Albert Rivera’s rights or a normal Catalan’s? Toni Strubell i Trueta

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Well we’re in the thick of the Catalan indy crisis: maybe you –reader- might be wondering what it feels like for many Catalans to be facing a situation of this nature at this stage of the XXIst century when the country is under the floodlights of the international media. Many surely fail to comprehend the true build-up to this crisis, for which there is plenty of material on this web. In this article, however, I’d like to take a look at the question by comparing the interests and rights of pro-Spanish Catalans with those of Catalans favouring sovereignty, that I shall call sovereign Catalans. I think it may be revealing.

Catalonia is roughly split today between those who feel Catalonia to be a nation and want independence and those who want to belong to Spain, though recent events (especially 1-O Referendum results) seem to show a progressively greater tilt towards the former. I’d like to evaluate the effective rights of the two positions in the light of the October 11th speech of Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera at the Spanish Parliament’s session on Catalonia, in which he ranted on about the “threat that the Catalan Process meant for constitutional Catalans”, that is, those who feel Spanish and want to belong to Spain. Was he right?

The truth is that the speech of this leader (whose party has exactly zero mayors in Catalonia) was full of incoherences and half-truths, despite the energy and vehemence with which this media-nourished Catalan-born Spanish nationalist expresses himself. When he blares out that the Generalitat government is “putting his constitutional rights in jeopardy” (he was born four years after the Constitution was passed), is he justly proclaiming the downstaging of Spaniards’ rights in Catalonia. Or is it a blatant lie?

To start with, one must point out that Catalan Spaniards have access to a real nationality, a very real National Identity Card, a passaport, a fiscal identity and all the exclusive trappings of a nation. Sovereign Catalans, despite decades of appealing, have little more than marginal recognition for some minor symbolic and folkloric elements such as the capacity to have a “national day” –September 11th- or a police force of her own. But this police force, though enjoying exclusive powers in some areas, has no real capacity to operate as the national police that we would associate with a State. Hence judges operating in Catalonia –in the framwork, I must point out, of a 100% Spanish legal System- are free to entrust almost any judicial mission they care to the Spanish police and ignore the Catalan police if they so choose.

Spanish Catalans have a full access to official sports representation. That is, they have their “national” teams which are able to compete worldwide at an officical capacity. Thus Mr Rivera, at the past World Cup, set up giant screens in a public square in Barcelona to watch the Spanish team’s matches. Catalans have no right to even sport official national teams. They have to resort to intrepid ploys to seek representation in some minor sports, the International federations of which overlook strict State status for official members. The Spanish State takes every possible step to prevent this representation, to the point of having titles won by Catalan teams invalidated as happened in 2007 at the roller skate hockey B team world championship in Macao.

In the cultural world, the rights of a Spanish Catalan are infinitely more robust than those of a Catalan. For instance, the State’s marginalization and down-staging of the Catalan culture is of considerable proportions. No attempt is made to encourage or socialize the Catalan language in the wider Spanish context. For example, in proportion, there is considerably less presence of Catalan studies at Spanish universities than at British or American ones. While the Sorbonne in Paris sports a Ramon Llull centre, no such institution exists in Madrid. As regards funding, there have been years where just two museums in Madrid get a good deal more funding than the full budget for culture in the whole of Catalonia.

As regards the language, the rights of Spanish Catalans and Catalan citizens are beyond fair comparison. For instance, it is forbidden for Catalan MPs to use their langauge in the Spanish Parliament and Senate. Spanish PP and PSOE EUMPs consistently bar Catalan from officialdom in the EU institutions. Even at a token level, Catalan has never been the language for the Spanish competitor in the Eurovision Song Contest. Catalans using their language in particular events in Spain are liable to be booed, as happened to singer Raimon for a free appearance in an anti-terrorist rally in Madrid in 1997. The State does little, if anything, to counter this phenomenon. Many Spaniards seem to have the idea that Catalans do not really use their language and only do so “to nark Spaniards”. This is the full impression that emerges from TV interviewing practice, where Catalan interviewees, in contrast with French or American ones, are almost always heard in Spanish.

