Language for unity

Objectively, the timing is ideal. Looking within Spain, after the September 27th elections broad sectors of Spanish society finally understand that there is a problem in Catalonia that is largely associated with an emotional disconnection. Looking abroad, the Catalan problem has now been internationalized, and world leaders are calling for conciliatory gestures from Madrid. And if that isn´t enough, the December 20th elections have confirmed the rise of leftist groups in the regions on the periphery, who support a referendum. It is the window of opportunity for a plural Spain to step forward, the time to make an offer that will convince Catalans that Spain is theirs too. And what better area to achieve this than in language? Not only is it more powerful symbolically, but it is also cheaper than resolving fiscal balances or the infrastructure deficit.

Catalan, moreover, badly needs the support of a state. Various recent studies have detected a number of challenges that can only be resolved with the strong involvement of state institutions. An example of this is the situation in the judicial world. The 2014 report on linguistic policy stated once again that the use of Catalan is not only very low, but that it continues to decline: last year only 12.2% of rulings were in Catalan. It is also the case in the audiovisual world, where the supply of television in Catalan fell below 20% some time ago, and could end up being residual due to digital channels. And the case of the difficulty in linguistically integrating immigrant populations: the percentage of people who never say a single word in Catalan went from 14.2% in 2003 to 19.5% in 2008, and rose to 25% in 2013. This in Catalonia, of course, because in the rest of Spain the situation is much worse.

The deal, then, would be simple: language for unity. It is the offer that Canadians made in Quebec, and which ended up cornering the secessionists. It wouldn´t be so difficult either. For example, the offer could begin with a formal commitment to request full official status for Catalan in Europe, a petition that the EU would find difficult to reject. It could continue with a modification of existing legislation to make a mastery of the official languages obligatory for working in the justice administration of the officially multi-lingual territories, and another requiring commercial labeling in the territorial languages. A manifesto for our common languages could also be added to the campaign, in which Spain and the large audiovisual companies embrace the need to strengthen the linguistic richness of Spain and begin to put it into practice. This to mention just some examples that would not require constitutional changes, because if we entered into that area, the ground to cover would be immense. Do you recall, just to mention one item, that it is a duty in Catalonia to know Spanish, but to know Catalan is a personal choice?

Language for unity. It would not convince all supporters of independence, but it could expand the numbers of the undecided. At the same time, everything leads one to think that even now, when everything is at stake, Spain will not be able to present a minimally attractive proposal in this area. Indeed, a Manifest for a Multi-lingual Spain was published in November that was thoroughly ignored by the unionist sector during the campaign. In the area of linguistics, the most that these sectors have offered to voters have been minor measures, such as accepting the use of Catalan in the Senate, announcing the optional teaching of peripheral languages in secondary schools throughout Spain, and promoting respect for the existing educational system in Catalonia. But in the harsh reality, Spain rejects even cosmetic proposals such as including its name in the different official languages on governmental seals and currency, and it continues working for the supremacy of Spanish. To mention one item, in October, after having snatched away the third broadcast frequency multiplex from the Generalitat to reduce the supply in Catalan, the central government granted new licenses for television channels, once again violating the constitutional principle of respect for linguistic plurality in communication media. Also as of this autumn, new regulations require demonstrated knowledge of Spanish to obtain Spanish nationality, a measure that further marginalizes Catalan in its own territory. None of these measures have been contested by the unionist positions most open to dialogue. And, even if having an independent state will not guarantee the survival of Catalan, it is still more implausible to imagine that Spain can change and simply come to be in favor of it.