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Linguistic peace under threat in Catalonia: Spain's Partido Popular instrumentalise language issues to try and win votes

The Spanish People's Party, in opposition since losing the General Election in 2004, has recently published its Election Manifesto, a 50-page document with 234 policy statements. Several of them are couched in sugary terms which may at first glance seem reasonable to the layman, but which on closer observation are seen to conceal disturbing intentions. If carried out, they could lead to serious social conflict. Let us briefly look at four of them.

114. Garantizaremos por ley el derecho a utilizar y a estudiar en castellano en todas las etapas del sistema educativo.

= "We shall ensure by law the right to use Spanish and to study in it at all levels of the education system".

This is designed simply and solely to strike at the very heart of the school system on Catalonia. It was democratically devised by the Parliament of Catalonia over 20 years ago and sets out to make sure that schoolchildren are not separated by language, that is, that there is no risk of cultural apartheid. By law, all students have to achieve a full command of both Catalan and Spanish (the two official languages) by the end of their compulsory education. Is this not enough? We're talking here about two Romance languages: the speakers of one can learn the other quite quickly. The Parliament of Catalonia laid down the right to use and to study in Catalan at all levels of the education system, simply because it has been the language of the territory for 800 years or more. Spanish is a complusory subject in all grades.

The People's Party's proposal is built upon the quite unstable foundations of a couple of bogus studies that claim that Spanish-speaking children do badly at school because lessons are taught mainly in Catalan. It would have a highly divisive effect on Catalan society, and shatter the current levels of Catalan that ALL school children attain (and which, overall, are lower than the levels of Spanish).

201. Desarrollaremos una Política Nacional para la Mejora de la Calidad de la Educación, que proporcione estabilidad al sistema y garantice entre otros objetivos: la reducción del fracaso escolar, la igualdad de oportunidades en el sistema de becas, la solidaridad, la movilidad de los alumnos y el derecho a estudiar en castellano en todas las etapas del sistema educativo.

= "We shall develop a National Policy for Improving the Quality of Education, which will give the system stability and which will ensure, among other objectives: the reduction of student failure, equal opportunities in the grants system, solidarity, pupil mobility and the right to study in Spanish at all levels of education".

The People's Party insidiously links the "right" to study in Spanish (a false right: being an official language merely means that all pupils have to learn it!) with a policy aimed at quality in education. What will "stability" put an end to? What does "solidarity" mean, when the fiscal deficit endured by Catalonia is already crippling? "Pupil mobility and the right to study in Spanish" could easily mean laying down that all university classes where there is even a single student from the rest of Spain have to be in Spanish (about 60% of BA classes are in Catalan).

204. Desarrollaremos un modelo de enseñanza bilingüe (castellano e inglés) o trilingüe en aquellas Comunidades Autónomas con lengua cooficial, asegurando la formación del profesorado en inglés. Articularemos un Programa Nacional de Becas para aumentar las oportunidades de estudio en el extranjero.

= "We shall develop a model of bilingual (Spanish and English) or trilingual (in regions which have their own official language) education, and ensure the training of teachers in English. We shall design a National Grants Programme so as to increase ooportunities for studying abroad."

The People's Party seems to be unaware that the Spanish parliament does not have the power to impose bi- or trilingual models in schools. It is the regional Parliaments that have such powers (even though they are subject to constraints, unlike the German länder, Flanders or Scotland, for instance).

113. Esta reforma [de la Constitución] tendrá como ejes básicos:
[...] • Dotar al Estado de los instrumentos necesarios para garantizar la igualdad de los españoles en derechos, deberes y oportunidades.

= "This reform (of the Constitution) will have as its basic aims [...] to provide the State with the instruments needed to ensure the equality of Spaniards in rights, duties and opportunities."

Again, the language used here sounds wonderful: "equality", "rights and duties", "opportunities". But there are sufficient instruments built into the Spanish Constitution already, so perhaps the party has a hidden agenda, once again aimed at the Catalans (note that nowhere in the whole of Spain does this party win as few votes as it does in Catalonia; is this a cause or an effect of these election pledges, probably aimed first and foremost at the party's clientele in the rest of Spain?).


None of this would seem so threatening were it not for the precedents of the experience of previous terms in office of the Partido Popular, notably in the period 2000-2004. The fact that the Partido Popular is a party that in many ways smacks of the old Francoist ideology, and significantly, has repeatedly refused to vote in favour of motions which condemn the practices of the Franco dictatorship, should put democratic Europe on guard. As the former President of the Italian Republic Francesco Cossiga has often put it, the Partido Popular are in many ways the heirs of all that Franco stood for. He indeed described former PP leader José María Aznar as a "legionary sergeant".

Once again, the Spanish conservatives are resorting to language (which simply ISN'T a social issue in Catalonia) as a political hatchet. They know it wins votes for them in other parts of Spain, where grossly distorted stories circulate about what goes on in Catalonia (for instance, as shown in a grotesque programme on the PP-controlled Madrid TV channel some months ago). In 2008 Europe, where else may we see this kind of territorial hatred being fanned to favour State-nationalist vote to the detriment of the identity and rights of stateless nations with poor political coverage? Perhaps it will now become clearer to many why it is that so many Catalans would like their country to be a sovereign state in the EU, instead of remaining attached to Spain and being subjected to the whims of Spanish nationalist parties!

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