Catalans march against Spain language reforms

13th December 2012, Comments 0 comments

Catalans rallied in a mass street protest Thursday against plans to reform the use of their language in schools, the latest outbreak of tensions between the northeastern region and the Spanish government.

Thousands of people marched in the cold through Barcelona on Thursday evening with drums and whistles sounding, carrying signs bearing slogans such as "Schooling in Catalan and no cuts."

Spain's proposed school reform has sparked an angry backlash, coming soon after Catalans voted strongly for pro-independence forces in November 25 regional elections.

The changes would give central government more power over parts of the curriculum -- and bolster the weight of the Spanish language.

Associations organising the demonstration branded the reform an attack on the cultural identity of Catalonia. The region of 7.5 million people traces its origins back more than a millennium -- long before the formation of the modern Spanish state.

"I find the reform pathetic. It doesn't take into account the reality in Catalonia," said one demonstrator, Oriol Luque, 22, a journalism student.

"Catalan is a necessary language day to day if you live here. I think they will have to withdraw the reform."

Currently in Catalonia all school teaching is conducted in Catalan, under what is known as the "immersion" system. Spanish is taught as a language subject.

The proposed reform would shift some weight in favour of Spanish by making the region pay for private schooling in Spanish for children whose parents demanded it.

Education Minister Jose Ignacio Wert insisted on Wednesday that this did not mean that the government wanted "to do away with schooling in Catalan."

Under the proposed reform pupils could also cease to be examined in Catalan as a language subject on leaving school but would sit exams in Spanish and foreign languages.

"The plan to separate children by language into public and private schools is just an attempt to disunify them," said one demonstrator on Thursday, Anna Via, 31, a social sciences teacher.

"And paying for private schooling at a time of cuts is quite ironic."

Although the reform applies to all Spain's regions, the issue is particularly sensitive in Catalonia. People here were banned from speaking Catalan in public under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco from 1939 to 1975.

Other Spanish regions with their own official languages, such as Galicia and the Basque Country, already offer the choice of schooling in Spanish.

Supporters of the current Catalan model say it upholds equality among pupils in a region of mixed origins.

Nevertheless, some families in Catalonia have taken legal action for the right to have their children schooled in Spanish, and courts have ruled in their favour.

The row is unfolding just as Catalan leaders discuss how to organise a referendum on independence from Spain, defying outright opposition from Madrid, which says it would flout the constitution and divide the country instead of uniting it to combat the economic crisis.

Catalan president Artur Mas's centre-right alliance emerged from last month's election as the winner but without an absolute majority. It is trying to negotiate an alliance with the Republican Left of Catalonia, a leftwing pro-independence party.

Sources at the Republican Left said the party was pushing for a referendum on self-determination to be held in 2014 but that a deal was yet to be concluded. Sources at Mas's Convergence and Union alliance also said an agreement had not been struck.

Protests were also planned in other Spanish towns against various education reforms and budget cuts imposed in the economic crisis.

Several hundred people demonstrated in Madrid.

© 2012 AFP

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