Thursday, June 21, 2012

In Defense of Catalan at Schools

In 1.652, Barcelona, during the so called Guerra dels Segadors (Harvester’s War), after a year of siege, fell to the hands of the Spanish Army led by John Joseph of Austria. This is important because for the first time, and uninterruptedly until today, this led to the Spanish Army settling in Catalan territory. The Castle of Montjuïc, the best example of this Spanish military occupation, would be used for repeated bombings of Barcelona up until the the 20th century. This Spanish urge to subjugate Catalonia was at its highest during 18th century, when the Bourbon army, led by the Duke of Berwick, invaded Valencia. After that, they invaded Catalonia in 1713. Their invasion was quickly followed by a cultural and linguistic genocidal campaign aimed at destroying anything Catalan. Besides this, they set in place  a deliberate and systematic plundering scheme that, in essence, has made in intact to the present.

The list of attacks and affronts to the Catalan language is so extensive that a short article such as this is clearly insufficient to talk about them all, but it’s very important to explain that these attacks have been continuous ever since. Some of them were brutal and unashamed, like the ones carried out by Franco’s fascist dictatorship. Some of them more subtle, as José Patiño, the Castilian Council Public Prosecutor said in 1716: “May the effect be noticed, but the causes unnoticed.”

Three centuries later, we face another offensive against the Catalan language. Now, in the field of education. Taking advantage of a feeble and ambiguous Catalan Education Law, that states that Catalan will be the ‘commonly’ used language, Convivència Cívica Catalana, an association representing Spanish families that never integrated themselves in Catalonia, decided that this is the right time to enforce Spanish at schools through legal machinations. The legal route was the only one left to them, since we are talking about a foreign language in Catalonia: Spanish. Comparably, imagine French being enforced in France, or German in Germany by the courts.

The reaction of the Catalan Government to these attacks has been slack, considering even the UNESCO has backed the Catalan model of linguistic immersion. Faced with the elimination of Catalan from schools, the Catalan Education Department just issued a weak message saying that everything was OK, that it was just a few families giving some trouble. This is not true. The Spanish Supreme Court sentence is clear and exact. It orders that Spanish be used by teachers at schools in Catalonia alongside Catalan, and it orders that both languages be used in equal proportion.

In front of our Government’s sheepishness and complacency regarding these attacks, we have to react with determination and fight against the new attempt at exterminating Catalan. We at Escola en Català propose a very simple solution: to define Catalan as the only language to be used at schools. This proposed change of the law was brought forth to Catalan Parliament by the political party Solidaritat Catalana per la Independència. Our goal is to have it approved at the Parliament, so we are gathering signatures. We believe it is essential to gather massive support  to protect our most valuable treasure: our language.

Mercè Escarrà i Caudet
Highschool teacher and spokeswoman for Escola en Català

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