Yeah, right! - Writings by Brian Murdock

Posts Tagged ‘Catalan’


February 4, 2018

The Catalan Chronicles: I never said independence, did you?

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Within days of announcing the DUI, the separatists were already in a pickle.  Mariano Rajoy, the prime minister, had removed their home rule, dissolved their parliament and called on a snap election to take place seven weeks later.  The most radical advocates of secession gave a knee-jerk reaction.  La CUP, which based its argument on the fact that Catalonia was no longer a part of Spain (even though this was a reality that existed only in their minds), refused to participate, as it would give legitimacy to the idea that it had never left, which everyone (except for them, it appears) knew was true.  They even vowed to spend the day, December 21st, preparing a large paella.  Somehow they considered this action to be the ultimate show of defiance.  The paella, by the way, is a typical dish of Valencia (though I’m sure the ANC claimed it to be Catalan at some point), which was still a part of the Spain they belonged to too, but simply refused to accept.  Kudos to them for sticking to their guns, and I’m serious about that, but that did present a problem.  Once it was explained to them that they actually weren’t a sovereign nation and that if they didn’t run for parliament they would risk being excluded from politics, they did an about face.  It went something like: we know we’re a free nation; we just want to make sure.


In a sense, that was one brilliant aspect of Rajoy’s decision to announce the upcoming elections (and trust me, his administration didn’t have a lot of brilliant ideas).  In light of the fact that no one was going to put up a stiff resistance, the renegade parties either accepted the challenge and, thus, admit they were still inside the Spanish state, or be left out of any decision-making from then on.  And that wasn’t going to happen.


Junts per Sí, Puigdemont’s party, stuck to its strategy of playing word games with the public and thinking they are slyer than all get out.  It can get tiresome, I can tell you.  Well, the members of the Catalan Parliament who had held a secret vote three days before claimed they had never declared independence because it was never explicitly expressed in the resolution they voted on.  So, I guess if I say something like “I’m going to take possession of your car without your permission and keep it forever,” I can’t be charged with stealing because I didn’t express it in those terms.  Or something to that effect.  Here are some of things the people who did not explicitly declare independence voted on instead:

  • We hereby constitute the catalan republic to be an independent and sovereign State, and of social and democratic rule of law.
  • The law for the judicial and foundational transition of the republic shall come into effect immediately.
  • We shall initiate the creation of a new and democratic constitution, citizen-based, transversal, collaborative and binding.

I don’t know.  I’ll let you judge for yourself; but it doesn’t sound to me like they were drawing up the rules for a baking contest.  And notice the generous use of the word “democratic”.  Let us not forget that there was yet to be a poll (even the separatists were aware of this) that indicated a majority in favor of leaving Spain.  Not one.  So, in the name of democracy they hoped to obligate the majority of the residents in that region to leave Spain, to leave the European Union.  There you have it.  But they didn’t vote for independence.


As the days went by and doing time in the slammer became a greater reality, some of the secessionists began to recant.  Carme Forcadell, who was the speaker of the parliament, and a major proponent of the “procés indenedentista”, admitted before a judge that the vote was only “symbolic in nature” and was not binding in any way.  Is that right?  I’d like to see just where in the text that is stated explicitly or implicitly.  I’d also dread to think how the “nature” of the document would have changed if, say, the United Kingdom had decided to recognize the sovereignty of Catalonia.


It’s an endless game of dodging punches and rope-a-dope politics.  Sometimes I feel like I’m watching the Cheese Shop sketch of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, where John Cleese, to the backdrop of a man playing a Greek bouzouki and two other members dance in suits and bowler hats, tries to buy some cheese from Michael Palin, but the store is totally empty.  That does not prevent Cleese from ordering dozens of varieties to which Palin, aware that he has no cheese, replies no to one by one.  It is a classic in absurdist comedy.


Less comical but equally absurd was the verbal run-around that rocked the system in Spain in November, 2017.  All that was missing was the bouzouki.






