Sunday, 31 January 2010

The resentful immigrant

And now to the topic that triggered my previous post.

Over the last few years I have noticed how there has been a proliferation of blogs about Catalonia or Spain in English. That so many people from around the world move to Catalonia for whatever reason speaks volumes of what a welcoming country Catalonia is.

In every society, there is always a percentage of immigrants who are not happy with some aspect or another of their host country. I have seen it with Poles in Germany; with Asians in the UK, with Englishmen in Scotland, with Scots in London, with North Africans in France or Spain… and with many a Spanish person who emigrated to Catalonia.

Resentment towards the host community in an immigrant is a terrible thing.

I have seen it with some relatives, who after 40 years living in Catalonia still refuse to be grateful for the chance at a new life and the vast improvement in living standards and wealth they have achieved. Their resentment takes many forms: they refuse to learn the language or watch certain TV channels, or they speak in disparaging terms about their country of adoption. I have seen it also with some Spanish people (and it tends to be Spanish more than Catalan) in the UK. They resent the food, the drinking culture, the weather, the crumbling NHS. Without prompting, they will remind you that things in Spain are better (apart from jobs, obviously) and that British people are cold, smug, drunkards, unhealthy, illiterate, or whatever is the rant of the day.

I feel very sorry for people like that.

Fast forward to the start of the 21st century and globalisation of trade and labour.

Since the late 90s, a huge number of immigrants from the Americas and Europe have settled in Catalonia. Many of them have done so successfully and they are a great asset:

Tom, George, Matthew, and many others I have not heard about (more here, here and here) are valuable members of Catalan society, nouvinguts, and they have adopted their new homeland as much as their new homeland has adopted them. Everyone is a winner.

However, there is a minority of Anglo-Saxon and other northern Europeans, not to mention a few people from South America, whose new life in Catalonia does not bring them all the joy they would have hoped.

Whereas in the UK most immigrants complaint about the weather or food, in Catalonia some of these newly arrived wealthy immigrants take exception to the educational policy of the devolved Catalan administration.

They particularly object to the teaching of Catalan in schools and the use of Catalan as the vehicular language of education in Catalonia. I recommend you read my earlier entry here.

This new type of immigrant finds the fact that Catalan language is not actually dead an unpleasant discovery. The indigenous language of the host community becomes thus a little nuisance, and inconvenience. Over time, their resentment grows into something more powerful, a deep-seated prejudice against the host community.

These immigrants, albeit nominally living in Catalonia, have adopted the discursive message of the most nationalist Spanish media. In a way, they have settled in the wrong place, but this is not something new: there are many first, second and even third generation immigrant families from other areas of Spain which harbour the same narrow-minded prejudice. These blue-eyed newcomers have just joined the ranks.

There are many crackpots in the blogosphere, if you do a few searches you will find them easily.

There are the more belligerent ones who refer to the democratically elected government of Catalonia as “nationalist-socialist”. That this government coalition between an unionist party (fiercely opposed to independence) and a (nominally) pro-independence party and a federalist eco-socialist grouping is described with that slur says more about the utter ignorance and comptempt for democracy of the poster than anything else. This kind of language is used by the Spanish far-right and some elements of the Madrid-based press. That some of our supposedly intelligent immigrants have adopted this narrative reveals that under the pretence of “detachment” and objectivity (“I am a foreigner after all, no axe to grind”, etc, etc), these people are nothing more than cheer-leaders for the most repulsive side of Spanish nationalism, directly feeding from the ideology of post-Francoist Spanish nationalism.

Examples of such hatred against anything Catalan can be found in the revisionist pseudo-historicism and false intellectualism of Kalebeul (aka TerrorBoy. I call him TerrorBoy because his posts rewriting Spanish history and fake intellectualism cause me terror). The same type of material, often just without any subtlety can be found here in Life in Catalonia. Be careful with the latter because this despicable racist bastard will also edit your comments and post comments pretending to be you or someone else.

Recently, I have noted a few additions to the English language Cat-osphere.

This is a pattern we have seen before. The newly arrived claim that they were open-minded about the “issue” and that they take no sides, although they always “dislike nationalism”.

