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26 d’abr. 2013

To a Friend in Michigan

The crisis has a three-pronged origin. Large companies (Telefonica, Repsol, Abertis...) owe vast amounts of money, largely for ambitious international expansion which in some cases has ended up in South American nationalisations (eg YPF).

Next, Spanish banks had lent in the form of mortgages that in part fuelled the building bubble vast amounts of money which came, as always, from account holders, but at least as much from foreign (mainly European) banks.

Finally, all the public authorities were well used, despite the 1992 Maastricht treaty requirements, to grossly overspend, relying on overseas loans at very low interest rates. All very well until confidence dropped and interest rates soared, eating up a disproportionate share of the budget. Central government reacted selfishly, raising taxes to its own benefit and drastically reducing its funding to regional authorities; and also imposing impossible regional deficit objectives. This has crippled the Catalan government (with flat rate funding, not related to GDP), which has been brought to its financial knees, with a scarcely veiled threat that this will go on till Catalonia drops its plans for independence.

As you say, the social costs are enormous, at a time (chicken or egg?) of widespread social discredit of the political... caste: particularly because of corruption charges (or hints), unfulfilled promises and the apparent inability to lead Spain out of the nose-diving economic crisis.

Only today we read of a single mother with three kids, on a €400 monthly income, with a court eviction order (she hasn't paid the rent since 2010) that the judge has had the decency to keep on hold until the authorities find a solution (which would surely be cheaper that paying an orphanage to take care of her kids). And a number of suicides when the evictors were banging on the door. Ugh!

On the identity/language/culture front, apart from VAT being hiked from 8% to 21% by central government, the tidal wave of the crisis has washed away or paralyzed key Catalan institutions that (largely) relied on Catalan and local government grants such as the Centre Unesco de Catalunya and (we fear) the Hospital de Sant Pau for instance. The only Catalan-owned airline (Spanair) also went bust. 

The crisis is also political. Spanish nationalism has intensified its attack on Catalonia's (highly successful) language-in-schools model with a flimsy application of the 'freedom' principle (surely schools are for teaching and should be regarded as black boxes left to the specialists to get on with their job, and with accurate and periodical evaluations of the level of attainment of schools objective in terms of knowledge, skills and values!). The last court injunction says that if just one Spanish-speaking family wants instruction through Spanish for their child, the whole of the rest of the class has to get it as well: an aberration if ever there was one, the confirmation that there are still 2nd class citizens in Catalonia. It is up to each school, according to the (contested) 2009 Catalan Education Act, to decide how much instruction their pupils need throught the medium of the non-default language, to ensure they all achieve the language proficiency requirements laid down by the system, but the court has stampeded over this law like a herd of maddened elephants.  To rub salt into the wound, the spokesman for the latest bout of parents is from the Argentine.


Miquel Strubell 
22 Apr 2013


19 d’abr. 2013

The Catalan language in US human rights reports

Extracts from the 


U.S. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor's 

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices




The Law of the Catalan Language, approved by the Catalan regional legislature (Generalitat) in 1998, stipulates the use of Catalan as the official language in local government and administrative offices, regional courts, publicly owned corporations, and private companies subsidized by the Catalan regional government. Spanish-speaking citizens are provided with the right to be dealt with by public officials in Spanish. The legislation also establishes minimum quotas for Catalan-language radio and television programming. Many activists in Catalunya's Spanish-speaking community criticized the law for discriminating against Spanish-speaking citizens and imposing "linguistic hegemony" on a diverse population. Lawsuits regarding specific applications of this law are pending in various courts. Both Galicia and Valencia have laws stating the duty of the Government to "promote" their regional languages in schools and at official functions.

