonia either for that matter).

These people, and those behind a recent Manifiesto in defence (sic!) of the Spanish language (the wording of which reminded many of a discourse which went out of fashion over 30 years ago), and the founders of the Fundación DENAES para la Defensa de la Nación Española, are not rebelling against recent legislation. They merely use language for political ends, and accuse everyone else (Catalans and Basques) of being nationalists. Despite paying lip service, they simply have not taken on board the fact that Spain is multilingual, and still defend a linguistic hierarchy which for many is offensive and humiliating.

They do, though, have many allies in the press: La Razón, ABC, El Mundo, and the infamous COPE radio station, are quick to air their views.

Their very existence, and the aggressive way they treat some parts of Spain as if they were invading foreigners, are fuelling the flames of the freedom movements in the Basque country (whose level of autonomy, by the way, is well below that of Flanders or Scotland, for instance) and Catalonia, where a survey published in May showed that in a referendum for independence, Catalonia would vote to become a sovereign state. Alongside a dozen European states that have taken the same path in the past 20 years.

All in all, your article seems to have been thought up and researched in Madrid... or from Madrid!

Yours sincerely,

Miquel Strubell MA (Oxon) MSc (Lond)

Universitat Oberta de Catalunya
Baròmetre de l'ús del català a Internet