Balearic islanders protest against dilution of Catalan language

Fluency in Catalan is no longer a requisite for most Balearic civil servants

Efforts by the Balearic regional government to dilute the use of the Catalan language on the islands have led to a judicial battle, massive protests and even accusations of “cultural genocide” by opponents.

The regional administration, headed by the conservative Partido Popular (PP), introduced a new law last year which ensures that fluency in Catalan is no longer a requisite for Balearic civil servants in most sectors.

Last Wednesday, Spain's Constitutional Court narrowly rejected an appeal lodged against the law by the opposition Socialist Party.

"This is an attack on the language that is included in the Balearic regional statute," said Pilar Castro, a Socialist Party spokeswoman, in an interview with The Irish Times.


"It [Catalan] is our mother tongue, it is part of our culture. Imagine if, in another region of Spain, it was suddenly decided that speaking Spanish wasn't necessary any more."

Although the Balearic Islands are not part of Catalonia, the Catalan language has long been used there.

In the 13th century, the Catalan empire, led by the kings of Aragon, stretched south along Spain's eastern coast and across the Mediterranean Sea to include the Balearic archipelago that contains Majorca, Ibiza and Minorca. Today, Catalan – or variants of it – is still spoken in all those areas, as well as Spanish.

In the Balearic Islands, fluency in Catalan was enshrined as a requisite for civil servants in 1986. The Socialists and other opponents of the new law are particularly incensed that the PP did not seek a consensus when drawing it up.

In August, the Socialist Party leader in the Balearic Islands, Francina Armengol, described the PP's initiative as "cultural genocide in every way" and accused the islands premier, José Ramón Bauzá, of having "a sick obsession against Catalan".

The PP, which has a majority in the regional parliament, has also faced dissent within its own ranks on the issue; it expelled the mayor of Manacor, Antoni Pastor, for speaking out against the law.

Language war
The Balearic language war has also spread into the area of education. Many teachers and parents of schoolchildren have been on an indefinite strike since September 16th, in protest at another law created by the regional government, this time introducing a trilingual educational system for public school students.

Under the scheme, children must study their curriculum in Catalan, Spanish and English – with equal time given to each language. Previously, classes were split between Catalan and Spanish, with more emphasis on the former.

"This is a government that from the very beginning has imposed its will on others," Vicente Rodrigo, of the Fapa federation of parents of schoolchildren, told The Irish Times. "Bauzá has shown that he gives the orders and the rest of us simply have to shut up and accept it."

Rodrigo says a trilingual system needs eight to 10 years to be introduced successfully. In this case, it will be in full effect within two years.

Because most teachers and students do not yet have the language skills needed to study in English subjects such as maths or history, critics such as Pilar Castro warn that the law will encourage them to fall back on Spanish instead, ensuring its dominance over Catalan in the classroom.

The Fapa has organised a series of massive protests across the islands in recent weeks, alongside teachers who oppose the reform.

The PP, meanwhile, argues the trilingual system will offer pupils a more rounded education, preventing the marginalisation of the Spanish language in the process.

"Under threat"
The party's education spokeswoman for the region, Ana María Aguiló, recently told the Diario de Mallorca newspaper that "Spanish has been under threat in the Balearics but now that's stopping."

However, her assertion that “we need to ‘Hispanicise’ [students] if they don’t know Spanish” has drawn a furious response from nationalists in the Balearics and Catalonia itself.

They see the Balearic government’s civil service and education reforms as evidence that the PP as a whole opposes Catalan culture.

In Catalonia, separatists are leading a campaign to hold a referendum next year on independence from Spain. The PP-led Spanish government says the initiative is unconstitutional.

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Spain