Basquephobia and linguistic supremacism

Madrid daily El Mundo slams San Sebastián’s city council over its Basque language promotion programme

This was the headline on the front page of El Mundo, the second most widely-read daily newspaper in Spain: “San Sebastián city shuns Spanish to become Basque language capital”. In the body of the story the Madrid newspaper accuses the city’s local council —run by a coalition government of the PNB and the PSE (1)— of dropping Spanish from public signage and expecting the 1,500 city workers to speak Basque.

I have always thought that if we ever had to rank Spain’s cultural heritage by order of importance, the Basque language would deserve a top spot and Madrid should be not only proud of it, but it should also contribute to the huge undertaking of normalising the social use of the language. Basque is not a Romance language and, as a matter of fact, it is not even part of the Indo-European language family, like Hungarian. The fact that Basque has survived to the present day is a miracle, although it looks as if some would rather see it die away and be gone.

Clearly, Spain’s language diversity bothers El Mundo (and not just them). It is virtually impossible to find a story praising the efforts being made so that Catalan, Galician and Basque are embraced by the public at large. Occasional exceptions can be found in its culture section, where they might review a book or a theatrical play in a language other than Spanish. It is a rare occurrence, though.

There is something that they find especially aggravating: when public signs are only in the local language. Rather than welcoming that as a cultural treasure that might pique their curiosity to learn, they claim that they’ve been “made to feel like foreigners” in their own country. That’s when their supremacist streak raises its ugly head: they stand by their right to not know the language in question, their right not to learn it, not to make an effort to become acquainted with a culture which, indeed, they do see as foreign.


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Translator’s note:

(1) The PNB (Basque Nationalist Party) is a conservative, pro-Basque political party whereas the PSE (Basque Socialist Party) is affiliated with Pedro Sánchez’s Spanish socialist party, the PSOE.