Photo: Ryan Tauss | Unsplash
Originally published in Spanish: «La Generalitat alentó protestas de alumnos tras el referéndum ilegal». Oriol Güel, Jesús García. El País.
5th may 2018
Written instructions urged schools to hold protests with “all students and teachers” against the events.
Catalan Regional Government encouraged schools and high-schools to hold protests “with all the students” against the events that took place after the illegal independence referendum held on October 1st. Events that, under the cover of a generic and widely-shared rejection of violence, were used by the Regional Government to involve the school system in its strategy to delegitimate the State in Catalonia. This is revealed in an e-mail message seen by El País, sent by the territorial education directorship for Baix Llobregat county (Barcelona) to all its schools.
Baix Llobregat, which extends along the industrial valley through which the namesake river flows, is the third most populous county in Catalonia, with 806,000 inhabitants. It is also the least electorally favorable to secessionism, in great measure due to the heavy demographic influence of immigration arrived from elsewhere in Spain during the sixties and seventies. In the elections held on December 21st, the three independent parties -Junts per Catalunya, ERC and CUP- got 33.2% of the votes. The lowest percentage in all of Catalonia except for the Valle de Arán, with barely 10,000 people.
The territorial director for education in Baix Llobregat, Núria Vallduriola, sent an e-mail at 10:38 on Monday, October 2nd -barely three sentences with several grammar mistakes- to all public and chartered schools in the county (around 450). That morning, a significant share of Catalan society awoke deeply affected by the strong images of the failed attempt by the Civil Guard and the National Police to thwart the illegal vote, which ended with hundreds of beaten people.
Mrs. Vallduriola’s email begins with the proposal to “make a call for peace and non-violence in all teaching centers” The chosen slogan is not casual and matches the one used in the international school day that, under the same terms, is celebrated every January 30th to promote those values among children and youth.
The message continues with an instruction “we ask that you organize an act today at noon inside the school grounds with all the students and teachers”. Last, the message asks that each school disseminate the act as much as possible.
This call from the territorial directorship for education had significant, if uneven, adherence in Baix Llobregat. “It’s obvious that we all are against violence”, explains a teacher in Cornellà, which like all of the people interviewed for this article requested to remain anonymous. “But the exploitation of the kids for this pretext was so blatant that some of us opted to stay away from it. Other teachers did indeed ask the kids to go to the playground, but not all went along”, he stated. Another teacher, also a critic of what happened reminds “a strike was being planned for the next day, [the so called “strike for the country”, also encouraged by the regional government] and it was evident that what was going to happen in schools was part of the narrative that was being pushed”
A legal battle about teacher data
The publication of the identities of nine teachers accused by the prosecutor of allegedly humiliating the children of Civil Guards after the October 1st illegal referendum has unleashed a battle around the teachers’ privacy. Their lawyer has demanded the prosecutor against the data protection authorities, claiming that the prosecutor’s office leaked information to the media.
The report submitted by the prosecutor’s office only contains first names (no surnames) of the teachers, which is common practice in this type of documents. Data protection authorities have accepted the lawyer’s request and have asked the prosecutor for an explanation.
People who support these teachers have publicly denounced the publication of their photographies in an article in El Mundo newspaper, which they contend has unleashed a harassment campaign. That campaign has included, for example, graffiti in the external walls of the El Palau high-school (“nazis”, “splitters” with their names). The prosecutor for hate crimes -the same one who indicted the teachers- has ordered the regional police to investigate the graffiti.
The email sent by Núria Vallduriola
Other teachers in the area, who don’t hide their support for secession, have a different recollection of that day. “It was a very intense Monday. There was no other topic of conversation and the students were very agitated. Something had to be done to channel all that tension. Without arguing about the end of the matter, and respecting the differing views, a demonstration in support of something as harmless as rejecting violence was a good way of achieving that purpose”, they state. “I didn’t even know that e-mail existed. But it was evident that something had to be done to calm people down”, he adds.
Attendance was massive in many schools, and, just like Mrs. Vallduriola had instructed, they disseminated information about the protest. To this end, there was widespread use of secessionist talking points. One example is the Garbí school, in Esplugues, in which website there’s the following message, along with pictures of children and teachers: “All of the students and educators observed 15 minutes of silence to remember that peace and non violence are the foundations of coexistence. The extreme violence suffered yesterday by many citizens has no justification. They were just people who wanted to vote peacefully. We have worked around all these issue in the school today.”
A spokesperson for the regional department of education contends that this call in Baix Llobregat was a personal initiative by Mrs. Vallduriola that didn’t happen in other places. “The director thought that holding acts about widely-shared values was a good way to deal with the events from the day before, which had had a great impact on the students”, the spokesperson explained.
The e-mail message was not the only intervention by Mrs. Vallduriola surrounding the October 1st vote. Several sources in the county confirm that she had an important role in the preparations for the illegal referendum in Baix Llobregat.
One of the high-schools that received the e-mail message was El Palau, in Sant Andreu de la Barca, close to a Guardia Civil headquarters. The document is mentioned in the prosecutor’s indictment against nine teachers in that high-school for a crime against fundamental rights of several students, who were allegedly singled by these teachers as the children of civil guards, expressing offensive opinions against their parents jobs. Five teachers are also accused of grave offenses against security forces. Judiciary sources point out that, at this stage of the investigation, the e-mail message doesn’t justify by itself the behavior of the teachers.
The prosecutor’s statement is now in the hands of the Martorell courts. One of the judges has launched a procedure against one of the teachers that, on October 20th, asked the children of civil guards to raise their hands in class. Another judge is assessing wether to admit the accusation against the other eight teachers who allegedly humiliated those students on October 2nd with demeaning comments about the civil guard.
The Barcelona prosecutor for hate crimes has collected testimony from the students’ parents and also from the teachers. In their statements, the teachers denied having criticized neither the police action nor the students. Mrs. Vallduriola accompanied them as a show of support. The director stated then that these debates about October 1st happened spontaneously and were initiated by the students themselves and she contended that they were necessary: “We are educating these people, who have to be democratic people”. Mr.s Vallduriola criticized the parents for pursuing a criminal case instead of solving the conflict within the education system.
In his report, the prosecutor includes the version described by the minors who experienced that day. “You must be happy with that your father did yesterday”, blurted out one of the teachers, Lucia, to a twelve-year old that bursted into tears, according to his testimony. In other comments, the teachers allegedly referred to the police members as “animals” and “beasts” for having tried to stop the referendum by force.
Judicial truth has still not been established. The judge will call the teachers and also the alleged victims: the students who are children of civil guards. It’s highly likely that other students who were present will also declare as witnesses. It won’t be easy to prove the accusations if the versions are contradictory, although there are other probatory elements (such as psychological reports of the minors) that could help establish what happened in the high school