Thursday, June 9, 2011

A subjective look at Anti Catalan prejudice in Spain (1 to 10)

LIFE ON THE RECEIVING END
By: Matthew Tree

Back in the Sixties – Franco's time, when use of the Catalan language was still largely illegal outside the privacy of home - there was an incident on the Spanish Cadena SER radio station that's still remembered in
Catalonia today. The best-known voice of the period, a presenter called Bobby Deglané – who usually came on to his guests, according to author Quim Monzó, like a 'knight in shining syrup' - invited a Catalan comedienne, Mary Santpere, also well-known throughout Spain, onto his weekend show. Straight out, he came out with: 'Mary, is it true that you Catalans, rather than talk, simply bark, just like dogs?'. To which Santpere, after a moment of being taken aback, replied, 'I wouldn't say that, but in Catalonia, as it happens, Bobby is a very typical dog's name'. Those of us who came to live in post-Franco Catalonia found and still find it inexplicable that in the rest of Spain anti-Catalan jibes of the bobbydeglanesque type, or worse, are a lot more common than anyone might reasonably expect after 30 years of democracy.

The stories come trickling in year after democratic year from over the Catalan border, stories of Catalans going out into
monolingual Spain, being identified as such, and then being looked at askance, or short-changed, or insulted on the street, and so on and so forth. For example, one television cameraman I knew told me how in 2004 he and his crew had sat down in a restaurant in Burgos only to be told by the manager, and I quote: ''Si quereis hablar en catalán, mejor que lo haceis en otro sitio'. My favourite story of this type, however, is the one told on public radio a couple of years ago, by the Catalan-language writer Empar Moliner. No sooner was she speeding out of Madrid airport in a taxi to the city centre, than her mobile rang. A friend from Barcelona. She answered. Started chatting. In Catalan. Within seconds, the driver had turned to remonstrate: 'Here in Spain, we speak Spanish!'. Moliner leaned forward and lied: 'Hey, I'm speaking Italian, eh?, not Catalan'. The reply: 'Oh, that's OK then. No pasa nada.'Personally, I find it incomprehensible that the Catalans who've had such experiences never seem to beespecially affected by them. If someone were to tell me to stop speaking English to another English speaker, in any context whatsoever, I would get very cross.
It's true that all these anecdotes, plentiful though they may be, are just that: anecdotes, mere episodes, isolated cases of regional sparring of a kind in many places arround the world. Perhaps, it did on occassion occur
to me, the Catalans were right, even, to treat such incidents as teacup-sized storms.

Then, in the year 2006 – when the Catalan parliament was putting together the third Statute of Catalan
Autonomy - I came across two incidents which seemed to me to be indicative of a great deal more than mere interregional bitching. On both occasions I was on the breakfast show of the private Catalan-language radio station RAC 1; musician Miqui Puig and I had what must have been one of the easiest paid jobs in the western hemisphere: for half an hour all we had to do was talk about things we'd liked and disliked over the past week.

Occasionally, if the pressure of this got too much for us, the presenter would open the lines and let the hoi-polloi mention a few likes and dislikes of their own. One Friday, we got a call from a Barcelona taxi driver; the previous weekend he had upgraded his taxi to a Mercedes, and decided to celebrate by going for a long spin to the capital of Aragon, Saragossa, where he could show off this brand new tool of his trade – freshly painted, of course, in the instantly recognisable black and yellow of all Barcelonan cabs - to some Aragonese friends of his.
No sooner had he stopped at the first set of Saragossan traffic lights than the drivers to right and left
of him began to wind down their windows and treat him to a mixture of forthright verbal abuse and earnest recommendations to leave town which were clearly provoked by the Catalan nature of his car. He made it to his friends' place, only for them to ask him please not to leave his taxi parked in the street, where they could not guarantee it remaining in one piece for long. So he drove it to a car park, on entering which he was accosted by a group of angry young men who threatened to do his windows in, no matter where he parked. At this point he gave up, and, abandoning Saragossa, headed post-haste for the safety of the Catalan border.

The following Friday, in the same radio studio, we got another similar call, this time from a town near Barcelona – Mataró, if I remember rightly - from the mother of a sixteen year old girl who had just been on a school trip to Madrid to see the Prado gallery. When this girl had been chatting to her school friends in Catalan on the Madrid metro, an elderly man sitting opposite had told her to speak in Spanish. She refused, saying she would speak Spanish to him but not to her friends. The old gent's reply was to the effect that if he were a younger man he would and I quote 'Smash her face in'. Upon which a younger man who happened to have followed all this stood up and offered to do just that. The mother of this girl went on to tell us how she and the mothers of all the other girls going on the trip had given their daughters highly specific instructions before leaving for Madrid: they were not to wear any Catalan or Barcelona Football Club insignia, and if asked about what they thought about any political issue related to Catalonia, were to keep mum or change the subject or make themselves scarce. All these mothers considered these precautions absolutely necessary.
Now, it might look as if, once again, we're simply piling isolated anecdote upon isolated anecdote and trying to draw some overall conclusion from them. But in these cases, I think it's the small print that counts, so to speak, in the sense that what makes these two stories significant is that both the Aragonese friends of the Barcelona taxi driver and the mothers of the teenagers off to their school trip Saragossa and Madrid respectively – a anecdotal or residual) antipathy towards Catalan people that might turn ugly, possibly with violent consequences.
That struck me as being indicative of a more widespread phenomenon that was both unpleasant and – given certain circumstances – potentially explosive. As it happened, when reading about anti-Catalan prejudice in Spain later on, I came across this observation by the Spanish historian José Antonio Maravall: 'to speak of something Catalan or to speak in Catalan, in a café in Madrid or any other major Spanish city, exposes one automatically to a hostile reaction'. He was writing not about Spain in 2006, but about Spain in 1931. What was happening in 1931? The Catalans were negotiating their first Statute of Autonomy with central government. What were they doing in 2006, when the taxi-driver and the teenage girl's mother phone in their stories of Catalanbaiting?
As mentioned, they were negotiating their third Statute of Autonomy. So, I thought, is this the key to it all?
Is it just the Catalan Statues of Autonomy that foment anti-Catalan prejudice in Spain at given moments in time?
Or did it exist before? Is it manifested even when there is no Statute of Autonomy on the horizon?

