Dear Burnet News Club Members,
My name is Dominic and I am Professor of Catalan Studies at Cambridge University. I’ve spent many years living in Catalonia and love that country for its culture, language, climate, food and, of course, football! I also admire the bravery of people who stand up for human rights: especially in the difficult circumstances of today or under the dictatorship of General Franco. I’m so glad you invited me to participate in this discussion. Your excellent questions and comments are intelligent and thoughtful. These are qualities that we value at Cambridge University and I would strongly encourage News Club members to come here to continue their studies. I hope my answers help you get to the bottom of a very complicated issue which, like the problem between Britain and Ireland, has lasted for centuries and now needs urgent attention.
Here is an article you might find interesting.
How did Franco become the government of Spain?
From: JaydenRavenyuki | Ravenscroft Primary School
It’s a very sad tale I’m afraid, Jayden, but one which you are right to make sure that everyone knows about and does not forget. In 1936 Spain was a Republic That is to say, a democracy like France, Ireland and the United States, where people vote for political parties to form the government of their choice. Unlike the UK, however, a Republic has no King or Queen and the President is the head of state.
General Franco was a very tough military man. Like his ally, Adolf Hitler, he believed that democracy meant weak government, disagreement and chaos. He felt the country should be controlled with a fist of iron; and that people who lived there should not be allowed to take their own decisions but, like soldiers in the army, should simply follow orders. Many of his fellow officers felt the same and decided that they could use the Armed Forces to impose this system (called a dictatorship) where one man rules the whole of the country, telling everybody what to do.
However, a great many people remained loyal to the Republic and its ideals which were based on freedom and equality. They bravely faced down the military coup – the violent attempt by Franco’s army to seize power – and their resistance led to the Civil War between these two sides. After three years of fighting, with dreadful casualties, the haters of democracy won. And there followed nearly forty years of cruelty, repression and abuse of human rights under the dictator.
What is the government of Spain trying to achieve by changing or altering the way Catalonians speak?
From: -JoJoSays- | Michael Faraday School
You have picked up on a very important point here, JoJo. Many people on the ground think that the government of Spain wants to weaken Catalan. For example, in Valencia and the Balearic Islands, politicians of this party insist that the language of their region is not Catalan, which reduces the number of speakers. This is plainly ridiculous, as every university in the world says it is Catalan. Can you imagine politicians telling doctors that smoking is good for your health? Would you believe anyone who told you that the language spoken in Germany was Italian? This is exactly what these politicians are doing with their fake news when they contradict experts in the science of language called linguistics.
But why should they try to belittle Catalan? Why do they attack rather than protect this language as it says they are supposed to do in the Constitution? Why, for example, have they made it impossible to watch Catalan TV in Valencia or even have TV and radio in Catalan there?
It is very difficult to make sense out of this destructive attitude. Some say that these people see Catalan as a rival to Spanish and want to destroy it so that everyone will only speak Spanish and thereby feel Spanish. The Catalan-speakers are very unhappy about this. They love their own culture and language and continue to fight for their right to speak it at all times in their own community, despite the attitude of the party that governs Spain.
"Your excellent questions and comments are intelligent and thoughtful. These are qualities that we value at Cambridge University and I would strongly encourage News Club members to come here to continue their studies."
Dominic Keown, Cambridge University
Would Spain try to force Catalonia to remain and would that result in a civil war?
From: Ravenclaw Diader | Faringdon Community College
What a very pertinent question, Ravenclaw Diadem! The government in Spain has made it very clear that it would use all force necessary to make sure that Catalonia remains in Spain. They sent over 5,000 police from the rest of the country who, together with the 11,000 state police stationed in Catalonia, were ordered to stop the referendum on independence. The result was the brutality we all saw during the referendum when around a thousand people needed hospital treatment. There is no doubt that any future attempt to gain independence would be treated in the same way. The politicians who organised the referendum, with the support of the majority of voters, are now either in jail, in exile or under criminal investigation.
However, there will be no Civil War. The Catalans have no weapons and no army. More importantly, unlike the Spanish authorities, they completely reject the use of violence. You can see this in many of the demonstrations as, in the face of riot police with their helmets, truncheons and rubber bullets, those protesting put both hands in the air to show they are unarmed, shouting “Som gent de pau!” (We are people of peace)
Is Spain Democratic when they don’t let part of the country vote for what they want?
From: Yamwertolo | Boutcher Primary School
You have hit the nail on the head, Yamwertolo; and this is a key question to be answered. For those of us who live in countries with a long tradition of democracy, Spain’s treatment of Catalonia is very difficult to understand. Elsewhere, the issue of a nation’s right to decide about independence has been solved through talks and referendum and, most importantly, without brutality. Good examples of this are Quebec (Canada), Greenland (Denmark) and Scotland (UK).
The Spanish Government, however, insists that this question is not political but legal. It says independence is against the law (it goes against what is written in the Constitution), so it is illegal to hold a vote on it. Those who attempt to do so are criminals and so are put in prison or forced into exile.
Spain’s attitude might be legally accurate. But is it reasonable or democratic? Votes on independence for Quebec and Scotland were, strictly speaking, also against the law. But in these cases a solution was found through flexibility, open-mindedness and discussion rather than through repression. Which, do you think, is the better course of action?
How does Catalonia have so much money?
From: Cutecupcake | Boutcher Primary School
It’s a great idea to get down to brass tacks, Cutecupcake, as money is at the root of so many problems. For those who like facts and figures, the wealth of Catalonia within Spain can be summed up approximately as follows: 16% of the population provides 19% of the goods and services, 25% of industrial production, 29% of exports. In this way Catalonia creates much more wealth than it consumes. So it is obvious why Spain refuses to let it become independent.
To an extent, Catalonia is like London and the South East. It is the major hub of the country’s economy as well as being a major tourist centre. (Nearly a quarter of all foreign tourists – some 18 million visitors - went there last year.) It was in Catalonia that industry first grew and a modern financial system was established whereas agriculture was dominant in a hugely rural Spain. Just as in London, however, not everybody living there has a lot of money and there is also a significant amount of poverty and deprivation.