Òscar Escuder is the president of Plataforma per la Llengua, an entity that calls itself “the Catalan language NGO” and which, over the last 30 years has made the defence of Catalonia’s language its objective. The organization’s goal, he explains in this interview, is “to end the minoritization [of Catalan] in the entire linguistic domain”, a task that they tackle with, on the one hand, the preparation of different reports on linguistic usage, which have tended to confirm concerns about the current state of Catalan, and on the other, through campaigns of linguistic awareness and others denouncing the breaches of linguistic rights suffered by Catalan speakers in their own territory. We talk to Escuder about the linguistic situation, the milestones achieved with respect to the language in recent weeks, as well as the challenges it faces.
Do you at the Plataforma feel alone in the task of defending Catalan?
Fortunately, we don’t feel alone. Not so much at all. We have nearly 26,000 members and many volunteers. And then there are also other bodies all over the language domain who are seeking the same thing as us, so we are by no means alone. Of course, we don’t have the situation we would like. If that were the case, we wouldn’t exist. All languages have their academy and literary awards, but normal countries do not have a platform to advocate for their language. I don’t think there is one for Danish or Bulgarian, which are languages with fewer speakers than Catalan.
Do you think that Catalan speakers are linguistically aware?
We have a paradoxical situation. Our reports show that people across the territory have a certain concern and love for their language. And it can also be seen in other aspects, such as the fact that the country’s TV channels and radio stations have programmes dedicated exclusively to the language. I’m not an expert, but, taking this example, I doubt that in Bulgaria and Denmark they have as many programmes dedicated to their language. But at the same time there is this concern, there are also those who either don’t care or directly want us to disappear as a language and culture.
For years we have been comparing the language emergency with the climate emergency, perhaps the language emergency is more reversible
This tendency to lose strength suffered by Catalan, for example in its social use, I don’t know if you believe from the Plataforma that it can be reversed in some way?
It’s obvious that this is complex, but it’s also clear than it can be reversed. There are examples of languages that have come from infinitely worse situations than we have today. A series of measures need to be taken by the administrations and there also needs to be more awareness by the public citizens and a change in habits. Although the data we have is bad, it is not disastrous and some figures even invite optimism. Of course, we cannot take these numbers and say, as the administrations have done for years, that things are going very well. We have to be realistic. The language is in trouble and we have been comparing it to the climate emergency for several years now. Perhaps linguistic situations are more reversible than climate: Catalan is not days away from disappearing.
Do you think that this lack of action by public administrations is what has led to this emergency situation?
If we had to choose a single factor, the most important would be government administrations. For many years, in the best cases, there has been negligence, but in others, they have directly acted against the language. And when I talk about administrations, I’m not only referring to the autonomous communities, but also to the Spanish state. One of its jobs is, according to the Constitution, to protect the other languages that are not Castilian [that is, “Spanish”]. We too are citizens who pay our taxes to the state and, therefore, it is time for them to protect and respect our language, as stated in the Constitution.
Being able to speak Catalan in Congress has all positive connotations, but it doesn’t go beyond that
In recent weeks, Catalan has played a central role in the negotiations of the pro-independence parties in Madrid. How do you see the fact that we could start using Catalan in Congress and also request for it to become official in Europe?
We have to talk about these two moves separately because even though they may seem similar – and in some respects they are because one of the things that will happen is that our political representatives will be able to speak Catalan both in the Congress of Deputies and in the European Parliament – the degree of importance is simply not comparable. Being an official language in the European Union is much more important than being able to speak Catalan in the Spanish lower house.
Do you think that Catalan in Congress is just a political gesture?
It’s a gesture of visibility, recognition and normalcy. It could also increase the prestige of the language a little, all its connotations are positive, but it does not go beyond that.
And to be an official language in Europe?