However, given time, we find out that what they mean is that they object to Catalan nationalism’ attempts to preserve and seek legal and social equivalence between Spanish and Catalan languages in Catalonia. They do not object very strongly however when Catalan speakers in Aragon are not even recognised officially and their language has absolutely no legal status. And they do not complain that the Spanish Constitution enforced the obligation on everybody to speak Spanish. That is the status quo, however unfair, and they don't mind that. Enforcement of language policy done by the Spanish State is alright, but if the Catalan administration tries to do anything remotely similar, than that is a breach of human rights, interventionist or some other nonsense.

They also don’t mind taking sides when it comes to supporting the current crusade coming from Spanish nationalism against the Catalan educational system.

Of course, everybody has the right to express an opinion about policy issues, including immigrants who are unlikely to become long-term residents. After all, millions of words are written about the whole Israel/Palestine conflict by people who have not ever been there and probably do not have a clue what they are talking about.

But when these new arrivals in Catalonia express an opinion on the whole issue of Catalan education system and language, they need to accept they are taking sides.

And in this debate, there seems to be only two sides.

Those in favour of the current system, the vast majority of people in Catalonia and all the political parties except two: the Spanish branch of the PP and the fringe party (soon to be extinct) Ciudadanos. These two groups barely attained 15% of the vote at the last Catalan elections, despite being given extraordinary media presence by the Spanish media.

The reasons for why the current system is as it is were outlined in my previous entry.

And I content that tinkering with that system only serves a purpose: to pander to Spanish nationalism and to create divisions in Catalan society based on language and family background. Given the fragile demographic profile of Catalonia, where around 50% of citizens, including myself, can trace our family origins (one or two generations) to Spanish-speaking areas of Spain, it is wholly irresponsible to pursue a policy of division rather than to support a policy that aims to achieve bilingualism for everybody, or at least as many people as possible, and not just for some.

Catalan language has its own word for immigrant. “Nouvingut”, literally ‘newly arrived’ is often use to describe immigrants. It is a word that does not have the negative connotation of the word immigrant. As I wrote about in my previous entry, Catalonia must be one of the countries in the world where it is easiest to integrate and feel part of the community: speak the indigenous language and you are one of us, whether your are from Almeria, Alabama or Africa.

These new immigrants have the right to challenge the Catalan educational system, like others did before them.

However, here is a novel thought: if you don’t want your children to be taught in Catalan in Catalonia, if you don’t want to learn Catalan yourself even if you are living in Catalonia, why do you live in Catalonia and not somewhere else where Catalan is not spoken?

It has always mystified me why some people put themselves through the pain of settling in Catalonia and then resenting the fact that Catalan language exists at all and is not dead in the water. The fact is there are over 160 other sovereign states in the world, covering about 99.9% of the habitable land, with all sorts of climate and job opportunities where Catalan is not spoken.

The world is huge. Enjoy it while you can.

PS: please do not bother posting a comment accusing me of being xenophobic or racist. My parents are immigrants themselves, I am an immigrant now in the UK myself, and I work with people (and often hire) from all ethnic backgrounds. I am just giving out free life counselling and advice.

Language policy in Catalonia

If you read newspaper articles or blogs in English about Catalonia, I am sure you will have come across the issue of language policy in Catalan schools.

Sadly, there is a lot of mis-information and urban myth around and the vast majority of these blogs have no credibility whatsoever, blinded as they are by their own cultural bias and narrow-minded prejudice.

Obviously, there are a few honourable exceptions out there, like Tom, George, Matthew and probably a few others I have missed.

For centuries, due to its geographical position, Catalonia has been a country where many people have come and settled. Being Catalan does not depend on your family origin or surname, let alone ethnic or cultural background. Everyone can be a Catalan, regardless of where you are from. The only unwritten rule, the only "requirement" is that you “care about” Catalonia, that you integrate socially and basically try to fit in and look for the common good. I think this is a pretty basic notion: everyone is welcome but please try to be one of us too.

We even have our own word for “immigrants”, which is a term rarely used. Instead in Catalan language we use “nouvinguts”, literally “newly arrived”. This word does not have the negative connotations of the word ‘immigrant’. I have travelled extensively around Europe and I don’t know many societies where joining in, becoming part of the host community, is so easy. Perhaps the US is the only similar society where becoming a native is so easy.

