In English Voices From Spain

Factory of Nations

Photo by Marie Bellando-Mitjans on Unsplash

Originally published in Spanish. “Fábrica de naciones”. Antonio Elorza. El País.

2nd May 2018

In a lecture given some years ago, a smart Catalan political scientist, now deceased, wanted to make clear to his audience, in Alicante, what was a national language. For example, the widespread use of the Catalan, noticeable by any visitor in Barcelona. Therefore the Catalan was the national language. Soon after he added, in Catalan, “And now, since we are in Alicante, we will speak in Catalan”. That is, it did not matter that the Catalan was a minority language in Alicante, by belonging to the “Catalan Countries”, the priority of Catalan as national language had to be assured.

In this sense, we can admit that a non-negligible political and cultural danger in the face of such strategies inclined to reverse the current order in Spain from a hierarchicalized linguistic plurality. During the Spanish transition, the claim from Catalonia was that the “linguistic normalisation”, the preeminence of the so-called “own proper language” would enable the democratic integration by compensating the erosion suffered under Francoism. Today we are seeing that this has not occurred, and the result consisted of an emphasis on cultural and political differences, inciting to the confrontation with Spain. When the peripheral pressure on the subject escalates in the Valencian Country, the Balearic Islands or even Asturias, it is appropriate to discuss the matter, and not precisely in black or white terms.

The first fallacy to banish is that any normative channelling of such pressure means a return to Francoism. Rather, it would be an adaptation to the European context. The Catalan example shows that the danger does not lie in the promotion and co-officialization of a language, but in authorising that a process of normative displacement of Spanish sets in motion. Signals in both languages, perfectly fine. Penalizing who does not use the so-called “own proper language”, not fine. This is the case with the Catalan language and the doctors in the Balearic Islands. As a merit, right. As a guarantee of monopoly by exclusion, inacceptable. In a moment of difficulty to access the labour market, such exclusivity only serves to the curtailment of the worker’s rights as a whole and gradually establishing an autochthon elite who, for its own benefit, it headed to settle an excluding political identity upon such privilege.

From being a tool for communication, the language becomes this way a key to an illegitimate political power by undermining the equality principle for all citizens. In brief, let anyone to build their nation, but as an endogenous process, not against a democratic plurality-respecting state. Yes to the existent plurinationality, including full esporpolle (bable, Asturian dialect) of the own cultural features. No to the one extended until the point of disaggregation. It is necessary that the Socialist Party reflects on that after the tremendous blunder on the Statute and its current morass, and the People’s Party and Citizens Party to perceive that the way out is not a new centralisation, but federalism.

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