Born and raised in Barcelona, I feel lucky to have been born in such a city, so beautiful and inspiring by the Mediterranean Sea; the capital of my country. My parent’s childhood took place during the post-war period, under the burden of an atrocious dictatorship that generated a cultural genocide in Catalonia. My father, who lived in a central neighbourhood of Barcelona called Eixample, often told us how, when he was a kid, the police aggressively rebuked them if they heard them speak in Catalan to their family or friends. I can say I am the descendant of a generation of Catalans that lived their national identity in a very traumatic way.
The political structure of the Spanish state changed dramatically the 6th of December of 1978, as the Spaniards were called to the polls after forty years of dictatorship, and ratified a constitution that turned the autocratic regime into a democracy. A comparable democracy to any other western democracy, one could think. No, this was a democracy that did not recognize the right of self-determination and which imposed the right of the army above democracy to enforce the territorial union of the Spanish state. The transition to this democratic system was engaged, but the hostility towards the Catalan national reality remained. I was fourteen by then. I was a teenager attending to a high school still totally given in Spanish language, the content of which still had no traces of anything Catalan, as the Spanish laws still hadn’t been changed.
Only during our thirty-minute break the pupils could speak in Catalan language, out of the sight of the nuns, who controlled the ‘proper functioning’ of the centre. As a result of all of this, I arrived to university totally illiterate of my mother tongue, without having learned anything about the millennial history of the Catalan language, nothing about its brilliant literature or it’s geography, due to the corrosive action of a visceral Spanish nationalism.
Today, in 2012, Spain goes on investing all they can to frustrate the normal development of Catalan education.
Catalonia has received a huge wave of immigration in the last ten years, which has brought an increase of the population from six to seven million inhabitants. Education is an essential tool to teach the children of these new citizens the language and culture of the place that welcomes them. It is an essential tool to ensure their social inclusion. The so called ‘linguistic immersion’ (immersió lingüística) is a very successful teaching model, that ensures that everyone who goes to school in Catalonia is able to use the language of the country they live in: Catalonia, next to learning the Spanish language as well. In this model, education is given totally in Catalan language, creating a balance for those who don’t speak Catalan at home (or even in the street) as the only way to ensure a reasonable level in Catalan language, as their personal situation does not provide them with enough contact with Catalan, which would lead to social exclusion and a disadvantage in the labour market in the future.
But last July, the Spanish Court of Justice in Catalonia (Tribunal Superior de Justícia) brought out a sentence, based upon jurisprudence from the Spanish Constitutional Court, forcing the Catalan government to include an option for education totally in Spanish language within two months. With this, Spain is trying to accelerate the process of linguistic substitution that is taking place in Catalonia. They do this by the the force of laws, which are more effective in a democracy than the use of military or police repression.
A unanimous protest from the entire Catalan society followed. Political parties, unions, teacher’s associations, parents associations and thousands of citizens expressed their support to the model of linguistic immersion in Catalan schools. Also the Catalan government has declared its fierce aim to preserve the Catalan model.
During the last six months the Spanish political situation has experienced substantial changes. There has been a power replacement and there is a dreadful economic situation. Madrid is now occupied with amending the imbalance of a lousy financial and political administration. In this context the Catalan educational model seems to be temporarily in the eye of the hurricane. But for how long? Their fierce eagerness to assimilate Catalonia never rests.