By Regina Winkle-Bryan
Things are getting weird in Spain, but especially in Barcelona, where I live. I went to buy the newspaper on Thursday (Oct 11th) and saw on the cover a photo of the Spanish Minister of Education and Culture, José Ignacio Wert. Under his photo the he was quoted, “Es nuestro interés españolizar a los alumnos catalanes.” Or, “It’s in our interest to ‘Spaniardize’ Catalan students.” Can we all take a moments to note that this is the Spanish Minister of Education and Culture. Culture. And guess what? Spain has a rich culture, as does Catalonia, the Basque Country, Galicia, Valencia, etc. I think it would be hard to argue that a culture doesn’t have something to do with a language, and in Catalonia students are mostly taught in Catalan in public schools. Later Wert backpedaled on his remark but it was a bit late.
As I was buying that same paper (La Vanguardia, in case you’re interested) bottle-blonde Paquita, who runs the newsstand (along with her aging mother), gave me a piece of her mind. It was early, but I listened to her tell me about her various customers that morning.
“One comes in. He’s looking at the foreign press,” she points to a shelf of papers from Germany, the US, the UK, France, etc, “he keeps looking for something. Finally he says to me, ‘Why are all your newspapers in Catalan?!’ I told him those papers were in English and gave him El Periodico in Spanish.”
I asked her if this person was a foreigner. She said he was Spanish. Surely, a Spaniard would know what Catalan looks like? Not according to Paquita.
“Another one comes, he says ‘Where’s La Razón?’ I tell him it’s right over there.” Paquita points to a spread of papers. “And then he says to me, ‘Well! You don’t have to hide it just because it’s not Catalan!’ Ha!”
I nod, amazed at the drama that can go down at a newsstand. Then Paquita launches into a ten-minute speech about the history of the Catalan culture, its parliament and its loss of independence. And I shake my head knowingly, because I’ve heard it before and am familiar with the history. Just as she is getting into the Civil War, an elderly man walks up and asks Paquita for some Galician paper (I don’t remember its name). She says she’s all out while I make an escape.
Later on, A. and I are talking over dinner. He works in a company which has offices across Spain and often deals with people from Madrid, Zaragoza and beyond. Nowadays, he receives all sorts of abuse from callers outside Catalonia. This has to do with the recent talk about Catalonia separating from Spain, a result of the enormous 1.5 million-man Diada marches on September 11th (a holiday in Catalonia which marks its defeat, and loss of independence in the 1700s) and Catalonia’s President Artur Mas stirring the pot. I have no idea if Catalonia will become independent. I don’t get to vote on this matter, as I am not a citizen, and I feel this issue is for Catalans to decide upon.
But back to A.’s experience. People call up and say the damnedest things to him. ‘Maybe all you Catalans should leave Spain if you hate it so much!’ Comments to this affect. I find this disturbing. A. is not speaking to them in Catalan, but in Spanish. Also, he does not work for a political party, but in technology and medicine.He does not bring up the independence issue with callers. It’s simply that he is Catalan, (although, how does the caller know this? By his accent?) and therefore they feel the need to share their thoughts with him.
Fine. A few idiots call and harass A., a few idiots irritate Paquita, and the Spanish Minister of Education and Culture appears to just be an idiot. This does not for total weirdness make. However, it was Friday when A. called me from the metro in Barcelona that I decided that things are going a bit too far. Friday, Oct 12th, was the day of the Hispanidad, something like Columbus Day in the US, and a truly Spanish holiday. In the metro a group of men were singing patriotic Spanish hymns and A. walked past them on his way to the door to exit the train. Apparently, his not joining in on the sing-along offended them. “What!? You must be a separatist!” they yelled and then pushed him in the back and belted out a forceful, “¡Viva España!”
Anyone else find all this a bit much? I certainly do. What’s next? If A., at 6’2 and 200 lbs, is getting pushed around on the metro, what chances do I, or some other shorter, weaker individual, have? And how far does this sort of nationalist fervor go? ‘Beat up on the Catalan who doesn’t sing’ can quickly turn to ‘out with the non-Spanish’*, which would include most of us who write here on The Spain Scoop.
Let us not forget those old history books and the kind of stupidity that is accepted in times of crisis. Ok, Spain’s unemployment is at 24%. Ok, there’s talk of separation, revolution and a big-ass bailout for Spain. None of this merits this sort of violent, aggressive bullshit. Meanwhile, while we all wonder if Catalonia will separate and how to ‘Spaniardize’ schoolchildren, the economy isn’t getting any better. Is all this a smokescreen to block out the larger issue here? Specifically, that there are no jobs, little hope, and best and brightest of the country’s young people are getting the hell out of Spain.
Weird times indeed.
Have you experienced something similar? If so, we’d like to hear about it on The Scoop! Leave us a comment.
**In 2010 I was harassed on the street by a car load of men who, among other things, told me to ‘go back to my own country’ after almost running me over. They were Catalan nationalists, not Spaniards.