The Law of the Catalan Language, approved by the Catalan regional legislature (Generalitat) in 1998, stipulates the use of Catalan as the official language in local government and administrative offices, regional courts, publicly owned corporations, and private companies subsidized by the Catalan regional Government.  Spanish-speaking citizens have the right to be addressed in Spanish by public officials.  The legislation also establishes minimum quotas for Catalan-language radio and television programming.  Controversy continued over the language law implementing legislation and related regulatory measures.  Facing strong resistance from film distributors, the regional government in March annulled legislation that required foreign films distributed in sufficient quantities also to be dubbed and distributed in Catalan.
In June an administrative court in Tarragona considered a challenge to a local university regulation that imposed extensive use of Catalan in university affairs.  The court, although leaving some of the regulation intact and declaring itself not competent to rule on the constitutionality of the linguistic law, struck down several sections of the regulation.  For example, the court found that the regulation's treatment of certain administrative issues and a requirement that staff use Catalan at all public university functions exceeded university authority and autonomy and were not in conformance with other laws.  Another court challenge involved the propriety of the same university's discipline of a professor for supplying copies of the university entrance examination in Spanish, rather than Catalan, to two students requesting Spanish versions.  The court ruled in December that the professor was excluded wrongly from the administration of the examinations and praised her for defending the students' rights.  The court clearly implied that the university's regulation limiting access to the exmination in Spanish was discriminatory and said that it was permissible to foster the use of Catalan but not to do so in a manner that excludes or limits the use of Spanish.   The university administration responded that it had no intention of modifying its regulation and intended to appeal the continued suspension of certain aspects of the regulation.  Notwithstanding its response, in May it began supplying the entrance examination in Spanish to those who requested it. 

…The Law of the Catalan Language, approved by the Catalan regional legislature (Generalitat) in 1998, stipulates the use of Catalan as the official language in local government and administrative offices, regional courts, publicly owned corporations, and private companies subsidized by the Catalan regional Government.  Spanish-speaking citizens have the right to be addressed in Spanish by public officials.  The legislation also establishes minimum quotas for Catalan-language radio and television programming.  Some controversy continued over the implementing legislation and related regulatory measures. 

The Law of the Catalan Language, approved by the Catalan regional legislature (Generalitat) in 1998, stipulates the use of Catalan as the official language in local government and administrative offices, regional courts, publicly owned corporations, and private companies subsidized by the Catalan regional Government. Spanish-speaking citizens had the right to be addressed in Spanish by public officials. The legislation also established minimum quotas for Catalan-language radio and television programming. Some controversy continued over the implementing legislation and related regulatory measures.

The Law of the Catalan Language stipulated the use of Catalan as the official language in local government and administrative offices, regional courts, publicly owned corporations, and private companies subsidized by the Catalan regional Government. Spanish-speaking citizens had the right to be addressed in Spanish by public officials. The legislation also established minimum quotas for Catalan-language radio and television programming.
During the year, the Catalan regional government signed an agreement with various socio-economic institutions to increase the use of the Catalan language in public places. The Catalan Government also rejected the Government's decree mandating a specific number of Castilian Spanish language classes in all autonomous regions, calling it an "invasion" of autonomous responsibilities. Critics contended that efforts to promote the use of non-Castilian languages made it more difficult for Castilian speakers to live and work in those areas.

Citizens have filed more than 445 complaints with the Catalan regional government denouncing the lack of compliance with the law on linguistic policy, which requires that Catalan be the official language but provides Spanish-speaking citizens the right to be addressed in their native language. The Catalan Government has penalized the Post Office for repeatedly failing to comply with Catalan law.

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In the autonomous province of Catalonia, Catalan and Castilian are both official languages and both may be used in official institutions as well as in schools. However, during the year both Spanish and Catalan ombudsmen received isolated complaints of alleged discrimination against the use of either Castilian or Catalan (see section 5).
During the year the national ombudsman received approximately 50 complaints related to alleged discrimination in Catalonia, where both Castilian and Catalan are official languages, against the teaching of the Castilian language. During the year the Catalan ombudsman received 10 complaints related to discrimination against the teaching or use of the Castilian language and 33 complaints about the failure to use the Catalan language in Catalan official institutions (these complaints were from persons who wished to be served in Catalan but were served in Castilian), although the law requires that civil servants dealing with the public be able to speak both languages. Critics on one side asserted that limiting education in Castilian reduced opportunities for Catalans who wish to live or work outside Catalonia or who simply wish to speak Castilian, and circumscribed the opportunities of Castilian speakers in Catalonia. Others, however, insist on their right to be served in the Catalan language.

