Homage to Catalan

Timothy Garton Ash introduces a translation of our ten principles into Catalan and a reflection on having Catalan as your native language.

Every time I go to Barcelona, I make sure to visit the Plaça de George Orwell. George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia is my model for political writing about any bloody and complicated foreign conflict. But when I went back to Barcelona in autumn 2013, what struck me first was the extraordinary number of Catalan flags – far more than when I was last there, and many of them indicating support for independence. Or at least, support for a referendum on whether Catalonia should become independent.

Talking to my hosts, the publishers Montse Ingla and Antoni Munné, and to leading Catalan intellectuals such as Pere Vilanova, I discovered more of the story of the attempted suppression of Catalan language, literature and culture under the Franco dictatorship. In their youth, it was almost impossible to publish anything in Catalan. Catalan was not used officially at school and university.

We talked about Free Speech Debate, and the emphasis our project places on people being able to express themselves in their own language – as anyone can do on this site, in any language. Although our own translations are confined to the 13 languages – mainly those with the widest outreach on the web – we always welcome translations into new languages, such as we have had in Estonian and Polish. I therefore suggested to Antoni and Montse that they might like to do a Catalan version of our ten principles. They came up trumps, and have translated not only the ten principles, but also my personal introductions to them. These you can find here.

The distinguished Catalan – but also Spanish and Andorran – intellectual Pere Vilanova contributed a fascinating, personal essay, on what it is like to have your ‘native’ language being actually your third language, due again to the oppression of the Franco dictatorship. You can read his essay here.

Welcome to the debate, and do please add your comment – in any language.

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    I was in the audience when Timothy Garton Ash promoted the Catalan translation of his latest book Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World in Barcelona on Orwell Day, 5 July. Orwell would blanch if he could see the level of humbug and bullying that has become enshrined in catalanista institutions and propaganda; ethnic supremacism largely directed against Spanish speakers. Garton Ash may sell a few more books to Catalans thanks to his independentista flag-waving slide-show (displaying the separatist lone-star Estelada bandera), but should be aware that nationalist apologism contributes to what looks every day more like ethno-linguistic apartheid. Shopkeepers are prosecuted if they choose to label goods only in Spanish (Catalan-only is fine). Flagship Catalan language daily Avui has been kept from bankruptcy for 20 years with subsidies, hidden and overt, averaging ten million a year. Spanish is systematically discriminated against in the all-important area of education: primary school children are denied their constitutional right to choose schooling in Spanish, a world language after all; talented Spanish-speaking schoolteachers of any subject, not just Spanish, are barred from state schools unless they pass the very difficult C-level Catalan language and culture exam; Spanish is marginalised by being classed as a foreign language in the secondary curriculum, its status like German or Italian; the History syllabus bends over backwards to big-up Catalan heroism, industriousness and victimisation, with many “facts” falsified, chiefly to stress Catalan difference with (and superiority to) Spain. Universities should be beacons for free speech, but in Catalonia there is de facto no-platforming of visitors and students espousing non-nationalist views, enforced by threats, vandalism and violence. Perhaps not surprising, given how indoctrinated the undergrads are by this stage. On p196 of his book, Garton-Ash sings the BBC’s praises, in contrast with others: “If I go to Spain… I find that most people simply assume that public service television news will be slanted to suit the political parties in power, whether nationally or regionally.” And how! Spanish is a rare sound indeed on public Catalan TV or radio. When, ten years ago, a new political party, Ciutadans, was formed to denounce nationalist excesses, corruption and other abuses, it was given zero pre-election coverage by the official channels (on the spurious grounds that it had, as yet, no seats in parliament). Despite this veto, it won three seats. Ciutadans went on to become Catalonia’s second biggest party, with 25 seats, in 2015, by which stage party leader Albert Rivera was receiving death threats from catalanista ERC party members, what Garton Ash, in reference to the Charlie Hebdo killings, terms the Assassin’s Veto.

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Free Speech Debate is a research project of the Dahrendorf Programme for the Study of Freedom at St Antony's College in the University of Oxford. www.freespeechdebate.ox.ac.uk

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