January 2, 2018

The Catalan Chronicles: A little Help Please

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On October 11th, Prime Minister Rajoy’s administration firmly requested that Puigdemont kindly respond to the following question: did you in fact declare independence?  After the bizarre performance the day before in the Catalan parliament, no one seemed to know.  The president of the region had five days to reply.  The following Monday, just an hour before the deadline was up, the Catalan leader sent his answer.  He wasn’t especially concise about it.  In no fewer than 650 words, Puigdemont verbosely said nothing.


Instead, he returned to much of the rhetoric he and his supporters had been using for the previous couple of months, pointing out why Catalonia deserved independence and sidestepped the “declaration” issue by placing emphasis on all that he had been doing to find a solution to the confrontation.  It was his intention to seek dialogue in order to reach an agreement, at the behest of requests made by sources from Catalonia, Spain and the rest of the international community.  The purpose was clear in my opinion.  The president of the regional government wanted to gain time and hopefully sympathy from people abroad as well as provide proof that the only one who was really being level-headed and sincerely making an effort was him and that it was Spain who was being unreasonable.


That was an understandable strategy, but flawed for a number of reasons.


First of all, much of the international community, regardless of what was ablaze on the social networks, had already made up its mind about the situation.  At least the ones who call the shots.  Catalonia was not an independant nation and would not be recognized.  As long as the Spanish stopped bashing heads, there would be no interference.  Puigdemont did not seem to understand or accept this. His only real ally was Belgium, of all places, but we’ll get to that at another time.  Still, the separatists were desperate for recognition.  The success of their campaign rested on it.  Just a little help, was all they needed. But all was quiet.


Secondly, no one could quite understand what the “dialog” part was all about.  Essentially he was saying that he was going to lead Catalonia in its path to sovereignty, but was up for sitting down and chatting about it with the prime minister whenever he was ready.  Everything was negotiable.  Puigdemont was once again being wishy-washy and sending totally mixed signals.  If his end game was get a little more autonomy for Catalonia, he wasn’t doing a very good job of it.  If he was determined to see the Catalan independence through, just what was there to discuss?


On the other hand, the Spanish government, for better or for worse, had established its position and rallied its allies.  There would be no discussions until the Catalan government officially declared that it had not declared independence and had abandoned its campaign to separate. That was the starting point.  There was considerable criticism from many who said that this very intransigence was pushing the nation down the road of utter catastrophe.  I think that the government had no choice but to dig in at this point.  It had accused the separatists of breaking just about every law except for jaywalking.  It was no longer in the position to relent and negotiate with them.  Its big mistake was that it had waited so long to draw the line.  Now it was hanging onto unity by a toe nail, and looking bad too.


Of the entire letter of of reply, nothing stood out as surprising to me as the word “debilidad”.  That is, Puigdemont argued that his actions from the previous week should not be seen as a sign of “weakness” but as a show of moderation and goodwill towards resolving the confrontation.  Now, I don’t know about you, but as I see it, the very appearance of the word should be regarded as regrettable from the separatists’ point of view, because the fact that they even mentioned it means that they themselves may have felt that way, or were aware, at the very least, of the possibility they had given that impression.  And they had.  Basically they confirmed for much of the world that they had blown the opportunity of a lifetime the week before, and were trying to fix.  That only made it worse.


If a lughead like me can pick up on it, the Rajoy administration must have jumped for joy.  It easily saw it as proof of growing indecision amongst the independent Catalans, which merely encouraged it to tighten its position.  Now, with both sides fully committed and really no room to back down and save face at the same time…they put on their crash helmets and braced themselves for the big crash.


All I can say is thank God these guys were not heading the Cuban Missile Crisis.





December 8, 2017

The Catalan Chronicles: Something doesn’t seem quite right

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It is tempting to say that the central government had fallen for a trap when it ordered members of the law enforcement to get involved.  It’s tempting, oh, so very tempting.  By doing so it would have at least taken some of the sting out of the blunder on that fateful Sunday,  October 1, but the truth of the matter was that this was a totally avoidable situation and it probably had more to do with the fact the government thought it could pull it off than anything else.   A bit of arrogance, if I dare say.  Why did they think that?  I really have no idea.