In October an estimated 5,000 writers, politicians, journalists, publishers, academicians, actors, and filmmakers reportedly signed a manifesto criticizing the firing of Cristina Peri, a writer/journalist for Catalunya Radio who said she was fired for speaking in Castilian rather than Catalan.

The controversy regarding official language policies continued, with complaints that current policies offend the right to an education in the "mother tongue," or Castilian Spanish. In 2007 the ombudsman received approximately 100 complaints regarding Catalonia's linguistic policies, and in March the "Platform in Defense of the Freedom of Choice in Language Election" filed a formal complaint against a school in the Basque Country.  The school had refused to offer all classes in Spanish. 
In October 2007 an estimated 5,000 writers, politicians, journalists, academicians, actors, and filmmakers signed a manifesto criticizing Cataluña Radio for firing a journalist for speaking in Castilian (Spanish), rather than Catalan (Catalonia's regional language).

In October 2008 Reporters without Borders identified ETA for threatening journalists, contending that several journalists in the country required personal protection or chose to leave the Basque Country due to such threats; the judicial sentence against the weekly El Jueves for printing an obscene cartoon of the prince and princess of Asturias; the summoning of daily Gara and Deia editors by a court for the publication of satirical images of King Juan Carlos; the Partido Popular's boycott of Grupo Prisa; and the firing of Cristina Peri Rossi by radio station Cataluña Radio for speaking in Castilian rather than Catalan.
The controversy regarding official language policies continued, with complaints that current policies offend the right to an education in the "mother tongue," or Castilian Spanish. In 2007 the ombudsman received approximately 100 complaints regarding Catalonia's linguistic policies, and in March 2008 the NGO Platform in Defense of the Freedom of Choice in Language Election filed a formal complaint against a school in the Basque Country. The school had refused to offer all classes in Spanish.
In April, 39 doctors at the sole hospital on Ibiza (one of the Balearic Islands) announced their decision to leave their jobs due to a new requirement that doctors be tested for fluency in Catalan. The decree, approved by the Balearic government on March 27, requires that doctors working in public service speak Catalan and provides a window of three years for them to learn it. The doctors' union asserted that the requirement was not for public benefit but rather the result of a "political obsession." In response to the decree, 2,500 persons participated in a demonstration protesting the Catalan language requirement.
According to security forces, 4,000 persons participated in a demonstration in Barcelona in September 2008 to protest the government's linguistic policies and to defend the right to have school classes taught in Castilian.

The controversy regarding official language policies continued, with some persons complaining that policies in Catalonia interfered with receiving an education in the country's majority language, Castilian Spanish. Likewise, there were instances of Catalan speakers raising concerns that the Catalan language was not equally favored.
On December 22, the Supreme Court ruled that Castilian Spanish must become a "vehicular language" or lingua franca in Catalonia's educational system. The decision involved three separate cases of Spanish-speaking parents pursuing legal action against the Catalan education system. The ruling came during the transition to the new Catalan government. Both the outgoing and incoming administrations defended the existing education model and maintained that the decision pertained to three individual cases and that no changes were needed in Catalan language policies. Catalan leaders in favor of the existing language-immersion model claimed that students could become equally proficient in Catalan and Spanish.
On September 14, the Catalan parliament approved a decree that will require new full-time professors at public and private universities to take a language examination before they are hired to prove that they have "C-level" (medium-high oral and writing communication level) proficiency in Catalan. The decree permits universities to exempt full-time research staff or professors teaching in a foreign language from the requirement. To prevent the loss of talented professors, universities can, in some cases, delay the test for up to two years after the actual date of hire. Some universities and educators criticized the decree as discriminatory, especially if the language of instruction is not Catalan.