The world of public enhancement for Spanish, in the cultural sphere, is also largely staged at the expense of Catalan. The overall effect of key cultural events held in Catalonia is clearly designed for this purpose or result. The Planeta prizes for exemple, run by a vast Spanish publishing empire constructed in the wake of widescale repression against Catalan printers, is a clear sign of Spanish cultural supremacy. Huge money prizes are doshed out to arbitrarily chosen Spanish language autors. Very much the same can be said of the Nadal and Ondas prizes awarded yearly in Barcelona. The big money and media applause is for things Spanish. The bread crumbs and downstaging for Catalan.

The speech of Mr Albert Rivera, though, is much more perverse than this. When campaigning in Spain, he works up hatred for things Catalan by lying about the language. He says “you have to get your face broken to use Spanish in Catalonia”. Everyone in Catalonia knows this is a lie. Let me give my own experience. I live in the Empordà region, a land considered to be most Catalan in essence. But neither my local doctor, nor many of the staff at my local hospital, nor many shop attendants and waiters, speak Catalan. The kids that come past my study window on the way to the school oppsotive largely speak in Spanish. Where the hell is the snag about speaking Spanish here? On the contrary, the common practice is for locals to have to change into Spanish to address Spanish-speakers, many of whom have been residents locally for decades. I have never, ever heard anyone incommodating someone for not knowing Catalan. What do exist, though, are constant cases of Catalan citizens being arrested or ill-treated by Spanish police for speaking Catalan. Just consult the web

There is two definitive areas in which one cannot begin to compare the rights of Spanish Catalans and those of Catalans. Firstl, the economy, in which Spain controls 95% of the taxes and takes a yearly euros from Catalans’ pockets. Likewise, in the effective capacity for implementing measures to counter the “other side’s” message and policies. Spain has the full control of the vital TV channel concession powers, thus being able to flood the Catalan TV catchment area with dozens of stations that completely ignore the Catalan language and social reality while the Catalan channels are limited. One channel frequency conceded for “Catalan” interests is 8TV, which shows most of its films in Spanish, has a clear anti-sovereignty slant. Not surpring since it belongs to the Count de Godó, a long-running upkeeper of Madrid interests. On the political front, Mr Rivera has everything in his favour to annul and destroy the interests of other Catalans. He can count on a system based on the total power of Madrid parties (with the support of Ibex 35 and the powerful Madrid establishment largely based on families who prospered under Franco), to annul Catalan autonomy (as has been ordered today), to ensure that one single parent can have the linguistic protocol of a class changed (to Spanish), to cut off pro-Catalan webs, social media and digital news media (as is now happening), the monopoly of violence in favour of a particular nationalistic position (as made visible to the whole world on October 1st) and, lastly, the means of justifying through State interests an all-out attack on defenceless citizens that would be an International scandal with severe consequences if occurring almost anywhere else in the EU. It is in this sense that one must consider the intervention of Ciudadanos MP Juan Carlos Girauta this week calling for the need to “silenci International press” and gagging Spanish journalists (along with closing down TV3). This is the tone and message of a member of Cataln Parliament’s major opposition party, a party that represents the interests and privileges of Catalan Spanish nationalists against the flimsily defensible interests of Catalans.

Finally, a mention of that favourite unionist clichés which unblushingly says that “Spain is one of the most decentralised countries in the world”. Just recently with the threats and attacks against Catalan home rule (the famous application of Constitutional article 155), it has become clear for all to see that dismantling Catalan financial and self-rule powers is not such a big deal as one might have expected. Indeed, the capacity for deciding about investment and budget priorities was almost null at the best of times. Now, to dismante Catalan “autonomy” is really it is to remove a few very basic administrative functions. For instance, with suspended economic powers, Catalonia cannot command a budget. It is slave to one. It cannot decide anything substantial and anything that it does decide to implement, to the betterment of all the cizens of the country (whether Spanish Catalans or sovereign Catalans) is generally annulled by the Spanish Constitutional Court. Just look at the record for the last 5 years! All power and effective authority are in the hands of pro-Spanish Catalans as they are ripped away from the majority.

In conclusion one must say, without any shade of doubt, that Spanish Catalans have an infinitely stronger framework for the protection of their privileges interests than Catalans do, especially in the vital area of national representation and officialdom. Spanish Catalans have a State to defend them. Sovereign Catalans do not. And this is the direction things are to take if independence does not take form. We shall be assisting to the empowerment of Spanish Catalans (the minority) at the expense of sovereign Catalans who will be exposed to severe forms of repression as the EU looks on with its characteristically cynical grin.