As many as 2,800 people demonstrated in Barcelona on Sunday demanding that Spanish be a vehicular language in the Catalonian educational system and that the 25 percent Spanish-language requirement be implemented.
The thorny issue of which language – Catalan or Castellano – should be used in Catalonian classrooms, how much of each, and in which classes, has been a long-running political debate that is tied to notions of Catalan identity, history, separatism, nationalism, and has been a source of conflict between the Generalitat and central government in Madrid.
Since 1983 most public schools in Catalonia have taught in Catalan in an effort to reinvigorate the language after it was banned from educational and administrative settings for four decades during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.
Last year, Catalonia’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal from the Catalan Generalitat against an earlier ruling that required a quarter of lessons to be taught in Spanish in schools in the northeastern region, and the classroom issue has become not only a political football but a judicial back and forth, with more appeals about the legality of a 25 percent Spanish language requirement expected.
Yet, the back and forth battle over language comes amid a long-term decline in Catalan in the classroom. According to figures from the Catalonian education department, in 2006 67 percent of students always or almost always used Catalan when communicating with one another in group settings – now that figure is just 21.4 percent.
Yet conversation between students aside, in some schools, Spanish is effectively taught as a foreign language with all other classes taught in Catalan besides English.
READ MORE: Is bullying a problem in Spanish schools?
At the demonstration, the leader of the Assembly for a Bilingual School, Ana Losada, claimed “the governments of Spain have looked the other way” with regards to maintaining Spanish in Catalan schools, and accused Catalonian “nationalists” of endangering Catalan by making it an “unfriendly language.”
Although the reported 2,800 demonstrators was not a huge number, the event did have significant political turnout. Among the leaders in attendance were PP’s General Secretary, Cuca Gamarra, Vox president Santiago Abascal, and Inés Arrimadas, president of the fledgling centrist Ciudadanos party that was born in Catalonia partly as a response to some of the more separatist elements of the Generalitat.
Alberto Núñez Feijóo, PP’s new leader, did not attend.
Cuca Gamarra decried the “the persecution and stigmatization” of the Spanish language, and “how the Generalitat is carrying out a trampling of the fundamental rights and linguistic rights that Catalans have.”
Many demonstrators carried flags in favour of bilingualism in schools and against Catalan independence, as well as carrying Spanish flags,