First, let’s get a few facts straight.  Let it be known that, as a rule, security forces in Spain are very restrained, honorable and dutiful professionals who are respectful of citizens’ rights, helpful and perform their jobs very well.   They had been calm and collected throughout the weeks leading up to the referendum and kept their poise in a land where they know they aren’t loved.


On that day, though, things got out of hand.  Quite a bit so.  Maybe they were following orders; maybe the nerves got the best of them in some cases; but there were casualties.  Just how many is hard to say, but it wasn’t a handful.  The Catalan government registered initially somewhere in the neigborhood of 900 individuals requiring medical attention as a result of police charges.  These were hardly flattering numbers for a force that was supposed to keep law and order in a highly tense situation.  But were they all caused by the police charges?  The next day, the Catalan government was forced to clarify that the number they had given the day before referred to all the patients and not necessarily those hurt in the riots.


But the damage was done and the separatists had a field day.  The ANC tweeted that not since World War II had the streets of a European city seen so many wounded.  The ANC is an association that promotes Catalan culture, but it doubles as a propaganda machine for the independence movement.  It is known to do so without the slightest scruples regarding accuracy.  It has also proven itself in the past to have a rather liberal interpretation of history.  For example, according to its seminars on Catalan history, it turns out that Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci, and Cervantes were actually born in Catalonia.  Why? Because they say so.  By the way, they also discovered America fifteen years before the rest of Spain. Why? Because they say so.


It doesn’t stop there.  In the 16th Century it was the world’s supreme super power, with strength so great it can only be compared to the United States in the second half of the 20th Century.  And, let’s see, the entire apparatus of the Roman Empire owes its success almost exclusively to the Catalan cities of the time.  We would all get a good laugh out of this if it weren’t for the fact that so many people who attended these courses believe it.  It’s also called indoctrination.  Or just plain lying.


None of my bitching, of course, should take away from the fact that there were instances where the police adopted an attitude that many would consider abusive.  Including me.  This is not anything I read about.  I watched it with my own eyes as officers bushwhacked their way through crowds with uncommon zeal, dragged elderly women away and fired rubber balls into crowds.  What was wrong with that? Don’t law enforcement officials have to take drastic measures from time to time? Well, maybe. In fact, one of the most graphic images sent around the planet that day, one of a man with a bloody face, actually came from a demostration five years earlier, and the culprits then were the regional police, the mossos d’esquadra.  So desperate were some to depict the Spanish police and its alleged brutality that they resorted to fake news.


So, yes, there were times when these things happened.  But this was not one of those times.  The majority of the protesters were serious about their cause but they were generally everyday citizens practicing passive resistance.  That day the police should have been there to ease tensions, not rile them.


The use of the police was not just short-sighted, it was just plain dumb. After all, what had they hoped to achieve? Stop the referendum.  Despite the effort, 2.5 million Catalans still deposited their vote in the ballot box. So we could chalk that up as an utter failure.  And I don’t know where to start about Spain’s public relations image.  Someone up top had forgotten that in today’s society anyone who has a smart phone, in other words everyone, is a potential graphic reporter, each with a twitter account cocked and loaded and ready for action.  The international community looked on with dismay.  Even the United Nations considered investigating to see if their were human rights violations.  How embarrassing is that?


There was so little to gain, and so much to be lost.  And for a while there, it seemed as if Spain had lost everything.


While it appeared as if the independence backers were basking in the attention they were getting, they made some mistakes too.  The errors wouldn’t become immediately evident to many, but they would be costly down the road. What were they?


1) To begin with, 45 minutes before the polling stations were opened, the government of Catalonia announced that, given the situation, voters no longer had to go to their own assigned location but could now vote anywhere.  This may have seemed like a cunning trick to undermine Spain’s efforts, but it was a poorly thought out decision. By doing so, they effectively began to delegitimize their own referendum, as no foreign observer in their right mind was going to vouch for such a chaotic situation.  There were videos of the same person voting at different stations on the same day.  Cameras filmed people stuffing unattended ballot boxes in the streets.  There were towns with 200 residents registering over a 1,000 votes in favor.  These all but confirmed suspicions.


