"In Catalonia the official policy of the Generalitat (the regional government), under both the nationalists (some of whom are really localists) and now the Socialists, is one of “bilingualism”. In practice this means that all primary and secondary schooling is conducted in Catalan, with Spanish taught as a foreign language. Catalan is also the language of regional government. A Spaniard who speaks no Catalan has almost no chance of teaching at a university in Barcelona. A play or film in Spanish will not be subsidised from public funds. “If we don’t make a big effort to preserve our own language, it risks disappearing,” says Mr Mas.¡Como en los viejos tiempos! Tendremos que volver a leer la (buena) prensa extranjera para enterarnos –negro sobre blanco– de lo que anda pasando por aquí. Clarito y con perspectiva. Aunque ahora ya no sea vía el tocho Le Monde, sino en inglés.
Catalan and Spanish are more or less mutually comprehensible. Not so Euskera, which does not belong to the Indo-European family of languages. The Basque government allows schools to choose between three alternative curriculums, one in Euskera, another in Spanish and the third half and half. But in practice only schools in poor immigrant areas now offer the Spanish curriculum. Despite these efforts, Basque and Catalan are far from universally spoken in their respective territories: only around half of Catalans habitually use Catalan and about 25% of Basques speak Euskera.
The nationalists’ linguistic dogmatism is provoking a backlash. Earlier this year Mr Fernando Savater, the philosopher, together with a diverse group of public figures ranging from Placido Domingo, a tenor, to Iker Casillas, Real Madrid’s goalkeeper, signed a “manifesto” in defence of the right of citizens to be educated in Spanish. They were denounced as “Castilian nationalists” in the Socialist press. But they touched a nerve. Many thoughtful Catalans believe that Catalan would be safe if it remained the language of primary schools, but that Catalonia would gain much by allowing a choice between Catalan and Spanish in secondary schools.
The argument about language is really about power. “The problem with nationalists is that the more you give them, the more they want,” says Mr Savater. What some of them want is independence; all of them use this as a more or less explicit threat to gain more public money and powers. The polling evidence suggests that no more than a fifth of Catalans are remotely tempted by the idea of independence. The figure for Basques is around a quarter, despite 30 years of nationalist self-government and control of education and the media, and despite the departure of around 10% of the population because of ETA’s violence, points out Francisco Llera, a (Socialist) political scientist in Bilbao..."
("Cuánto es bastante", el artículo completo de The Economist sobre nuestros nacionalismos periféricos, publicado esta semana en un cuadernillo especial dedicado a España, está completo aquí>>).