I might have imagined it, but I thought the week started on a little bit of a ‘charm offensive’ by Spain’s ruling PP government. Every Monday morning, first thing, they have a comité de dirección ‘steering committee’ meeting – and they posted a photo of them all smiling with their coffee and water. Perhaps they were smiling about Rajoy’s ‘dancing’ at a Murcia wedding over the weekend; he dances like he jogs – it’s a sort of mincing fast walk. Or maybe someone just told them to smile at the camera. ‘Look happy! Look friendly!’ It’s very hard, I know, to picture anyone in the PP looking friendly – but they tried it for nearly 48 hours. I think someone came to that Monday morning meeting and said something Monty Pythonesque, like: ‘We’re crap! Everyone hates us! Our families hate us, our kids hate us, and people regret voting for us. We’re now losing in the polls. We’re clearly corrupt. We’ve lost Catalonia. We’ve now got Strasbourg and the UN hanging over us about political prisoners and Puigdemont’s investiture. We’ve got MEPs criticising our choice of homophobic candidate for the European Court of Human Rights, who are now also condemning us for our treatment of ETA prisoners. It’s not looking good, M.Rajoy. We need to change tactics. We need to tell the judge not to lock up any Catalans this week, hide Soraya, hide Albiol, and let’s … let’s be friendly. It’s worth a try. Let’s talk about our achievements.’ What achievements? ‘Let’s invent some … ’
So on that same day, someone had the idea to wheel out the PP’s catalogue model – you know who I mean, that ‘trajes de hombre by Emidio Tucci’ guy – whatshisname? – Iñigo de la Serna, the ‘Fomento’ minister or whatever he is – and they quickly came up with a new hashtag of ‘#ConnectadosalFuturo’, to make it look like the PP are ‘connected to the future’ even though they’re clearly still living deep in the past. Then they all started to tweet and retweet the same message – that the Spanish government is ‘acting in Catalonia at an overwhelming pace, driving strategic investments that improve the quality of life for the Catalans, favour the competitiveness of the business sector and provide stability for investments’ … hashtag connected to the future. And they kept waffling on about Barcelona El Prat’s record number of visitors (which has nothing to do with them) and the plans to do marvellous things at Girona’s Costa Brava airport, too – ‘with the expansion of the aircraft parking platform, the passenger terminal area and the AVE station’ … hashtag connected to the future … blah blah blah bullshit.
Even the dancer himself tried to appear jolly and friendly for a day or two. He’d obviously been given instructions to retweet anything Emidio Tucci could come up with, such as boasting about ‘El Prat’s 2017-2026 expansion plan to increase the airport’s capacity to 70m passengers a year’ … hashtag connected to the future (watch me dance, look). Then there was also something about the PP announcing ‘we will soon present a document negotiated with all the leaders of the PP, a proposal to improve the regional and local funding in Spain.’ More bullshit. Then they whisked Rajoy off to Palencia for a presentation of the ‘European Year of Cultural Heritage’, and where he finally had the nerve to say: ‘Spain defends the success of the European project. Europe is a scenario of freedom, democracy and human rights that guarantees our progress and well-being.’ Oh, and the judge didn’t lock up the CUP politican, Mireia Boya, midweek – as planned? – as if to underline just how friendly the PP had really become …
But the charm offensive (if that’s what it was) didn’t last long. After 48 hours of trying to spread the PP gospel about all the good and nice things they were doing, especially to improve the quality of life for the Catalans, the harsh reality finally struck yet again: the Spanish government now intends to also use its direct rule in Catalonia to put an end to the current language system, and overturn Catalan as the first language.
Let’s just be very clear about all this: Rajoy’s government is attacking Catalonia, Catalans and now the Catalan language itself. I believe he is also doing it (or most of it) illegally. The simple summary is as follows: Rajoy refused any dialogue about any form of agreed Catalan vote or referendum – but it went ahead, regardless. Before that 1st October referendum, Rajoy’s government closed websites, searched printers, banned events, censored the media, raided institutions, threatened mayors and civic leaders, amongst many other actions. He dispatched his Spanish police and Civil Guard forces to brutally attack innocent voters on 1st October – at a cost of €87m – and he still failed to stop the vote. There have now been political prisoners in Spain, still without any trial, for over four months. Rajoy applied Article 155 to take control of Catalonia, called elections for 21st December – but because he doesn’t like the result, he has so far blocked any investiture of the man chosen (and democratically elected twice now) to be president … and he has also put pressure on Spain’s judicial system to support him on this. The right to even apply Article 155 in the first place was questionable in itself. The use of 155 does clearly not include overturning the current Catalan language system – a political and social battlefield for many years.
Instead of agreeing to the request of a meeting with the new Speaker of the Catalan Parliament, Roger Torrent, to discuss a way through the investiture minefield, Rajoy instead met with two other (and somewhat obscure) Catalan groups that both advocate bilingual education. Following on from that meeting, at a press conference on Friday, Spain’s education minister and government spokesman, Iñigo Méndez de Vigo, said that Madrid intends to guarantee ‘the right of parents to choose the schooling language for their children’ – but he failed to clarify how. Right now, Catalan is the normal language in Catalan schools, with 2 or 3 hours a week of Spanish lessons. In all my time I have lived and worked in Barcelona and Catalonia, I have never, ever met any Catalan child or adult who cannot also speak perfect Spanish, too – and they’re always happy to converse with me in either language. They’re all bilingual. Many are even trilingual (and more), with excellent English, too. Why change it?
Please bear in mind these two headlines of articles published in the past 24 hours: ‘Madrid seeks to overturn Catalan as first language’ from The Times. ‘Madrid’s plan to push Spanish language in Catalan schools prompts independence anger’ from The Daily Telegraph. Both these respected newspapers included in their reports the following reminders: ‘During General Franco’s long rule between 1939-1975, speaking Catalan and Basque was banned’ (The Times); ‘Under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, Castilian was declared Spain’s only official language, while Catalan and other languages were severely repressed’ (The Daily Telegraph).
Fact: Franco suppressed the Catalan language. I’m sorry to be so blunt about this but that’s the PP for you, too. They’ve attacked Catalonia, they’ve attacked the Catalans, and now they’re also trying to use 155 to attack the Catalan language. Their ‘connected to the future’ hashtag this week is a joke; they live in the past. The current Spanish central government’s policies are not ‘improving the quality of life for the Catalans’ one bit – it is a total lie. And which is why the Catalans wanted an agreed and legal vote about independence in the first place. You can’t blame them.