2) They also decided to use translucent but not transparent ballot boxes, as was customary, once again raising concerns about the validity and transparency of the vote and posterior count.


3) That evening, with just 43% participation (and 39% in favor of indepedence), Carles Puigdemont announced he had enough support to recommend that the Catalan parliament initiate the process of independence, in accordance to the law they had passed weeks before.  This statement made the international community consider two points: first of all, Puigdemont needed a refresher course in what constitutes a majority; and more seriously, it became clear to some that all the talk about democracy was just a pile of manure.  The feeling was the separatists had intended to go ahead with the declaring independence no matter what the results were.  The referendum wasn’t proof, it was an excuse.


And finally, one nagging point started to surface.  One that I believe even Puigdemont and company had become too blind to see.  These were democratically elected officials, sworn to uphold the institutions of not just their region but those of the country as a whole, who had sidestepped the law, ignored supreme court rulings, walked all over the rights of the majority of its constituents, and were now overtly encouraging civil disobedience, while at the same time constantly changing the rules of the game so that they work in their favor.  And all in the name of liberty and justice for all.  You get the feeling they thought they had it in the bag.  That the rest of the world was going overlook all that and leap to their defence to save them from the bad old Spanish Inquisition.  But not everyone was taking the bait.


As a friend of mine put it.  “I want to believe these guys, but something just doesn’t seem right.”





The Catalan Chronicles: Who had that brilliant idea?

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Back in February, 1981, as I was whiling away my youth watching reruns of the Odd Couple, during a special session of the Spanish parliament in which Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo was expected to be sworn in as interim prime minister, a colonel from Spain’s paramilitary force, the once feared Guardia Civil, literally marched into the chamber and ordered everyone to hit the deck.  When the members of parliament, in their stupor, were slow to react, he fired several shots into the ceiling to speed things up.  It worked.


Amidst the growing concern that Spain’s young democracy was spiraling out of control (a belief brought about, in part, by the increasing demands for independence by nationalist groups in Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia), the Spanish political right, spearheaded by old Francoists and some of the armed forces, reverted to doing what it liked to do when it felt its country’s values and traditions were at risk: it tried to overthrow a legitimate government by means of force.  I figure they thought it had worked for them in 1936, so why not give it another go.


It boggles the mind to think that, at a time when virginy Lady Di was preparing for her future wedding with Prince Charles, there was actually a Western European country that found itself embroiled in something you’d think only happened in certain developing nations.  But, as they say here, Spain is different.  This event was the Kennedy-assassination moment for Spaniards.  The 9/11 for more recent generations.  Everyone who was aware back then can recall just exactly where they were when it happened.  Since the voting was being broadcast live on TV, much of that “everyone” was sitting in their living rooms watching in horror.  Tanks were rolling through the streets of Valencia.  Gunshots had been fired. There was real fear that Spain would be thrown into another civil war.


The coup attempt did not last long, thank God, since it was a failure. King Juan Carlos I, in his finest hour for sure as head of state, ordered the insurgents to obey him as their commander-in-chief and give themselves up. The constitution was the only way to go. Democracy was saved. Morevover, much of the expected support for the uprising had failed to materialize anyway, so after twenty-four very tense hours, the crisis had come to end.


Now, none of these scenarios were really being shuffled on October 1, but their effects on the memories of the Spanish, in addition to the years of Franco oppression, were long-lasting.  And let’s not forget that Rajoy’s own party, the PP, had been founded by former member of the Generalisimo’s regime.  Let’s also get something straight.  The PP is not a far right, fascist party, as some would have the world think.  It would generally be considered center-right by today’s standards.  But its image is another matter.  I mention these points because they still have an effect on Spanish psyche, and they would also be mentioned in the following days by some members of the international press.  And that made it very obvious that it had to tread very carefully when dealing with the Catalan situation.  Any show of force would be magnified manifold.  Everyone seemed to understand that except, it seems, for the PP.


