Family harassed by Catalan Nationalists after court case victory
Spain’s linguistic situation is complicated. The Iberian state has four official languages – Castilian Spanish(the dominant language and spoken nationwide), and three main regional languages – Catalan, Basque and Galician. These four languages are equal in the view of the law, and are all protected by Spain’s most recent constitution of 1978. The 3 regional languages also have huge cultural importance in the regions within which they are spoken. This is partly due to the fact that they were banned under the totalitarian dictatorship of Francisco Franco between the years of 1939 and 1975, as he believed that they threatened a unified Spain. Franco sought to persecute anybody who tried to maintain their regional identity during his regime and therefore, after his death, Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia made a conscious effort to re-establish these languages and their regional heritage. As a result, each regional language became the primary language used in state schools within their respective regions, and still tend to be the language of choice spoken in everyday life today.
In Catalonia, where Franco’s regime was especially oppressive, there has been a surge in support for Catalan independence and a large Catalan ‘nationalist’ movement since his death. Though many Spanish regions enjoy a fair amount of political autonomy in a relatively de-centralized state, Catalonia and the Basque Country, in particular, have sought complete independence from Spain. In 2017, the Catalan government held an ‘illegal’ independence referendum, which resulted in a crushing victory for the Catalan nationalists, with 92% of those who turned out voting in favour of Catalan independence. The ruling Conservative government of the time managed to block this vote thanks to the help of a complex legal framework and, Catalan leaders had to flee the country in order to avoid prosecution. This led to a series of bloody protests and violent clashes on the streets of Barcelona and other cities within the region.
This desire for independence is not unanimous in the region, and there are still large numbers of Catalonians who feel connected to a central Spain. Recently, one family who fall under this category went to court to request that a quarter of the classes at their son’s primary school be taught in Castilian Spanish, the language that is unanimously spoken in Spain and one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. They won their case at a Catalan High Court following a trial, and the school in question was obliged to ensure that the child received a Castilian education as well as a Catalan one. However, following the case, the family received threats of violence from some Catalonians who felt the ruling was a threat to Catalonia’s language and culture. The family were granted anonymity in Spanish media outlets and offered refuge in protective police custody.
Spanish MP’s, both on a regional and national level, have been quick to comment on the case. Pro-independence education minister, Josep González-Cambrey, condemned the threats against the family, but still told the Spanish press that “the Catalan school model is successful and guarantees social cohesion, equity and equal opportunities” and called the ruling “an intolerable attack” on the region’s autonomy. The general consensus amongst regionalists seems to be that they are not blanketly opposed to Castilian Spanish being taught in schools, but that it should certainly play second fiddle to Catalan.
Politicians on the right have used the case to condemn pro-independence movements by suggesting that they are threatening Spanish unity. Pablo Casado, an MP for the Partido Popular, a right-wing Spanish nationalist party, has referred to the issue as “a terrible case of linguistic segregation” and that the Catalan government are exercising a “linguistic apartheid”. The extreme-right Vox Party, whose rapid emergence was partly in response to the Catalonian move towards independence, have slammed the Catalan government vowing to no longer “allow twisted separatism to continue assaulting the little boy and his family”.
This is not the first time that a family has been caught in the middle of Spain’s long-running war on language. In the Basque Country, Maria Luisa Sánchez González, 44, went to court for her nine-year-old son, believing it his “constitutional right” to receive at least part of an education in Castilian. Unlike the Catalonian case however, the court did not find in her favour and she currently has to pay approximately 500 euros a month for her son to be educated at a private school where still less than a third of the classes are taught in Castilian Spanish.
Spanish regional identity is a complex issue that does not have a straightforward solution. The ruling Socialist party has remained fairly quiet on the issue (largely because their majority relies on electoral support across the regions) but it is proof that the Spanish war on language is still ongoing. Although the regionalists now enjoy linguistic freedom that at one time they did not have, the pendulum has swung, and linguistic oppression still exists – it is now just towards the language that has dominated the country since the 15th Century.
Header Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons