In English Voices From Spain

An interview to Joaquim Coll: “The exclusion of Spanish in the schools is a nonsense”

Originally published in Spanish: «Entrevista a Joaquim Coll: “La exclusión del castellano en la escuela es un despropósito”. Óscar Benítez. El Catalá

1st January 2019

The historian Joaquim Coll (Barcelona, 1967) was vice-president of Sociedad Civil Catalana and one of the promoters of Federalistes d’Esquerres. Also a columnist, he currently writes for media such as El País, El Periódico or Crónica Global. In this interview with El Catalán, Coll enthusiastically defends the candidacy of Manuel Valls, whose victory would represent a turning point in Catalonia.

You are very critical of the language immersion system. What are your reasons?

[TN: the language immersion system means that all or most classes in public schools are imparted using a specific vehicular language, e.g. Catalan, in order to ensure that students have a good knowledge of that language]

At first, being Catalan-speaking myself, I wasn’t so critical of the immersion system: I thought that the purpose was to promote and normalize the use of Catalan. Then, I noticed that what was really intended was to modify the sociolinguistic structure so that it leaned towards monolingualism – although the nationalists themselves know that it is an impossible goal to achieve. For this purpose, they exclude Spanish from institutions and teaching. The latter is serious, because a bilingual society should be matched with an equally bilingual educational system. This does not mean that 50% of the class time should be imparted in each language, since one could be flexible to give more importance to Catalan. But the dogmatic exclusion of Spanish as a vehicular language, if analysed, is a nonsense.

Actually, everything is a lie in immersion, starting with its name: it is only an immersion for the Spanish speakers, but for the Catalan speakers it is education in their mother tongue. Under that beautiful, redeeming label of immersion – you bathe in it and, somehow, purify yourself – there is no more than a nationalist school. The same happens with the so-called Escola Catalana. What would we think of a Spanish School? On the other hand, the taboo that surrounds immersion -its supporters are unable to provide arguments to defend it- seems to me to be the maximum exponent of the mental blockade in which a large part of Catalan society is installed.

In your article La violencias del procés, you questioned whether this movement was totally peaceful.

Indeed. To begin with, the intention to break up a State is not peaceful at all: it carries an implicit violence. Sometimes, there is no need of actual punches for violence to be perceived in the environment. An example is that there is no room in Catalan society for some opinions.

In my case, I clearly felt this symbolic violence in 2013. On the way to a calçotada [TN: a gathering for a traditional Catalan meal] in Catalonia’s countryside we went through roundabouts and villages full of esteladas [TN: The flag representing an independent Catalonia]. I felt bad, beaten. It was a way of telling us: «We have already decided». It is also symbolic violence that institutions become a mechanism for agitation and propaganda, or that associations and entities such as universities take continuously sides themselves, breaking their own deontological code. All this exerts a great pressure on the ones who do not agree with them.

In this sense, is it true that there is no social fracture as stated by the seccesionists?

It is clear that we have a broken society. A friend of mine who lives in the United States told me recently: «There is more tension in Catalonia than in the United States with Trump.» It is normal, because the advocated way forward for Catalonia was a leap into the void, that a minority imposed a process of rupture without legitimacy to do so. And sometimes we should ask ourselves: «Is secession legitimate in a democracy?» It may be legal, but not legitimate. How could it be when the Catalans enjoy the same rights as the Spaniards? Or when Spain is one of the countries that protects more and better its linguistic diversity? Is it legitimate for the rich not to pay taxes? On the other hand, can you go to an election with a political agenda based on executing a coup? In our country, the Constitution allows to reform any part of it. But you must have the majority required to do it.

In any case, it is undeniable that the procés [TN: the independence process] has broken coexistence and fractured the society. It has been tremendously harmful.

It is often heard that the policy should not be «judicialized». Is it a sensible claim with regard to Catalonia?

It is a very harmful topic. Politicians must be subject to the rule of law: if they commit crimes, they have to be judged. At the trial hearing, we heard: «They were politicians doing politics.» Yes, but they violated constitutional and statutory laws. This kind of statements imply that they have not done anything, but that is not true. They started a parliamentary coup, nothing more and nothing less. And this, obviously, must have consequences.

You have also questioned that Oriol Junqueras is the moderate politician that some now say he is.