The Rajoy administration had guaranteed there would be no referendum.  It just wasn’t going to happen.  That may be fine and dandy, but just how it planned on preventing people from heading out to the polls was the million euro question.  Especially in today’s high tech world, where just about nothing is preventable.  But that doesn’t mean they didn’t try.


The authorities chased down all attempts to set up a vote, some more effective than others, but overall, the end result was that the world was witnessing a government try to keep its own people from holding a democratic process.  Oops. That didn’t look good.  And no matter how hard the government tried to get the message out that it was merely defending the constitution, that’s not how it looked.  Lincoln was doing the same in 1861, but with a noticeable difference.  The South was trying to defend its right to self-determination based on its belief it could continue with legalized human bondage…and that was a hard sell for the international community, even back then.


On top of that, the national government simply did not possess the means or manpower to see its plan through.  Anything short of a military occupation was going to be insufficient, and that was not an option.  Part of this problem of understaffing was due to the fact that the Catalan regional police force, the mossos d’esquadra, could not be relied on as their allegiance was under serious question.  Ensuing events would prove these suspicions right.


And there was one more downside to the government’s verve to shut down the vote: rather predictably, it only produced an even greater desire to challenge authority.  It’s pretty basic psychology.


Anyway, October 1 came, and I whipped up some pancakes, made myself some good coffee and sat down in front of the TV to watch Spain fall apart before my very eyes.  It was a dark and rainy morning, but by eight o’clock, there were mile-long queues lining up outside of schools around the region, formed by thousands of Catalans willing to defy the government.


The law enforcement personnel went into action by trying to break through human barriers, many formed by families of the schools where the polls were, as well as other committed pro-independence supporters.  The results were predictable.  The police, all decked out in their imposing riot gear, took to trying to ram through the walls or just peel people away.  There was plenty of shoving, tugging and shouting.  On occasion, they employed their truncheons far too vigorously.


“So,” I thought to myself as I watch the story unfold before me, “who the hell came up with that brilliant idea?”


The phantoms of the past were running rampant through the streets of Barcelona.


November 11, 2017

The Catalan Chronicles: Honest Abe

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The pro-unity Spaniards may not be able find the answer they are looking for in the American Revolution, but they can come upon something more to their liking down the road of our relatively brief but intense history.  You must understand that the average Spaniard naturally sees the United States as one (not necessarily always happy) nation in which regional independence movements are unheard of.  People are first citizens of the United States and then of their respective states, if they so choose to feel that way.  That’s a fairly accurate depiction of the U.S. today, so you can’t blame them, but it wasn’t always like that…at all.


When I have a some extra time, I say, “Have a seat, and let me tell you a little story.”


Twelve score and 1 year ago, our Fathers initiated the control of a territory with a growth potential like nothing mankind has ever seen before or since, and created a nation under the notion that all men were equal.  Their interpretation of equality would naturally be questioned by today’s standards, as they didn’t have women or black slaves in mind, but you could argue that they did get the ball rolling.  It was, in fact, the issue of institutionalized bondage that would lead the country into its most important and lasting internal crisis in its history.”  That much most people can grasp.  What has escaped many is that behind it was a constitutional standoff – a power struggle.


You see, even though the thirteen colonies had what you could call a common ancestor, that is England, they had managed to acquire a feeling of individualism that led them to believe and behave as if they were practically little nations joined in a federation.  Its residents felt a greater allegiance to their state than to the country as a whole.  Never was this more clearly illustrated when, at the outbreak of the Civil War, Robert E. Lee, then an officer for the United States Army, and one with a distinguished military career at that, was faced with the dilemma of which side to join.  Nowadays, that seems unthinkable, but back then it was a fairly common debate.  He was in fact opposed to the secessionist movement of the South for constitutional reasons, and so expressed it in writing.  But loyalty to his state was the question.  In short, he felt no state had a right to leave the union, but if his state of Virginia did choose to do so and was attacked, he would be left with no choice but to defend it.  Even if that meant abandoning his sworn duties to the federal government.  His decision is one of great controversy to this day, but let’s not go there.