On September 2, Catalonia’s Superior Court ordered the regional government to comply within two months with a 2010 Spanish Supreme Court ruling that Spanish become a vehicular language in Catalonia’s public schools. As of year's end, the Catalan government had not complied with the ruling. Catalan president Artur Mas staunchly defended the current educational model and stated that Catalonia’s language policy is a “red line” not to be crossed. Advocates of the Catalan immersion model cited studies showing that Catalan public school students performed as well as their counterparts in other parts of Spain on Spanish language proficiency tests.

2012 http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/2012/eur/204341.htm

Recent Elections: National elections in November 2011 were considered free and fair, as were regional elections during the year in Andalusia, Asturias, Galicia, the Basque Country, and Catalonia*

In April the Supreme Court confirmed the suspension of seven articles of Barcelona’s regulations on the use of Catalan in the city hall that required all public documents and any oral communications to be presented in Catalan.

* Webmaster's note:  However, of the 155,923 Catalan living abroad who were registered on October 5 2012 to vote in the snap November 25 2012 election, called on the independence issue only 6% received the voting papers in time and were able to vote, as stated in the documents taken to court. This scandal was widely reported in the press, as being a deliberate strategy on the part of the Spanish government to reduce votes in favour of pro-independence parties. This is not mentioned in the 2012 Report.

10 d’abr. 2013

Catalan independence? Not everyone shares the same point of view

Here are three examples of different points of view as regards Catalonia's quest to regain independence from Spain.

(1) "Catalonia is a bigger timebomb than Cyprus", by Matthew Parris. The TimesApril 6 2013. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/columnists/matthewparris/article3732590.ece

(2) Thank you, X (not the author!) for that thoughtful and thought-inducing article.  There is a toxic element to these independence movements which has largely been ignored by the media - to whit, the motivation of small countries/regions' ruling establishments (politico-bureacratic class, academics, quangoists etc.) to push for independence within the context of EU membership.  This applies as much to Scotland as to Catalonia, although I agree that in other ways they are very different cases.  These élites see a great potential for furthering their careers, public emoluments and general feeling of self importance if they can break away from being a mere "province" and take their rightful role on the international stage as peers of other nation states.  They also feel that their genius collectively and individually will find greater recognition and opportunity of self-expression within the halls of supranational institutions such as the EU and the UN than it would in their own "provincial" capitals.  These élites foment independentist sentiments not so much out of a feeling of selfless patriotism as out of cynical personal and collective ambition.  The patriotism of these élites, in that it exists, is often a toxic mixture of centrifugal resentment and collective vanity and frustrated ambition.

(3) I totally agree with Parris that there is a timebomb here, both in economic/financial terms and in political terms (unfortunately I don't have access to the commentaries, though I imagine many are highly charged, on both sides!). Even without the crisis it has been audibly ticking, and all the signs have been there, unattended, for at least seven years now (the massive demonstrations in 2006 and 2007; and also the 2010 demonstration, which was even larger, had nothing to do with financial issues). The Spanish establishment has been stone deaf and it seems that the 1·5 million turnout on September 11 2012 came as a big surprise to them!

When longstanding and unresolved grievances slip into a sense of collective humiliation, then the ride can get very, very rough. The bridges get broken. And noone can deny that the Spanish government is playing as dirty as it can, leaking private documents meant for the courts, buying opinion leaders (according to the Interviú report this week), not complying even with its own organic laws in terms of investment commitments, leaking to the press purported comments about operations in Catalonia made by the secret police chief at an Official Secrets committee meeting (yes!), cutting grants to Catalan cultural institutions more than to other ones... In a word, making things even worse and making many Catalans (even of Spanish origin!) feel even less Spanish than before. What a contrast compared with Westminster/Holyrood relations!

