News about Catalan in La Franja. By Francesc Ricart

30 OCTOBER 2009

Casal Jaume I de Fraga (Jaume I Cultural Centre, Fraga)

News about Catalan in La Franja

By Francesc Ricart

La Franja is the name of the Catalan-speaking area – home to 50,000 people – in the part of the region of Aragon that borders Catalonia and Valencia. It is the only part of Spain where Catalan is spoken that the language does not have any legal status. Given that Aragon has had a statute of autonomy since 1982 and that, as early as February 1984, seventeen mayors of the main towns of La Franja signed the Mequinensa Declaration (a document denouncing the precarious situation of the Catalan language in the counties administered by the Autonomous Community of Aragon), it is incomprehensible that this situation persists. After several sets of elections to the regional assembly and a draft languages law which was unsuccessfully presented in 1997, in July 2009 the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) – which, along with the Aragonese Regionalist Party (PAR), comprises a coalition government – presented a Draft Bill on the Use, Protection, and Promotion of the Languages of Aragon to the Parliament of Aragon, the intention of which is to regulate the presence and use of the Catalan and Aragonese languages in the region.

Now let us see if the proposal is accepted and the gap in current Aragonese law filled. The political composition of the Parliament of Aragon means, however, that there is no assurance that the law will be adopted, because the PSOE still needs to fight for every vote. Izquierda Unida (IU) and Chunta Aragonesa (CHA) will demand significant changes to the draft bill, while its partner in government, the Partido Aragonés (PAR), has already made it known that it will not vote for the bill because it could damage its relationship with its own supporters, who share strong anti-Catalan feelings. Finally, the PP (People’s Party) will vote against the law and will attempt to set itself up as the great defender of the purity of the Aragonese language against the purported Catalanising corruption represented by recognition of Catalan as an official language in Aragon.

What is included in the PSOE’s draft bill?

The text makes it very clear that the only official language of Aragon is Spanish and that Catalan (and Aragonese, the other minority language of Aragon covered by the law) is a language that is spoken in certain regions, “in the linguistic forms that are characteristic of Aragon”, a point which is made throughout the text and is a means of allaying Aragonese suspicions about Catalan. The draft bill also states that the resulting law will not regulate obligations and will only recognise the rights of the citizens in the “areas of historical use”.

The law mentions guarantees of teaching in the Catalan language, but there is no reference to Catalan as a language in which the subjects in the curriculum are to be taught at their various stages, or to objectives relating to the learning and mastering of the Catalan language by the public. Nor does it mention requirements for civil servants to know and master Catalan. It does, however, clearly set out a plan for a “Higher Council for Languages” and for the workings of a languages authority to govern Aragon’s languages, meaning that we could find ourselves with an “Aragonese authority” on the margins of the Institute for Catalan Studies (IEC) – the recognised authority throughout the Catalan-speaking world – which will be able to do as it pleases on issues of toponomy, or “devise and set definitive rules for the standardisation of Aragonese and Catalan”. It makes a point of mentioning that this will be done without detriment to “respect for the peculiarities of the local languages of Aragon”.

Despite coming up against a law that attempts to do very little, in the wake of this summer’s announcement of the draft bill the PP has already launched a campaign in opposition to the local authorities. PP members have already taken centre stage at a few events, the most significant of which were those at the town halls of Fraga (La Franja’s largest town) and Montsó (a Spanish-speaking Aragonese town). At both of these, resolutions were submitted to “guarantee the protection of all of Aragon’s language varieties, onto which they want to impose standard languages”, in reference to Catalan and Aragonese. The PP’s spokesperson in Montsó even said that the law is an “attack on the language varieties recognised by the Statute of Autonomy of Aragon and the Spanish Constitution itself”. The PAR also reacted, going so far as to announce that it was organising a petition against the law during the autumn and public events in opposition to Catalan, such as that which it has announced for 24 October in Fraga.

We will have to wait for the results of the discussion of the draft bill in the Parliament of Aragon to see whether we end up with a text that could be used in any way to begin recovering the prestige of the Catalan language in La Franja, a language that historically has been undervalued and has lacked support from society, exception for organisations that have been working to save it for more than twenty years. The Catalan language is now in a very precarious situation that, make no mistake about it, has been largely caused by the failure of public authorities to act and by politicians not taking responsibility for Catalan in La Franja.

Catalan Language News.