However, since the early 20th century, a significant percentage of immigrants into Catalonia have failed or refused to “join in”. This problem was exacerbated during the fascist dictatorship of General Franco between 1939 and 1975. First, there was a huge number of immigrants from other areas of Spain settling into Catalonia. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of people, materially changing the demographic profile of Catalonia for ever. The issue was compounded by the fact that Catalan language has never had any legal parity with Spanish in Catalonia, and has been actively persecuted since 1715 until very recently. Due to historical and political reasons, the Spanish state has always sought to impose Spanish language in Catalonia, to the detriment of the legal and social status of Catalan. Over the centuries, this has resulted in Catalan culture being relegated to a second-class status, often aggressively persecuted, tolerated at best, in its own homeland.

The result is that the citizenry of Catalonia is made up of a nearly 50% of people whose family origins can be traced to other areas of Spain (mostly Andalucia and Extremadura) within one or two generations. Of these group, a significant number, mainly first generation immigrants arrived in the 1950s and 1960s, do not speak Catalan, particularly those living in the suburbs of Barcelona and sometimes even their children and grandchildren are still monolingual Spanish speakers. However, those immigrants that settled in less populated areas (Tortosa, Girona, Manresa, etc) were able to integrate more successfully than those who settled in Santa Coloma de Gramenet or in the Barcelona suburbs.

After the end of the dictatorship, the prohibition of Catalan language in official documents, media, education, public use, etc, was lifted. With the advent of the 1978 Constitution and the Estatut d’Autonomia 1979 (Estatut is the legal framework that sets out Catalan partially devolved self-government), Catalan language became co-official.

But becoming co-official does not mean that Catalan and Spanish have equivalent legal status. The Spanish 1978 Constitution states that “everyone has the obligation to know Spanish”. This “obligation” does not extend to the other cooficial languages. Instead, speakers of Catalan (Valencian), Basque and Galician have the “right” to use it.

This legal asymmetry (Spanish obligation for all, Catalan right for some) causes a problem.

A monolingual Spanish-speaker can live in a nominally bilingual region of Spain but does not have to learn the indigenous language of the area, ie: Catalan language. The reason is that the Spanish speaker can always use the argument that since “everybody has the obligation to know Spanish”, the Catalan-speaker should switch to Spanish if he does not speak Catalan. Remember: Spanish is mandatory for everybody, so all Catalan-speakers are bilingual. Thus, the Spanish speaker does not have any incentive to learn the co-official language.

You would be forgiven for thinking that the best way to resolve the problem would be to change the law so that there is absolutely the same legal equivalence between the two languages. Alas, this has never happened in Spain and I don’t think it ever will. Even now in 2010, Catalan members of Parliament are banned from speaking their own language in the Spanish parliament and the Spanish state refuses to make Catalan language an official working language in the EU, despite being the 12th most spoken language.

To correct and remedy this legal and social inequality, and unable to change the Spanish Constitution to implement legal parity between the two languages, a consensus was formed in 1980 amongst all Catalan parties (except the Catalan branch of the Partido Popular) that education policy will be used to ensure that every child in Catalonia has the best chance possible of becoming bilingual in both Spanish and Catalan.

This was implemented by making Catalan the “vehicular language” in Catalan schools.

There are two objectives with this policy:

1) to correct the social imbalance of language use and knowledge caused by Franco’s dictatorship and mass migration, on top of centuries of persecution;

2) to prevent the formation of separate educational systems based on language and ensuring all children, regardless of background, studied and played together. Catalan society should not be divided because of language and family background.

The latter point is paramount to understand why all the mainstream parties, even the Catalan branch of the Spanish PSOE, support this policy, and why opponents of the policy can’t attain any significant electoral support. (Even the PP is stuck at c15% in Catalan elections).

Many immigrants from other areas of Spain do not speak Catalan, But this is not always because they don’t want to, but because they never had the opportunity to learn it and the chance to use it socially. When they started a new life in Barcelona, Catalan was banned from public and official use. Public usage could lead to problems with the authorities and it often did for thousands of people who dared to confront the regime and ended up beaten up in prison or worse. On top of that, many immigrants were manual labourers with a very basic education in any case. Most of these families settled in the Barcelona area.

It was the mass vote of these families for the PSC-PSOE in the 1980s and 90s, and not for the more Spanish nationalistic PP, that made this Catalan-first educational policy possible in the early ‘80s.