Even since September 11, how many soothing words have been uttered from Madrid? How many powers of seduction have they displayed? It's just been one threat after another, hasn't it? The military might step in, even to physically withdraw ballot boxes if necessary, Catalonia would be thrown out of the EU "forever" (how vindictive can you get and get away with it?), out of the Eurozone, out of the Schengen space, you name it. Spanish businessmen would decide to drop their Catalan suppliers overnight (wow!) in their thousands, the Catalan economy would collapse, Catalan pensioners would lose their pensions, and so on. We can read about these things in the press every day. I'm sure you have!

Next: who can take at face value Parris' statement about the "new terminal of Barcelona's international airport. It is an absolutely beautiful building. And there is absolutely no use for it. So vast and so empty is this brilliantly lit cavern..."? The Wikipedia quotes official data: "En 2012 el tráfico total ascendió a 35.145.176 pasajeros, que supone un crecimiento del 2.2% respecto al año anterior al que se cifraron 34.399.180, y fue el único aeropuerto de los 10 aeropuertos con mayor tráfico de pasajeros en 
España que obtuvo un incremento en dicho tráfico." So what the heck is he talking about? Virtually 100,000 passengers use the airport every day (to be fair, some of them use the old terminal). Moreover, he seems to think it was built by the Catalans, which shows a serious lack of information about the highly centralised airport management system in Spain!

As to X's claims about the "the patriotism of these élites" that aim for independence, may I say that if they exist "they" are risking their bl**dy necks, that Mas himself said he would stand down once Catalonia was independent, and that it is strange that the further you go from the urban hunting grounds of this mysterious élite, into the smaller towns and villages of rural Catalonia, the denser the flags you can see flying or hanging from balconies throughout Catalonia. God moves in mysterious ways, and it would seem, if Gervas' unsubstantiated theory were to be true, that this élite moves in still more mysterious ways. Have you seen the maps of where pro-Independence parties won ourtright majorities in the November election? These maps reveal what should be evident: the independence movement in Catalonia, unlike Scotland, is bottom-up. It's a grassroots movement... and sentiment. The whole initiative oif the September 11 demonstration came from a grassroots organisation, the ANC, not controlled by these "élites" - I know for a fact, at firsthand - even though several parties got on the bandwagon in time.

This élite X has identified probably stems, if it exists at all, to the same élite (also with a toxic element? Or perhaps not then, under the dictatorship, but now is different) that made a pretty packet under Francoism and was in no way inclined to support a return to autonomy.

Returning to Parris, he clearly has no idea about what's going on when he pontificates as follows: "Mr Mas, who has (only latterly) pushed for full independence, should concede a three-choice referendum. Voters would order by preference (1) status quo; (2) greater autonomy (“devo-max”); or (3) full independence. If none received an absolute majority, second preferences would be counted". What sense does it make for Mas to be the one "conceding", in the face of the entrenchment witnessed both in the Spanish Congress of Deputies (rejecting even the ideas of negoiations) and in separate meetings he's had with the PP and the PSOE leaders? And what sense would it make to include option "(2) greater autonomy (“devo-max”)", which is both totally vague... and was shown in the whole issue of the new Statute of Autonomy to be a farse. No commitments were stuck to, and these days few in Catalonia trust the Spanish establishment to keep their word on anything. Look at the pathetic foot-dragging history of the only economically viable transport infrastructure that would give the whole peninsula a huge logistical boost, offering the whole of West Europe a much quicker access to the lucrative market in the Middle East and the Far East than the ports of Northern Europe: the Mediterranean railway corridor, linking up the ports of Algeciras, Malaga, Alicante, Valencia and Barcelona to France and beyond. In the meantime, as you know, they're STILL building TGV railway lines to the four corners of their Earth, and STILL intending to get EU money to bore vast holes through the widest part of the Pyrenees! That's the REAL patriotism of élites in Spain: "Vamos a coser España con hilos de acero", ("we're going to sew Spain with steel thread") said Magdalena Alvarez, at the time "Ministra de Fomento", in reference to the planned TGV network.