What was at stake was the very future of the United States.  And regardless of the outcome, things would never be the same.  Abraham Lincoln was fully aware of this and summed up the trascendence of the moment brilliantly in his now famous Gettysburg Address.   It is unquestionably one of the finest speeches ever delivered in history, partly because it was so short.  The quintessential example of “less is more”.  Edward Everett, the Massachusetts politician and the main speaker of the day (can you imagine a time when the president’s oration took second billing?), devoted no fewer than a staggering two hours to his intervention before uttering to a, no doubt, relieved crowd, “Thank you for listening.”   And he still apparently didn’t get his point across. He was later said to have praised Lincoln for doing in two minutes what he couldn’t convey in 120.


“Damn straight!  Honest Abe wouldn’t put up with no bullshit like that.”  Maybe they didn’t word it that way in the heart of Madrid, but something to that effect.  While Lincoln’s stance was true, the flip side was that the South was just as determined to have things seen their way…and sent up half a million armed men to help pursuade the federal government.   Four years and 600,000 deaths later, the matter was settled and everyone was friends again…sort of.


So why should Spain care?  You see, nearly two score years after democracy was finally reestablished in this western European nation in 1978, the situation has an eerily familiar ring to it – with the exception, thank God, that we have not been plunged into a civil war.  Behind the age-old debate on how these regions fit into modern Spain is the issue of what the constitution has to say about it.  That is, just as Lincoln argued that the South didn’t have the right to leave, so says the Constitutional Court here, as it tries to contain the movement through judicial means.  And, of course, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and company subscribe to this wholeheartedly.  Spain is indivisible.  That’s what most traditional Spaniards purport.  They are dumbfounded by all this extremist separatism and struggle to comprehend while anyone would ever want to leave it.  They adopt an almost Eastern philosophy approach: that’s just the way things are.


The way things are is that Spain is still a very young democracy, which is ironic for one of the oldest countries in the world, and this current situation has come as a surprise to pretty much everyone but me.  Especially from a country with the delicate situation that it has had for such a long time.  This was almost bound to occur.


Forty years ago, while Americans were lining up to watch Animal House and Grease, in Catalonia people were queuing to participate in the last official referendum.   Ironically, Catalonia was the region with the fourth highest percentage in favor of ratifying the constitution, with 90.46% voting yes, with 70% participation.  Many pro-separatists will argue that things have changed, and undoubtedly they have…in every scenario and in many ways.   But can the same really be said of Catalonia and the rest of Spain?  Are things really that different, or, have they changed in a way that they appear to be?




January 24, 2014

Helping You Locate Barcelona

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Everyone once in a while I dabble in a little nationalism-bashing, not because I am wholly against the idea of fighting for independence if that is what the collective feels and believes, nor do I dispute the historical justification for such a credence, or at least the right to defend it.  What gets my goat, ever so slightly, is the insistence on manipulating information for the sake of God knows what…because it really makes no sense to me.

            Just the other day I was looking up some information about a town outside Madrid called Villarejo de Salvanés, because I was in a café there studying the wildlife there and decided to rummage around the fee encyclopedia to see what it said about the town…in English, which wasn’t much, to be honest.  My eyes were distracted by the list of other languages that have decided to include entries on the subject.  I have become increasingly fascinated by the number of tongues that have joined to the club.  Personally I find it a celebration of that facet that sets us apart from so many other objects in this world, but I do get a kick out of how many of these languages actually make the effort to get on the record.  Latin appears in many.  Esperanto, too.  And regional tongues such as Asturian and Aragonese have joined the ranks.  I guess this is the ideal way to bring international attention to your otherwise unknown language, and that is fine with me, but it is interesting to study the sometimes subversive forces acting behind them. 

            Take Catalan, for example, a minor but healthy language in today’s world but one with a chip on its shoulder the size of a log.  Economic, dictatorial and natural, let’s not forget, forces led to the encroachment of Castilian Spanish for many decades, but this Romance tongue, which is a kind of blend of Spanish, French and Oc, I guess, has managed to persevere quite well, thanks. 