Most people in their 30s whose parents are originally from outside Catalonia will recognise this picture:

Both my parents’ families are originally from outside Catalonia. My father’s family are from Fuencaliente, in the province of Ciudad Real. My mother’s side of the family are from Cadiz. Both arrived to Catalonia in their late teens, in the ‘60s, in abject poverty and with no education. They could hardly read and write and they had nothing to their name.

The majority of immigrants from other areas of Spain, particularly from the south, arrived in similar circumstances.

When this generation of parents (those arrived in the 50s and 60s) were able to choose how they wanted their children (those born in the 70s) to be educated, (when they had a chance to vote in democratic elections in the early 80s) they agreed on one thing:

+ They did not want their children and their neighbour’s (ie Catalan) children to be taught separately in different schools.

The overwhelming consensus was that children born in Catalonia, whether from a Catalan-speaking family or a Spanish-speaking family, should study together and play together. The idea of having an educational system divided along language lines was anathema to the vast majority of my parents’ generation: they wanted their children to have equality of opportunity. And they have voted accordingly ever since until today.

Having seen the impact of a dual educational system in Scotland, I can safely say that the social problems caused by such a divisive framework is hugely detrimental to social cohesion.

Of course, the consensus was not total –it never is. There has always been people in Catalonia who object to their children being taught in Catalan. This has always been the case and is not a recent event. But they, as the electoral results evidence, are in the minority and their argumentative logic is unsustainable as I will expose below.

So we know that educational policy in Catalonia is that the vehicular language for tuition is Catalan. Although this is the official policy, it is not always the case –law adherence is a funny business in Spain. Schools often apply a flexible interpretation depending on the teacher’s fluency in Catalan language and the social mix of the school intake. Moreover, schools run a system of personalised support for those pupils who require further help, for example newly arrived immigrants’ children, are given specialised support.

Since the 1980s until today, the consensus amongst the mainstream Catalan parties and wider society is that this is the best system to ensure that as many pupils as possible become bilingual by the time they leave school. And the consensus is also that any other system in which Catalan language is not given prominence would result in even more children leaving school as monolingual Spanish speakers, just like their parents.

This not only would hinder their employment prospects, like it did for their parents who could not work in the professions or join the civil service once Catalan language was no longer banned from public use; but it would also cripple Catalan society with a mass of school-leavers unable to master the indigenous language of Catalonia.

The economic impact would be undesirable. It would result in a two-tier workforce: those who are bilingual and those who are not, in a region/country/nation (call it what you like) that is, at least officially, bilingual.

Obviously, ceteris paribus, employers will tend to hire the bilingual speaker, which will result in wages for bilingual speakers being higher. This applies more so in the public sector: taxpayer money would be wasted by recruiting monolingual speakers when there are plenty of bilingual speakers available to serve customers that could be monolingual or bilingual. However, more worrying would be the social consequences of such a development. Not only in terms of careers prospects, but in wealth and income inequality. And more importantly, in inequality of opportunity and social cohesion.

In a nutshell, this is the very same scenario that our parents generation wanted to avoid and that is why there is no real support whatsoever (apart from fringe groups) for a tiered educational system based on language. It would lead to social division and inequality of opportunity later in life.

Our parents’ generation understood this point a long time ago –and they did not have to travel to Scotland to see how damaging separate schooling networks, based on cultural markers, are to community’s cohesion.

Even with the current system, there is an alarming number of monolingual Spanish-speaking children in Catalonia who are not fluent in Catalan. However, there are hardly any children in Catalonia, if any at all I dare say, who are monolingual Catalan speakers.

This happens for two reasons:

Firstly, Catalan-speaking parents are always bilingual as we know that knowledge of Spanish is mandatory according to the Constitución. The social and legal presence of Spanish language in all areas of life means that by the time a child reaches adulthood, even in the most remote area of the Catalan countryside, the mix of education policy, social and legal pressure ensures that fluency in Spanish is achieved.

Secondly, however, the same cannot be said of some monolingual Spanish speakers.

Since the highest law in the land (the 1978 Constitución) does not force them to learn Catalan even if they live in Catalonia, some chose not to –and more worryingly object to their children being given the best chance possible of becoming bilingual.

So now it is time to pose a few questions:

1) Should the educational system be tinkered with to please a small percentage of the population who object to their children being given the best chance possible of becoming bilingual in a bilingual region?