In Spain, any controversy of any type involving Catalonia – or the Basque Country, for that matter – is an open invitation to all kinds of media and political manipulation of the key terminology. You can barely touch the subject without setting off carefully placed semantic booby traps.
So before moving on, we'd like to clarify the three key terms.

Firstly, the Principality of Catalonia, capital Barcelona, and doesn't include the other Catalan-speaking areas with which it still maintains cultural connections, namely Valencia, the Balearic Islands, part of southern Aragon, French Catalonia, the town of Alguer or Alguero in Sardinia, the state of Andorra and a toenail sized sliver of northern Murcia. We're not going to talk about any of these areas.

Secondly, registered residents of Catalonia, irrespective of where they come from, where they parents come from, what colour their skin is and what language they prefer to speak.

Finally, here to indicate those areas of Spanish territory in which Castilian aka Spanish is the which are home to about 25 million people, out of a total Spanish population of just over 40 million. The remaining 15 million live in areas where Basque, Galician and Catalan are co-official languages together with Spanish.

Ok, now we've got all that cleared up, we can go on.

Anyone living in Catalonia today can hardly fail to notice after a while either long or short, that the Catalans' worldview – that is to say, their perception of where they stand and how they came to stand there - is remarkably different from that of the inhabitants of monolingual Spain. Whereas the latter's history books, for example, put Castile and Castilian hegemony at the centre of their story, those of the Catalans relate Catalonia's slow but consistent fall from historical grace.

Because this Catalan worldview tends to be littleknown and because it's impossible to even begin to understand the existence of anti-Catalan prejudice in Spain without it, there follows a description, as brief as I can make it, of how most reasonably well-informed Catalans view their historical record. For them, the famous reconquest of the peninsula from the Moors starting around the 10 achieved not only by the Galaico-Portuguese fighting their way down the western edge and the Castilians doing the same down the centre swathe; but also by the Catalan counts and later the Catalan count-kings who gradually removed the north-eastern strip of the peninsula from Arab and Berber control until by 1245 they had claimed not only Tarragona and Lleida but also Valencia and the Balearic Islands for Christendom and themselves.
Successive Catalan count-kings used this mainly coastal territory as a springboard to create a fourteenth century commercial empire, with direct military control over Sardinia, Sicily, Naples, a chunk of Anatolia, much of Greece, including Athens: the Catalan Count-King Peter III, thrilled to have the Parthenon in his power, ordered a dozen crossbowmen to protect it from thieves in 1380.

All this swashbuckling went hand in hand with the emergence of some of the most precocious
protodemocratic legislation in Europe, always according to the Catalan view of things. The body of civil law known as the Usatges, which began to emerge in the 12 paved the way for the Corts Catalanes, a kind of precocious parliament in which nobles, clergy and even the artisan class, the proto-bourgeoisie, so to speak, were included. (Its historical successor, the English Magna Carta, did not appear on the European scene until a century later). This Catalan protodemocracy eventually led to one of the main points of discord between the Castilians and the Catalans: the king of the latter had to be approved by parliament before he could take the throne. The king of the Castilians, their royal tradition being absolutist, did not.

If our imaginary Catalan is a little better-informed than usual, he would at this point delight in quoting us the French historian Pierre Vilar's famous analysis of Catalonia at this point in her history: 'perhaps, between 1250 and 1350, the Catalan Principality is the one country in Europe about which it would less inaccurate, less risky, to describe in apparently anachronistic terms as a nationstate.'

If, to drive the point home, the Catalans wanted to be a bit bolshie, they would casually point out now that at the time referred to by Pierre Vilar, the flag that represented Catalonia is the very same one that represents it still. Whereas the Spanish flag, they would enjoy adding, was invented by decree. After this, even our cocky Catalans would have to admit, it's downhill all the way.

1 comentaris:

  • Jordi Miralda says:
    September 1, 2012 at 1:49 AM

    I think you need to add that whereas the present Spanish state originated from Franco's military dictatorship and his decree declaring Juan Carlos Borbón his successor (even though a democratic reform was then launched to be accepted by the western powers), the Catalan government of the Generalitat is based on the continuity of legitimacy from the time of the Second Republic, when it was reestablished democratically after people had voted against the Borbón monarchy and for the pro-Catalan parties. After the civil war the Generalitat government was maintained in exile, while our democratically president Lluís Companys was executed by Franco, and succeeded by Josep Irla and then Josep Tarradellas, who returned from exile to reestablish the Generalitat in Catalonia. So the Catalan government is not based on any Spanish Constitution, but is based on Catalan democracy resisting and surviving Franco's terror, contrary to all present Spanish government institutions.

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