            Enter politics.  With Catalan nationalist sentiment continually on the rise, and the possibility of a referendum looming, the people who support this region, its language and culture, go to great lengths to pretend they don’t belong to the country they belong to. 

            So, I slipped over to Catalan to see what they had to say about the town, rather surprised that they had anything to say about it.  I looked at the summary on the right and noticed that they referred to the country of Spain as a state.   Most of you would not be familiar with the word games that are played in Spain, but the use of the term “state” instead of “country” implies almost a sense of control rather than belonging.  At least that is what I used to think, until I realized that the word was used for all political nations.  The entry refers to Catalonia as a “país” or “country”, due to its cultural and linguistic identity.  At least says it is located in Spain.  If you skip over to “Barcelona”, you notice that it is defined in the entry as a city located in the Iberian Peninsula!  Oh, that country thing is not important.   The extremes people will go to avoid the facts; and that’s considering it is printed in a website which should stick to the facts.  Manipulation of information?  Absolutely.  That happens a lot.  That happens a lot, I tell you.  Let’s pretend it doesn’t exist.  And if we don’t mention it, it won’t.  God help us!


January 26, 2012

My Friend Spanish: Lesson 243 – don’t call it Spanish

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The other day I was taking out some money from an ATM machine (in about a hundred years, all we will speak in is acronyms), and I came across a surprise.  It wasn’t that I was taking money out, nor that I had any money to even withdraw, though it might raise a few eyebrows, but rather that the section indicating the language I wanted use to proceed with the operation (I was tempted to go for Turkish, but don’t know know the word for “checking account”, and noticed that one choice said “español”.

     Now a bunch of you may be saying, “duh, no kidding Brian.”  Others may think I am under the 2:45 a.m. effect, and most may have moved on to another website, but if you are still hanging on, let me say that you are in for a few lines of immense illumination: it shall be your prize for patience and perserverence.

    You see, as odd as it may seem, most ATMs don’t denote the language as such, but rather as “castellano” or the language of Castile, which in a sense is the most accurate term.  You see, there are five official languages in Spain, none of them are English or Turkish, but rather Spanish and four regional tongues of greater or lesser presence.  Two are actually identical, but I have discussed that in another post.

      Anyway, many people in Spain (especially)  take offence to the use of español because they feel it is an imposition and they do have a point.  Afterall, it would be as if we called English (the language of England) “British”.  The Welsh and Scots would have good reason to take issue with the term.   It’s not the only language they use on that island.  The same thing here.  The thing is, “español” has been the term used for centuries and volumes have been written on the subject.  But “castellano” is equally valid and common.

    Where’s the problem?  None really, other than that it has become somewhat politically correct to called “español” “castellano” so as not to ruffle any feathers, which is why you see it in so many official places. What grabbed my attention was that the ATM machine belonged to a Catalan bank (Catalonia being one of the most fervent defenders of its language).  Now that makes sense…then again the Catalans also have the reputation of being Spain’s shrewdest businessmen…so maybe it does.

        Ok.  You can go to another website.  That’s all I have to say for today.  Oh…It’s three in the morning…be gentle with my lax proofreading…


September 29, 2011

My Friend Spanish: The Same Thing but Different

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There are five official languages in Spain; one is official everywhere, Spanish, and the other four are co-official in their respective regions.   These are Basque, Gallego, Catalan and Valenciano.  This final one is used in the Comunidad Valenciana on Spain’s east coast.  Exactly what is Valenciano like?  Well…how should I put it?  It’s a lot like another one of those languages.  Let me explain.   You see, there has been a long debate about whether or not Catalan and Valenciano are the same language.   It’s a real doozy, I tell you.   Let’s play a game and let you decide.   It’s called, “Find the Difference”.   Here’s the preamble of the Spanish constitution as written in Catalan.  Don’t worry about not understanding what it says, just study the words:


