In Barcelona, do it in Catalan—or pay the fine2
Secessionist Catalonia is cracking down on businesses that communicate only in Spanish
May 16th 2016 | BARCELONA
WHEN a government inspector walked into his estate agency in Barcelona, Angel Centeno knew he had it coming3. The severe-looking lady4 had no interest in buying a house. Instead, she waved5 a piece of paper and informed Mr Centeno he had been fined €1,000 ($1,130). The 66-year-old businessman had broken Catalonia’s most notorious6 consumer law: his company sign appeared only in Spanish.
Mr Centeno is not the only one to receive this unpleasant surprise7 from Catalonia’s regional government, the Generalitat. The consumer code’s requirement that businesses publish all public information “at least in Catalan” has been around8 for more than a decade9. Those who insist on writing signs, menus or catalogues only in Spanish can be fined anywhere from hundreds to thousands of euros, depending on company size or the quantity of untranslated language. Rafael Moreno, a furniture retailer who owes €1,260 worth of fines10, fears the government will seize the sum from his bank account. But replacing the three-metre Spanish logo at one of his shops with one in Catalan could cost him €18,000.
Civic groups and liberal opposition12 politicians are increasingly alarmed13. As the government’s desire to secede from Spain grows, so does its determination to enforce Catalan as the region’s only official language, says Francisco Caja, president of Convivencia Civica Catalana, an association which offers legal advice on linguistic issues. The multas linguisticas, as the fines are known in Spanish, are rising. In 2014, 57 businesses were fined a total of €51,300. In 2015 the number of businesses rose to 68, and the sum roughly trebled. So far this year nearly a hundred companies have been sanctioned.
Citizens can report language culprits anonymously, and many have proven eager. A few years ago a patriotic14 librarian, Roger Seuba, claimed to have denounced 5,000 companies. Business owners say other citizens take the law into their own hands, smashing shop windows or spray-painting their façades.
The Spanish and Catalan languages enjoy co-official status in the region. When reviewing Catalonia’s independence status in 2010, the Constitutional Court of Spain ruled that imposing either language on private enterprises violates the constitution. Yet fines kept being imposed. In February 2016, Catalonia’s superior court of justice banned parts of another language protocol that obliged public servants to initiate and continue all conversations in Catalan. The Catalan government said it would ignore the decision.
Anti-secessionist opposition parties are trying to change the laws, but have been stymied by the nationalist coalition of the regional president, Carles Puigdemont. The regional branch of the conservative Popular Party says the language fines violate freedom of expression.15 In late April, a member of the European Parliament for Catalonia’s liberal Ciudadanos party16 said the law clashes with European regulations on language diversity.
Unsurprisingly, Montserrat Ribera, the director of Catalonia’s consumer agency, disagrees. Language fines enshrine the fundamental right of Catalan consumers to be served in their own tongue, she explains. And they are necessary to help preserve the language.17
Forcing businesses to translate every public communication into a local language18 with a few million speakers may widen its appeal for some. For others it has the opposite effect. Since he was fined, Mr Centeno, a Catalan born and bred, refuses to speak in his mother tongue19. He demands that all government documents sent to his mailbox be written in Spanish. “Son talibanes!” (“They are Talibans!”) he shouts, in Spanish. In Catalan it would be “Són talibans!”
1. What evidence do you offer for the existence of "language police"? Inspectors are actually general consumer agency officials: they can warn shopkeepers (always before they are fined) of non-compliance with a range of statutory obligations.
2. Do you know of any laws that do not laid down sanctions for non-compliance?
The reactionary Madrid press has gone to town with your coverage (home page headline") of this non-news item.
3. "Had it coming" is about as slanted as you can get. Moreover, the legislation has been in place since 1993! Plus you're talking about a case that occurred when the Catalan presoident was a Socialist: over 5 years ago! Certainly not a "secessionist" government.
5. What source justifies your claim that she waved a fine in the shop-keeper's face? Certainly not this one: http://www.abc.es/sociedad/abci-cerre-tienda-y-lucho-contra-multa-no-rotular-catalan-201604270739_noticia.html
6. If the 1993 law was so "notorious", fines for non-compliance should certainly not be an "unpleasant suprise".
10. Sr. Moreno was fined in 2008 for not complying with the law and has not paid it in eight years. No way can the government of the day be termed a "secessionist" government. Source: Right-wing daily with a notorious ly agressive position regarding the right of the Catalans to decide their political future. http://www.larazon.es/local/cataluna/el-negocio-no-da-para-pagar-una-multa-de-1-280-euros-por-rotular-en-castellano-IP12482497#.Ttt11qV2fVOmGna
11. That value judgement needs evidence to substantiate it.
12. On what grounds are they labelled as "liberals"? They are basically Unionists (some would call them "Spanish nationalists") who have been waging this particular linguistic war (unthinkable in Flanders or Italian-speaking parts of Switzerland where similar legislation is unquiestioned) for years.
13. Another value judgement with hysteric overtones that needs evidence to substantiate it.
14. No more "patriotic" than those mentioned in much greater detail in the article that oppose the current legislation. Biassed reporting.
15. Here you are giving full, uncritical range to a Spanish nationalist party.
16. Yet again, you allow a party founded solely to combat Catalonia's language legislation (in schools, in commerce, wherever) free reign, absolutely uncritically.
17. In the whole of the article, is this the only space given to those that are simply applying legislation that has been in place since 1993? How unbalanced can you be?
18. Noone is being "forced". The law has been in place for 23 years! Since then all new signs can be made in Catalan (and any other languages the shop-keeper chooses) at no extra cost at all!
19. Where do you get that from? All I have found is a quote from him in which he is reported as deciding only to use Spanish in his communications with the Catalan administration (as he is in his perfect right to do!). http://www.abc.es/sociedad/abci-cerre-tienda-y-lucho-contra-multa-no-rotular-catalan-201604270739_noticia.html