The answer has to be no. If anything, I would question the suitability of parents who want their children to remain monolingual in a bilingual region. Are these parents looking after their best interest of their children by preventing their gaining fluency in the indigenous language of Catalonia? Or are the channellig their political frustrations, their cultural predudice through their children?

Additionally, if a concession is made on language policy, who is to say that creationism won’t be next? Or physical education or history lessons?

And a further question is:

2) Should migration flows change or dictate language and educational policy in a self-governing adminstration?

And before you answer, think carefully because if this principle is accepted, then surely it applies not only to Catalonia but to any other society in Europe where there has been massive migration flows from people from othoutise the host community.

Once you have thought about these issues, and considered the different options, there is only one question left:

3) Why would then these people object to current Catalan educational policy?

And the answer can only be anti-Catalan prejudice for most, particularly for the most strident Spanish nationalist groups. For others, and in this group one has to include the growing number of anglo-saxon immigrants, monolingual narrow-mindedness and ignorance about Catalonia play a significant part. Those who question the current consensual policy but are emotionally detached from the whole Spain/Catalonia settlement, should be aware that ultimately the sole objective of many Spaniards attacking the current framework is to erode further the social usage of Catalan language in Catalonia and set corrosive divisions in Catalan society based along language and cultural lines.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

The silence that defines them

New Year, same old story. Spanish nationalist violence in Valencia is part of the landscape like the orange trees of the countryside or the palm trees in Alicante.

These incidents are widespread, pervasive and common-place. Spanish police (Policia Nacional or Cuerpo Nacional de Policia) treats Catalan-speakers with contempt at best; normally is threats and violence against anybody who does not yield to their proto-Francoist ideology.

Far-right Spanish nationalist groups operate in Valencia (and in Mallorca) not only with total impunity but with the complicit blind eye of the Spanish State and the operational cover granted by the Spanish Policia Nacional and Guardia Civil.

Picture the scene.

A member of the public on his bike is stopped by Police.

Said member of the public co-operates with Police enquiries and replies in Catalan language initially.

Spanish police then take offence and treat the former member of the public as a criminal and a suspect. Apparently speaking one’s language is a political act (if it is not Spanish). The policemen then threaten him to be careful what he write as they will be reading it.

This happens time and time again in Valencia and the Balearic Islands with total impunity. A few weeks ago, a guy was beaten up in the airport for daring to speak Catalan to the Guardia Civil. If this happened against any other social group, there would be international comdemnation for such incidents. It would no be tolerated in any other normal, democratic country. Can we imagine a Canadian policeman treating someone like a criminal for speaking in French in Quebec? Unfortunately, not much has changed since the Franco era for Catalan speakers outside the Principality of Catalonia.

The Spanish State allows this discrimination to be socially acceptable and legally enforceable. The Spanish media complicitly turns a blind eye. Thus, these incidents which occur regularly across the Catalan speaking areas of Spain go unreported by the mass media.

Where are now the advocates of individual rights? Where are those who shout loudest proclaiming the virtues of bilingualism? They make a lot of noise about language policy in Catalonia but their silence about the treatment of Catalan speakers in Valencia is conspicuous.

They remain silent because their concern is not about individual rights of any citizens or any concern about any Catalan children not being bilingual (the only ones that are not bilingual are Spanish-speaking pupils that do not speak Catalan for every Catalan-speaking child also speaks Spanish). Their only concern, their only true objective is to obliterate Catalan language from the territories where it has been historically spoken until recently. They have almost succeeded in Valencia (the language is all but gone in Alicante) and as I wrote about before, they will succeed in the Catalan-speaking counties of Aragon and the Balearic Islands before focusing on Catalonia.

In the meantime, anyone who is a Valencian-speaker is a second-class citizen in their own country –unless they accept they must switch to Spanish at any opportunity.

Pseudo-bilingualism only enshrines the supremacy of Spanish in law, and ensures the social decline of the indigenous language of the Catalan Countries. Linguistic genocide by any other name is taking place in Valencia but this never gets reported by the mass media or the "intelectual" lobby. Their silence reveals their twisted agenda of allowing the Spanish state to do the job that Franco, and others before him, could not finish. The Spanish state may be a democracy of sorts, but the same old agenda is still in place.


Racó Catalá [cat] – chronicle of the incident

L'informatiu [cat] - the victim himself

Fascist impunity, and more of the same.