In my opinion, Junqueras is one of the top people to blame for the current disaster. He is the one who has fanatized part of society with the discourse of «Spain is stealing from us». We shouldn’t forget that he went so far as to say that, with what Spain was taking from us, every Catalan could buy a new car every year. Although Pujol already disseminated these ideas, Junqueras did a magnificent job to get him into the social body. In the end, he has played the same role as Farage in brexit.

Moreover, he is an essentialist fanatic. He stated that he would remain an independentist even if Spain were the best country in the world. He has never been driven by social issues, but by nationalism and romanticism. And, behind that aura of religiosity, he has pursued power at all costs.

In conclusion, trusting someone like that – who was also the one who, in a moment as crucial as October 1st, pushed Puigdemont to a unilateral declaration of independence- is an enormous folly.

On the other hand, in the interview that Junqueras has granted to El Periódico, he does not admit to have committed any mistakes.

This is common to the whole secessionist movement. They always criticize the police action of October 1st, but never shows empathy towards the other half of Catalonia. At that time, many citizens suffered from the threat of an unilateral declaration of independence. Who is responsible for this suffering? While many constitutionalists have criticized the October 1st  disaster, nationalists admit no mistakes. Not to mention that they only grant a voice as citizens to the Catalans who, even if they don’t support independence, give their approval to a referendum. If you think that a vote might not be a good idea, you do not exist for them.

According to international indicators, Spain is one of the least nationalist countries in the world. In this aspect, does the irruption of Vox imply a change?

Unfortunately, it cannot be disregarded, although it is yet unknown what the impact of Vox will be. The party is pure right-wing populism, a Spanish identity-based nationalism that until now had remained hidden, especially inside the Popular Party. In fact, Vox is an ideological split of the Popular Party that has finally taken its own identity. Unfortunately, its appearance -which is partly due to the procés– puts an end to the anomaly represented by the lack of the extreme right in Spain.

However, as everything else, it can also have positive effects. In this case, when the competition on the Right is very saturated, it could force Citizens to look towards the political center. In this way, we would avoid the danger of returning to a block dynamics – with a national and a popular front – that cannot lead to any good outcome.

Pablo Iglesias minimized the statement of Quim Torra in which he supported the Slovenian way because, according to Iglesias, Torra «said something he did not think, it was the heat of the moment. Nobody is free of it. » Do you share that assessment?

No, it is clear that the Slovenian way was one of the referents of secessionism. In fact, it was what they tried carry out: an unilateral referendum and a de facto secession. In the end, they did not make the final jump due to a series of circumstances that are still unclear. What happened? How is it possible that people who is obsessed with independence managed so badly the situation after October 1st? It is one of the great mysteries. Maybe, they lacked a clear leadership.

Regarding the possibility of violence, there have been statements from their leaders in which they did not rule out such a scenario. What’s more, nationalism did nothing to prevent that things got out of control. From fanatics like Quim Torra, who affirms that «outside the national fact, there is no life», you can expect anything.

Pedro Sánchez has warned against those who want to return to «pre-democratic centralism». Is it a real risk?

No, it’s part of that hyperbolic language that is practiced in politics. Neither is Sanchez a accomplice of the separatist coup, as Casado affirms, nor does the opposition intend to establish a «pre-democratic centralism,» as the Government says. That civil-war-like language only seeks to stigmatize the adversary. However, the constitutionalists should have a sense of state and not fall into extremism, neither in language nor facts. While some do not find Vox distasteful, others do not refuse to make agreements with the secessionists.

You have not hidden his sympathy for the candidacy of Manuel Valls. What would the victory of the former French prime minister represent?

The victory of Valls in Barcelona would be the most disruptive event that could happen in the short term in Catalan society. It would mean turning the page. In my opinion, Valls deserves a transversal support. On the one hand, he is a prestigious candidate – although in every political career there are controversial aspects – that comes from the antidogmatic left, and that takes as referents socialists such as Michel Rocard or Felipe González. On the other hand, he is able to understand both the liberal and pro-European center and the intelligent right in big issues. His candidacy is also an exercise in bravery, since he has renounced his native society and put Barcelona above all without having anything assured.

Apart from that, at this moment there is no other constitutionalist and progressive candidate who, like him, can go forward and win. And considering how negative the management of Ada Colau has been until now, giving him our support is practically a duty of citizenship.

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