The two linguistic conditions for the third way

As days go by, it is becoming more apparent that “moderate” unionism is struggling to offer a third way in the context the Catalan independence process because, no matter how you look at it, Spain doesn’t have enough leeway to make a concrete proposal. It would be useful if experts from both camps would clarify whether Spain could do without a significant chunk of the €15bn tax money levied in Catalonia but spent elsewhere in Spain every year; whether it could abandon the radial planning of transport infrastructures or stomach a separate Catalan education system, to name but three examples. One thing is clear: when it comes to language, Spain has no leeway to make an offer that is both credible and attractive for the Catalan forces. There are at least two reasons for this.

Firstly, supporters of the “third way” have little room to manoeuvre if they want to come up with an attractive proposal because if there’s one thing that linguistic catalanism has learnt is that Catalan is a medium-sized language, perfectly viable in every instance. However, the Catalan language is actually struggling as a result of its subordination to a hostile, alien State. I’m sorry to say this, but it is a rule without exceptions: wherever there’s government regulation, the Catalan language is at a disadvantage. If there is one thing that the tragicomedy of the latest Catalan Statute and the court ruling that emasculated it taught us, is that we cannot trust a state based on Castilian institutions to ensure that Catalan has its rightful place in Catalonia. Therefore, if catalanism wants to stop worrying about the Catalan language, the only answer is full language sovereignty. This means having the capacity to decide where languages stand in all fields of life: from the media spectrum (all of it, not just the crumbs from someone’s table, as is the case today), to industry, education, justice, the socioeconomic sphere and so on. Equally, full language sovereignty requires the Catalan judiciary to be competent on all linguistic matters, with no subordination to Madrid’s courts of law. Otherwise, you are guaranteed a string of endless conflicts. The tragedy of the third way starts right here: does anyone truly believe that Spain will keep its nose out of language issues in Catalonia?

The trouble is that, even if Spain agreed to a sincere acceptance of Catalonia’s full language sovereignty, a third way option would still be a lame one, insofar as the offensive against Catalan might continue in the rest of the Catalan-speaking regions and abroad. If linguistic catalanism has joined the ranks of separatism en masse it is, among other reasons, because it has concluded that there is no hope to stop the likes of Wert, Fabra, Bauzà and Rudi (1) from trying to eradicate our language, if we remain in Spain. So, would the Catalan forces happily agree to a comfortable fit within Spain, while this very State strives to liquidate our language in the Western Strip, Valencia and the Balearics? It doesn’t seem likely. For a third way to be credible, Madrid would have to desist, for once and all, from attempting to fragment and bully our language outside Catalonia. Even more: for this offer to be not only credible, but also attractive (hey, it’s about winning hearts and minds!), small gestures such as welcoming Catalan in some central government institution would not be enough. The third way could only be attractive if it meant for Spain to become a country that protects Catalan, armour for our language in a global world, as Belgium is for French and Dutch or Canada for English and French. Alas, the trouble is that such an offer would require turning on its head the way the Spanish society collectively understands the role of languages in Spain. And, to be perfectly honest, that strikes me as a wild fantasy.

Politics is based on words and it often gets entangled in unsuccessful metaphors that push the debate away from reality. Moderate unionists have succeeded in placing the metaphor of the head-on train crash in our collective mind and, thanks to this metaphor, they’ve managed to spread the hypothesis of a third way. Nevertheless, the truth is that after centuries of building a country in the mould of Castile, when it comes to language matters, there is no room for a third way in Spain: without language sovereignty and regarding Catalan as their own language, there’s not even room for debate.


(1) These four Spanish politicians have all launched notorious policies against the Catalan language in recent years.