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Outrage over Spanish Education Minister comparing linguistic immersion in Catalan with Francoism

The Spanish Minister for Education, José Ignacio Wert, has been recorded stating that "the situation of Spanish in the education system of Catalonia, limited to being used as a non-tuition language, like any foreign language, is comparable to the situation of Catalan in the times they like so much to remember", referring to Franco's dictatorship. Wert made the statement on Wednesday with a group of journalists and one of them recorded it. His words were immediately replied to by many Catalan parties, and Wert had to clarify a few hours later that he had expressed himself in a wrong way. He then said that Catalan was persecuted during Francoism "in a ruthless way" and that such persecution was "abominable". However, his previous statement is to be added to a long list, such as when in October 2012 he said that "Catalan pupils must be Hispanicised", defending the cultural homogenisation promoted by Spanish nationalism for the last centuries.

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14 May 2015 10:55 PM

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ACN

Barcelona (ACN).- The Spanish Minister for Education, José Ignacio Wert, has been recorded stating that "the situation of Spanish [language] in the education system of Catalonia, limited to being used as a non-tuition language, like any foreign language, is comparable to the situation of Catalan [language] in the times they like so much to remember", referring to Franco's dictatorship. Wert made the statement on Wednesday with a group of journalists and one of them recorded it without the Minister noticing. When the journalists asked the Minister to repeat the statement in front of microphones, Wert refused and replied "Do you think I was born yesterday?" His words were immediately replied to by many Catalan parties, and Wert had to clarify a few hours later that he had expressed himself in a wrong way. He then said that Catalan was persecuted during Francoism "in a ruthless way" and that he thought that such persecution was "abominable". All the parties in Catalonia, including those supporting independence and those against it, with the only exception of the Spanish nationalist ones, have strongly condemned Wert's words and have requested his immediate resignation or dismissal. They spoke about it both on Wednesday and on Thursday, while the People's Party – which runs the Spanish Government – said it was feeling "insulted" by the complaints from the other parties.


All studies show that Spanish in Catalonia is the majority language, widely used everywhere, and that Catalan is in a weaker position, despite being the local language for more than 10 centuries. For this reason and in order to guarantee equal opportunities and social cohesion by ensuring the knowledge of both languages by all pupils after completion of their schooling, the Catalan school system is based on a language immersion model in Catalan, which also includes many flexible measures and where Spanish is not marginalised, although it is not the official tuition language. Experts and pedagogical studies show that a very high proportion of Catalan is needed in order to guarantee that all children from Spanish-speaking environments, some of them barely exposed to Catalan, can master the language by the time they leave school. In fact, results show that despite linguistic immersion, their results in Catalan are still a bit worse than those from Catalan-speaking families. The same does not happen to the results in Spanish of children from Catalan-speaking families, who get the same results as their peers in Catalonia and in the rest of Spain.

Catalonia's school model has been in place for the last three decades and results show it works, as it guarantees perfect bilingualism among the entire population – which is an extremely rare case throughout the world in territories with two official languages. In fact, it has been praised by international organisations such as the European Commission and UNESCO, and it is widely supported by an extremely broad majority of Catalan society. In fact, out of the 1.55 million children and teenagers in the school system only a few dozen families (60 according to the Catalan Government and 300 according to the Spanish Government) have requested Spanish as their tuition language. If these 300 families had an average of 2 schooled children, this represents 0.0003% of pupils within Catalonia school system at most, proving there is no linguistic conflict in Catalonia and there is no need to create a school system which segregates children by language, since the current one guarantees the knowledge of both languages.

Judges based in Catalonia will continue without an obligation to know Catalan

Wert's first statement, comparing the current situation of Spanish in Catalonia with that of Catalan under Franco's military and Fascist dictatorship is to be added to a long list, such as when in October 2012 he said that "Catalan pupils must be Hispanicised", treating Catalonia as a colony and defending the cultural homogenisation and denial of cultural diversity promoted by Spanish nationalism for the last centuries. On top of this, the statement comes the week after the Spanish institutions obliged Catalan schools to offer at least 25% of courses in Spanish if the family of a single pupil requests it to do so.

Additionally, on Tuesday, the Spanish Parliament – where the People's Party (PP) holds an absolute majority – rejected the proposal that judges in Catalonia must have a knowledge of the Catalan language (which is an official language in Catalonia) in order to guarantee that citizens can receive trial in their native language in their home country. The PP argued that such a proposal was "excluding" judges from other parts of Spain to work in Catalonia and that it was "a democratic aberration". Catalan MPs pointed out that judges wanting to work in Catalonia can learn Catalan and then apply for a position there, but that citizens should have the right to use their mother tongue in their home country in front of a judge, and even more so if the language is co-official.

"It's natural that Catalans want to speak in Catalan in Catalonia" and in a serious situation such as addressing a judge, stated one MP. "The proposal is about judges understanding the language of the country where they are working", stated another Catalan MP. The PP replied that the proposal "wanted to build linguistic and physical walls in Europe", defending an "excluding and monolingual project". Ironically, the PP was defending monolingual judges.

Catalan parties have kept on criticising Wert

Dolors Camats, from the Catalan Green socialist and post-communist coalition said: "Minister Wert is rewriting history now, trying to compare the situation of Catalonia during Francoism, which was a situation of persecution, prohibition and punishment. It is a state of war against the Catalan language, against the cohabitation and language normality that Catalonia lives. So, [it is] an attempt to rewrite history and is clearly lying".

The President of the Catalan Government and leader of the centre-right pro-Catalan State coalition (CiU), Artur Mas, stated in an electoral rally that "those who say this have the title of Education and Culture Minister, imagine! More than education and culture, if we have to say something, it will be a tremendous exhibition of ignorance. It shows great ignorance and a big lack of sensitivity to say nonsense like this".

The candidate for Barcelona Mayor from the Catalan Socialist party (PSC), Jaume Collboni, said: "Instead of making the education system in our country more equal and accessible, Mr Wert, who should have resigned a long time ago for not understanding that there is no linguistic conflict in Catalonia, should observe that the only ones who incite the political conflict are those who have electoral interests, when they do not have anything to offer to the country nor to the education community, such as Mr Wert himself. I think he has become the number 1 danger for linguistic cohabitation in Catalonia".

Finally, the candidate for Barcelona Mayor from the left-wing pro-independence party ERC, Alfred Bosch, said: "I think that the words uttered by Minister Wert are a shame, they do not reflect the reality and so are democratically reprehensible. Catalan is and has to be the native and school tuition language in Catalonia".

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  • The Spanish Minister of Education, José Ignacio Wert (by ACN)

  • The Spanish Minister of Education, José Ignacio Wert (by ACN)
Outrage over Spanish Education Minister comparing linguistic immersion in Catalan with Francoism