That goes far beyond speaking it in plenary sessions. If that were the only thing, it would be exactly the same to talk about it in the European chamber as in Congress. But being an official language of the European Union is much more important and has aspects that will affect people’s day-to-day lives and the use of the language in the territory. Sometimes there are people who say “what does it matter if they speak Catalan in Brussels?” and, yes, in that respect it is much the same for us, but the European Union has many regulations, which, therefore, apply to the entire territory of the Catalan-speaking lands, except Andorra, regulations which have an infinite impact on the use of the language of terms in the consumer area. Many of these regulations require that the specific subject of the regulation must be communicated in official languages of the European Union, thus making it difficult for it to be done in non-official languages.
It has never happened that a state has proposed an official language in Europa and it has been rejected
Are you optimistic that the member states will finally end up approving Catalan as a language of the European Union?
I’m optimistic, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know about the difficulties. I’m not naive. I don’t have any information, but it could be that Spain has even agreed with another state of the Union to overturn this initiative. As unanimity is required, that would mean that they have already done their work so that the other state whom Spain could hypothetically talk to, would be the bad guy in the picture. However, it must be borne in mind that it has never happened so far that a member state has proposed a language as an official language of the Union and it has been rejected. If the Spanish state is willing to be the first to do so, it is not a very nice medal to win.
Would it be a key milestone for Catalan?
Yes, but it won’t be the end of everything. If it is achieved we won’t be satisfied, there will be more things to do, but it will be a very important step forward. Apart from the product labelling, Catalan will also be a merit for citizens who want to become European civil servants, it will be included in all programmes to promote language and culture.
You say more things will need to be done. What should the parties demand in negotiations for the language in Madrid?
There are many issues. They will know that they have to negotiate for the investiture, but we have long been putting on the table all the fields in which the language is not well treated, such as in schools. There is also the issue of justice and civil servants in general, where what they need to enforce is the European Charter of Regional or Minority Languages, to which Spain was a signatory more than 20 years ago, at the same time as it is systematically violating it. It is intolerable that Spanish civil servants have no obligation to know one of the languages of the citizens they have to serve.
It is intolerable that Spanish civil servants have no obligation to know one of the languages of the citizens they have to serve
So should the law be changed?
Yes, before asking for it to be complied with, a change should be demanded. In education there are laws that are broken.
The PP came to power in the Valencia city council after the May 28th election and one of its first measures was to withdraw the assistance that [the Plataforma] had been allocated. Has that happened to you in any other council?
As far as I am aware, it hasn’t happened in any other institution, but we already know that wherever we have some assistance that depends on the PP and Vox, we will lose it. We don’t expect to be treated particularly well.
The Catalan-Valencian formula seems to me a good way to respond to those who want to fragment the language
What do you think of the formula that Congress has chosen, with the label Catalan-Valencian, in the context of allowing the language to be spoken in the lower house?
In practice, it seems to me a good way to respond to those who want to fragment the language because, after all, the Valencian label for the language has been used for centuries and is not a problem. The language spoken in the Valencian Country has traditionally been called Valencian and there’s nothing bad in that, as long as it’s clear that it is the same language and that Catalan belongs as much to the people of La Garrotxa as it does to those of Valencia or Palma. At the same time, it would also be good if the Spanish government changed the websites of ministries that differentiate between Catalan and Valencian.
One of the star measures of the Plataforma per la Llengua last year were the complaints boxes for violations of linguistic rights at universities. These have dropped significantly. Do you attribute it to a real decrease in violations or do you think that these situations have stopped being reported?
We haven’t finished analyzing it yet. It could be that people aren’t making complaints, but at the outset we don’t believe that this is the case. We think it could be a mix of fewer situations [of violations] and also students reporting them directly to universities. In any case, we don’t have the data yet.
The Plataforma laid a complaint with Belgian justice for spying with Pegasus on members of the organization. Where is this research at?
Yes, the Belgian judiciary has accepted it for hearing, which is the first step.
Produced in association with El Nacional En
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