La Nació espanyola, amb el desig d’establir la justícia, la llibertat i la seguretat i de promoure el bé de tots els qui la integren, en ús de la seva sobirania, proclama la voluntat de:

Garantir la convivència democràtica dins la Constitució i les lleis de conformitat amb un ordre econòmic i social just. Consolidar un Estat de Dret que asseguri l’imperi de la Llei com a expressió de la voluntat popular. Protegir tots els espanyols i els pobles d’Espanya en l’exercici dels drets humans, les seves cultures i tradicions, llengües i institucions.  Promoure el progrés de la cultura i de l’economia per tal d’assegurar a tothom una qualitat de vida digna.  Establir una societat democràtica avançada, i Col·laborar a l’enfortiment d’unes relacions pacífiques i de cooperació eficaç entre tots els pobles de la Terra.  En conseqüència, les Corts aproven i el poble espanyol ratifica la següent: CONSTITUCIÓ

Now, if you are a little rusty with your Catalan, try the version in Valenciano:


La Nació espanyola, amb el desig d’establir la justícia, la llibertat i la seguretat i de promoure el bé de tots els qui la integren, en ús de la seua sobirania, proclama la voluntat de:

Garantir la convivència democràtica dins la Constitució i les lleis de conformitat amb un ordre econòmic i social just.  Consolidar un Estat de Dret que assegure l’imperi de la llei com a expressió de la voluntat popular.  Protegir tots els espanyols i els pobles d’Espanya en l’exercici dels drets humans, les seues cultures i tradicions, llengües i institucions.  Promoure el progrés de la cultura i de l’economia per tal d’assegurar a tots una qualitat de vida digna.  Establir una societat democràtica avançada, i Col·laborar a l’enfortiment d’unes relacions pacífiques i de cooperació eficaç entre tots els pobles de la Terra.  En conseqüència, les Corts aproven i el poble espanyol ratifica la següent: CONSTITUCIÓ

Yes, they do look virtually identical and, no, I didn’t screw up and paste the same text twice.  They come from different documents published on a government website.  I think I found three minor spelling alternatives in these texts, which is something that could have happened if I had written the same paragraph in British and American English.  All the same they are regarded by some to be completely different languages.  I joke you not.  One website in favor of this theory states that Valenciano could never be considered the same as Catalan.  Ever.  There is just no basis for it, it adds.  Such assertions require that a person like me sit down and breathe deeply before moving on.  Something within me just cannot fully comprehend that.  But I swear by it. 

      How is this possible?  Total denial and a lot of drugs?  More like history and politics…and a little denial too.  And maybe some drugs too, but I can’t confirm.  The regional language spoken by many locals has been called Valenciano since way back in the 14th Century, so it’s not something which was fabricated over the past few decades.   So it goes way back, which is certainly a good enough reason to maintain its name.  In part, that is why it was recognized by the Spanish government when the new constitution was created.  In part.  It also helped to differentiate it legally from Catalan and thus adopt a divide and conquer approach.   Some Catalans would like to separate from Spain, so by giving Valenciano its own distinction, the language of Catalan acquires a smaller sphere of influence.  That was all right with Valencia which has a strong pro-Spain stance and was delighted to see its native tongue with its own identity. 

          But does that mean it’s a different language?  Well, the Academia Valenciana de la Llengua, which is the region’s official authority in these matters, stated in 2004 that it considered Valenciano to be a part of the “same linguistic system” as Catalan.   Well, boy, that was sure saying a lot.  So is Bulgarian when looked at from an Indo-European perspective.

         What the Academia actually wanted to say, but was too wimpy to go through with it, was that Valenciano and  Catalan were the same; instead, it backed down when its members were threatened with legal action for such blasphemy.   The authorities just weren’t going to accept that.  After all, why should they listen to the experts?  So much for freedom of expression. 

       So the panel chickened out and came up with aforementioned flimsy definition.  Most other descriptions get to the point:  it’s the name of Catalan in the region of Valencia. 

         So, there you have it.  The same thing but different.  A different thing, but the same.