The Petitions Committee of the European Parliament, chaired by the Spanish People's Party (PP) representantive Dolors Montserrat, held a public hearing on Tuesday on language immersion in Catalonia at the request of the president of the pressure group Assembly for a Bilingüe School (AEB), Ana Losada. A first consequence of the session was a barrage of criticism against Montserrat for allowing the processing of a petition that instrumentalized the committee in support of the PP's domestic political battles, leading dozens of MEPs belonging to the committee to walk out of the session at its start. But beyond that, the hearing itself brought out into the open a series of peculiar reflections about language immersion policies from the so-called 'experts' and MEPs who participated.
Among the MEPs who spoke was Jorge Buxadé, from Vox, born in Barcelona, who presented himself before the committee as a member of the first batch of Catalan students who experienced immersion, given that he began his schooling in 1983, just when the law came into force, introducing the use of Catalan as the vehicular language in Catalonia's educational system. According to him, immersion is a euphemism for what he defined as "a relentless and full-blown persecution of the common language of Spaniards", an attempt to "culturally cancel Spanish" and "to erase any trace of Spanishness from the region".
(Video with audio in English)
The far-right Vox party 'expert' sent to take part in the session was one of its members from the Catalan Parliament, a secondary school teacher on leave, Manuel Acosta Elías, who warned against what he described as "a system of forced imposition of a monolingualism in Catalan". "The pain, emotionally speaking, that children feel because of the segregation they suffer, when they want to speak Spanish and they can't, we can't consent to it, it challenges us, and we want to put an end to this basic violation of rights that takes place in the Catalan education system", he said.
During the debate, Buxadé, despite warning that "it is the Spanish government that has the obligation to defend Spain from internal and external enemies" and that, otherwise, we would be facing "an illegitimate government", asked Acosta Elías: "What is the most immediate thing to be done, to begin to reverse this situation of massive violation of the rights of Catalans?" Acosta took it upon himself to answer that the system applied in Catalonia "is not linguistic immersion, it is a forced application of monolingualism", "an attack against freedom and our history", and thus he recommended practical measures such as the imposition of unitary level tests across Spain at the end of secondary school and for access to university, as well as other more forceful measures such as "applying an educational Article 155 to the Generalitat of Catalonia" - a reference to the article of the Spanish Constitution under which the central government can take direct control over an Autonomous Community, which was first activated against Catalonia in 2017.
Children "surrounded, without help"
Jorge Calero, professor of applied economics, appeared before the committee at the proposal of the PP, and provided his own description of what immersion is: "It consists of the fact that a student is left in a context in which he only speaks Catalan at school, and the only Spanish spoken is what students can marginally speak among themselves in the playground, and even then at some schools they try to eliminate this small amount of Spanish through people who control what the children speak in the playground." According to Calero, it is a situation in which the children are "surrounded, without help, alone in a uniquely Catalan context", given that Spanish in Catalan schools "is only present as a foreign language". All this with a goal which is "the creation through the language of a nation and, through the creation of a nation, the creation of a state".
(Video with audio in Spanish)
Teresa Freixes, a professor of Constitutional Law, also appeared on behalf of the PP. After asserting that she was persecuted during the Franco regime for defending bilingualism, Freixes pointed out that in Catalonia she suffers persecution for defending bilingualism and that "this is not typical of a democracy, especially when it has established a co-official regime of languages".
Freixes also gave the view that this system actually causes disadvantages for Catalan-speakers themselves when it comes to opting to positions on "high courts or as high officials", "because they never acquire the necessary skills for an adequate and proportionate linguistic development in the positions they aspire to, and although they have a lot of good knowledge, they are not able to express themselves with conviction and therefore never get a prominent place in these contests that they enter."
(Video with audio in Spanish)
Ciudadanos (Cs) MEP Maite Pagazaurtundúa also took part, reflecting on the welfare of children and in particular on "cruelty towards children with special needs such as deafness", given that "they are all forced to study only in Catalan". The Cs representative denounced that during the Franco regime there was diglossia - that is, language compartmentalization - in Catalonia, since Spanish was the primary language and Catalan was the secondary language, but now there is an attempt, she said, to "turn the tables".
Catalan government denounces partisan use of EU committee
The Catalan government denounced the partisan use of the European parliamentary committee chaired by the PP's Dolors Montserrat, which this Tuesday suffered a mass walk-out by MEPs. The Catalan minister for foreign affairs and the EU, Meritxell Serret, recalled in a tweet that the public hearing against language immersion in Catalan schools "was biased and did not meet the requirements of plurality". Catalan language pressure group Plataforma per la Llengua expressed similar points in a letter to the European Parliament, warning that the PP representative sought to attack Catalan speakers.
Serret emphasized that the Catalan executive is working "to explain to MEPs from all political groups the language immersion system in Catalonia". Specifically, that this educational model "has great social and parliamentary consensus", that it is "a successful model as demonstrated by the academic results" and that it is "a pillar for social cohesion". Meanwhile, Montserrat has dedicated itself to conveying the idea that there is an "apartheid against Spanish".
El @govern denuncia la utilització amb finalitats partidistes del comitè de Peticions del Parlament Europeu.— Meritxell Serret Aleu (@MeritxellSerret) February 28, 2023
L'audiència pública que avui ha tingut lloc sobre el model d'immersió lingüística de les escoles catalanes era esbiaixada i no complia els requisits de pluralitat