Last Monday Catalonia’s Plataforma per la Llengua (“Platform for Catalan”(1)) unveiled a report entitled (in Spanish) “If you talk to me in Catalan, I’ll call this trial off”. Language rights, dead on their tracks”. It is a document that exposes several cases where Catalan speakers were discriminated against between 2013 and 2015. A copy of the report will be handed to the European Parliament.
The document was presented the same week that attacks on the Catalan language will be brought before the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee —and not just before the Committee on Culture and Education, as used to be the case—. Five Catalan MEPs were handed a copy of the report so that they may present it and follow it up: Marina Albiol (Esquerra Unida), Ramon Tremosa (CDC), Josep M. Terricabras (ERC), Francesc Gambús (Unió) and Ernest Urtasun (IC-EV).
Plataforma per la Llengua have picked five specific incidents in five different areas when the rights of Catalan speakers are most often infringed upon: the administration, justice, the Spanish police force and health care.
First case: the administration
A Chinese man who only spoke Catalan
In 2014 a man born in China was denied Spanish citizenship —even though he was married to a Spaniard and had been living in Catalonia for eleven years— because he could speak Catalan but not Spanish. Although the Spanish Constitution states that Catalan is also an official language “in the regions where it is spoken”, it was not enough for Spain’s National Court, which demands proficiency in Spanish and disregards any knowledge of other Spanish languages that also have official status.
Second case: justice
A mother loses custody of her child because she moved to Catalonia
In March 2014, a Tenerife judge took away the custody of a child from her mother because she had moved to Ripollet (Catalonia) and the judge believed that the Catalan language could pose “a problem” for the girl. The judge wrote that “the child’s adaptation to the language has not been substantiated” and this circumstance might become “a hurdle for her development”.
Soon enough, the girl’s mother announced that she regarded the ruling as “discriminatory and sexist” and that she intended to appeal against it in Tenerife. Besides, she added that the latest school report from her daughter’s teachers in Ripollet showed that her daughter “understood explanations in Catalan well”.
Third case: Spain’s police force
Pop musician is beaten up
Miquel Gironès, a dolçaina player in Valencian pop band Obrint Pas, reported two Spanish police officers for detaining him illegally and beating him up after he spoke to them in Catalan. In November 2015 a local Valencia court acquitted them both, arguing that “both parties stated their story just as vehemently”.
According to Plataforma per la Llengua, during the trial one of the police officers showed his bigotry and hostility towards the Catalan language when he stated that he felt it was fine for Miquel Gironès to speak “Valencian” but not Catalan. They are, in fact, two words for the same language.
Fourth case: justice
The judge who couldn’t understand Catalan
During a misdemeanour trial in March 2015, Mireia Fernández asked to make her statement in Catalan, as she felt more confident speaking her language and would be able to express herself better. The judge replied rudely that she wasn’t allowed to “because I can’t understand you and it’s me who needs to understand you and if you talk to me in Catalan, I’ll call this trial off”.
Given the circumstances, Fernández chose to speak Spanish, as she dare not risk having to lose another whole day for a new trial (she lives 150 km from the town were the trial was being held). Nevertheless, she decided to lodge a complaint with Catalonia’s secretary general for Relations with the Justice Administration.
On April 9, Catalonia’s High Court gave the judge five days to explain why she wouldn’t comply with article 231.5 of the Spanish law that governs the judiciary, which states that any person present may act as an ad hoc interpreter so long as they speak the language and take a veracity oath. By June 30 2015, the judge still hadn’t given an explanation.
Fifth case: health care
The paediatrician who preferred English to Catalan
In July 2015, a patient spoke in Catalan to the paediatrician in Torelló’s primary care centre, who replied rudely urging her to speak Spanish: “You must speak Spanish here. After all, we’re in Spain, aren’t we? I said this is Spain. Are we in England, perhaps? Very well, I’ll let you choose. You can talk to me in Spanish or in English. Which do you prefer?” were the doctor’s words, according to the account of Sandra Vaqué’s, the Torelló resident involved.
Following the incident, Catalonia’s Health Ministry announced an enquiry into the incident in question.
Besides these five incidents, in its report Plataforma per la Llengua has collected a further forty cases which occurred between 2013 and 2015.
(1) N.T. Plataforma per la Llengua is a Catalan NGO that aims to expose incidents where Catalan speakers were discriminated against in Catalonia and other Catalan-speaking Spanish regions, such as Valencia and the Balearics.