Thursday, 31 January 2008

Catalan and the European Union

The European Union is made up of 27 member states, with an aggregate of 23 official and working languages. Catalan is not one of them, although its speakers are granted certain linguistic rights: they may use Catalan in written communication with the Council of the European Union, the Commission, the Economic and Social Committee, the European Parliament and the European Ombudsman, as well as in the Committee of the Regions.

Catalan is spoken in three member states: Spain – in the Balearic Islands, Catalonia, Valencia, Aragon (in La Franja, a strip neighbouring Catalonia) and in Murcia (in the town of el Carxe); France – in the Pyrénées-Orientales department (known as North Catalonia); Italy – in the town of l'Alguer (Alghero). It is also the official language of Andorra, a small non-EU country in the Pyrenees.

However, although spoken by some 9.1 million European citizens the language is not officially recognised by the EU. Does this mean that there are different linguistic rights accorded to different citizens of the EU, depending on their mother tongue? It cannot be argued that this is an issue of economic rationale, that this is a so-called minority language: Catalan is spoken by more European citizens than either Danish, Estonian, Finnish, Irish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Slovak or Slovene, and about as many as Bulgarian or Swedish. All of these are recognised official and working languages in the EU, but not Catalan.

This is not democratic: Catalans are not a minority, we are a discriminated, colonised people.

Join the Facebook Cause to Defend Europarl.cat, stop europarl.cat from being closed down and get the official Euro-Parliament website translated into Catala.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Björk Declares Independence

On the 2nd of this month, indie webzine Pitchfork published an interview with singer, musician and actress Björk. Björk is Icelandic and still keeps her country in mind, even though she is an international megastar with a manifest, unquestionable multicultural and multidisciplinary style. She is the daughter of a union leader and a politically active mother. You could hardly identify anyone further from the image of provincial nationalism or right-wing jingoism. She does not, however, renounce her roots.

The interview focuses on her album Volta and particularly on her latest single Declare Independence, whose video ends with Björk bearing the flags of Greenland and the Faeroe Islands. Pitchfork asks Björk about this…

It's Greenland's flag and the Faroe Islands' flag. Iceland became independent from Denmark 60 years ago. We were a colony for 600 years, and we were treated really badly, as all colonies are. And Greenland and the Faroe Islands are still part of Denmark. The song was partly written to those countries. In Iceland's newspapers, there's always some talk about the Faroe Islands and Greenland wanting independence, and Greenland seemed close, but then they found a lot of oil, and Denmark doesn't want to let that go. If you were to go into a local bar and ask about Greenland and the Faroe Islands, people get very feisty. People are very supportive of Greenland and the Faroe Islands getting independence. I think that Greenland and the Faroe Islands have looked a lot to Iceland as an inspiration, the way we set up our bank systems, the way we became more and more independent.

And I thought it was hysterical to say to your friend who is having a lot of problems with his girlfriend, to just say 'Declare independence and raise your own flag.' Maybe it's just my silly sense of humor. But it's definitely written to Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

For the full interview, click here.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Spain's Past: A rude awakening

An open letter to the Editor of The Economist on their article on the Spanish Historical Memory Law

Dear Sir,

Re. your article on the Spanish Historical Memory Law, I certainly hope Franco is turning in his grave. I am absolutely sure that many others are also turning in their unidentified roadside graves, along with those who were summarily tried and executed by military tribunals. The latter are still recorded as being criminals, and their descendants have suffered all sorts of discrimination through the years. In fact, this is one of the candent issues not dealt with by the Historical Memory Law: that these victims are not cleansed of the implications that having been found guilty by a military court brings. The Law may be to the satisfaction of Spain's prime minister, but it only qualifies the hearings as “illegitimate”, and nothing further. It does not explicitly annul the trials, leaving the victims’ descendants to bear the costs and burden of going through the administrative bureaucracy of having each hearing made void in order to clear their forbearers’ names. This is still worse for those whose sentences were not execution, and who have lived through a life of discrimination, including not being able to claim war pensions because they fought on the “wrong” side. Likewise, the widows of those who have since died, along with those of the executed, have never been able to claim war widows’ pensions and many have suffered consequent impoverishment. You mention that El Pais implies that the victims never lost their dignity. Is there any dignity in a life of discrimination and being forced into destitution?

Where in Italy or Germany, the authorities would not even dream of maintaining statues and other monuments to Mussolini and Hitler, throughout Spain one finds statues, memorial plaques, street names, etc. commemorating Jose Antonio, the founder of Spain’s equivalent of the Nazi party, many right-wing generals who supported Franco’s rebellion against the democratic government, as well as others paying tribute to Franco himself. These are not “few”, as you say in the article: just look up calle or avenida Jose Antonio or Francisco Franco in Google Maps. And that’s just street names. Can you imagine just one “Hitler Ave.” or a “Dr. Mengele St.” in Germany, or a “Mussolini Sq.” in Italy?

As to the repeal of the Francoist laws you mention, about time say hundreds of thousands of Spanish citizens. The fact these laws still exist after over thirty years of democracy, and that the governments that have come and gone have not found it convenient to repeal them because of the so-called “pact of forgetting", just goes to show the lack of understanding that some parties have of the deep, long-lasting pain suffered by the victims of the Spanish Civil war, brought about by an army uprising aligned with the fascist Axis powers the Allies fought later, and the dictatorial regime following that.

To paraphrase the Armenian guide you quote in your article on Turkish and US policy, “Our objective is not to attack this or that political party. It is to ensure recognition of the victims of the first total war of the 20th century, that of the Axis upon the people of democratic Spain.”