Wednesday, November 07, 2007

When an organisation with 2,000 years of success decides to launch a PR campaign, you know it’s got a few problems. The Catholic Church here is Spain is about to remind us what it is and what it does. Mind you, the reason is purely financial; it wants a larger number of Spanish taxpayers to tick the box on their annual return which determines how much the Church gets from the state. Spaniards [and foreigners!] have been doing this for 30 years now but next year is the first time this will actually mean anything. In a nutshell, the state has decided to stop giving the Church an annual lump sum simply increased by the inflation rate and to let the [increasingly irreligious] populace decide how much the subvention is to be. Not before time.

Up in Belgium, the record for being ungoverned has now been broken and it’s said the continued absence of a Prime Minister is beginning to cause concern. For one thing, if the political crisis isn’t resolved by December 13, there’ll be no one available to sign the EU’s shining new Lisbon Treaty. Somehow, though, I’m sure the EU Commission will find a way to plough on regardless of such a nicety. It always does.

Having bought several products festooned with Fair Trade tags or labels in the UK last month, I wondered how long it would take for this to be commonplace here in Spain. I still don’t know the answer to this but, walking through a galería last night, I noticed workmen fitting out a place called Tienda de comercio justo, or Fair Trade Shop. I’ll be interested to see how successful it is. Incidentally, shop-fitting seems to be one of the things done very efficiently in Spain. But they certainly do get enough practice at it, at least here in Pontevedra. Cynical Spanish friends insist it’s got something to do with the laundering of drug profits but I’ve no idea whether this is true or not.

The Professor of Irish History at Oxford University has just published a book entitled “Luck and the Irish”, which deals with the 20 year success of “the Celtic Tiger’. Talking on the BBC last week, he addressed the question of how much Ireland owed this growth to membership of the EU. He said opinion was decided on the impact of the massive subventions but stressed that the low EU interest rates had been instrumental in attracting vitally important US investment. “However”, he added, “the greatest stroke of luck the Irish have had is that ‘800 years of suppression’ has left them with the English language”. Food for thought, perhaps, for those Galicians who see Celtic Ireland as their model for an independent Celtic Galicia in which everyone is obliged to have Gallego as their first language. The Irish Nationalists did, of course, try this with Gaelic when they came to power but abandoned it quite early on. The Professor, by the way, is Irish, not English. George Santayana, of course, was neither but he knew a thing or two about history. And, ironically, he was born in Spain.


Xoan-Carlos said...

Rather than abandoning the Galician language, Ireland's abandoning of Gaelic only supports the idea that more people in Galicia should learn English and/or Portuguese, not Spanish.

Many U.S. electronics and pharma companies have set up their European bases in Ireland instead of the UK because of its lower level of corporation tax (an argument for Galician independence if anything), lack of ambiguity towards joining the euro and a wealthy community of Irish-Americans (the dollars that used to fund the IRA now fund business centres around the country).

In a country with a relatively small population (equivalent to half of London's), these competitive advantages have had a disproportionate impact on GDP per capita (which is now greater than that of the UK).

Galicia is a different case: I'm not sure who exactly would invest there just because people speak Spanish. Latin America could never have the same effect on Galicia as the U.S. has had on Ireland -- As far as I can tell, and unless Galicia has some chance of becoming a European centre for taco production, the only significant economic activity that could benefit from this commercial link is the drugs trade.

If we must insist that Galicians should speak Spanish first because it is a "global" language (albeit a language that is only spoken in third world countries with largely irrelevant economies) then how exactly would Galicia (without being independent or without depending on people of Galician origin) have an economic advantage over Spanish-speaking Spain in the way that Ireland has over the UK?

If the argument for prefering Spanish is the ability to access Latin American markets, then Galicians would benefit more from being fluent in Galician-Portuguese AND Spanish (i.e., through normalising the presence of Galician in all facets of daily life and teaching Portuguese in all schools as is done in Uruguay) than in pushing Spanish at the expense of Galician (as has been the case for 500 years). After all Brazil is by far the largest economy in Latin America. This is the only way in which Galicia's mostly Spanish-speaking commercial classes would have an advantage over the monolingual Spaniards.

Spanish nationalists have done more than Galician nationalists to limit the extent to which Galicians can communicate with the world by forcing the Galician government and language academy to sponsor a language standard that looks more towards Spanish than to Portuguese (the existence of ñ and LL in Galician is the best example of this), even though it is essentially a dialect of the latter.

Also, in comparing Galician with Irish you need to mention two important points: 1) Irish is spoken by no more than 5% of the population (and no more than 20% in all the time it's been independent), who live almost exclusively in given regions of the country. In contrast, at the last count Galician, was still the majority language of Galicians, even though it has minority status. 2) unlike Irish and English, Galician and Spanish are both from the same family of languages. Therefore bilingualism is far more achievable and measures to ensure that both are used on public life are completely reasonable.

In this regards, a far better (albeit less romantic) model for economic/linguistic success than Ireland would be the Netherlands or any one of the Scandinavian countries, where economic growth has prospered despite the fact that no one has imposed a global language on them.

Anonymous said...

El abulense Santayana

Luis said...

Excellent analysis, Xoan-Carlos!!

Colin said...


Many thanks for this. Before we continue the dialogue, can I ask you to give me Yes/No answers to these questions, numbered for ease of reply:-

1. Is your vision one on an independent Galicia?
2. Would this be a republic?
3. If not, a return to the Kingdom of Galicia?
4. Would it be a separate member of the EU?
5. Or would you see it as part/region/nationality of Portugal?
6. Or, fused with Portugal, as a new Portuguese-Galaico state?
7. Is ‘normalising Galician’ [ignoring morality] different from ‘pushing Galician at the expense of Spanish’?
8. Are you really saying that Gallego is a dialect of Portuguese?
9. Is someone who lives in Spain but outside Galicia and who believes in some sort of federal Spanish state better than the current mess a ‘Spanish nationalist’?
10. Is someone who lives in Galicia but who doesn’t support your vision a ‘Spanish nationalist’?
11. If independence were achieved, would those Galicians living in the new entity who still preferred to be part of Spain be ‘Spanish nationalists’?
12. Would the linguistic policy of independent Galicia be Gallego first, Portuguese second, English third and Spanish fourth?
13. If so, would you have all kids taught all four languages in school?
14. Or would you drop the [what you seem to think is the pretty useless] Spanish?
15. Would you, as President of independent Galicia, be happy to forego ‘Spanish’ subsidies?
16. Would you compensate by trying to attract investment by low tax rates, a la Ireland?
17. Do you think that the Dutch have benefited not only from not having any global language imposed on them but also from being free to choose to learn whatever language they wanted?

Of course, you are totally free to elaborate on Yes/No answers, if you wish. It would almost certainly be helpful if you did.

Best wishes.

Luis said...

1. Maybe, if the Galician people want so
2. I hope so.
3. Quite unlikely
4. It shouldn' be.
5. No
6. Neither.
7. yes, it is.
8. No, it is the closest language.
9. May be, may be not.
10. Might be, although most likely not.
11. They wouldn't be ‘Spanish nationalists’. They would be "pro-Spanish".
12. English second. Then Spanish. Portuguese is just a variant of Galician. In High School Portuguese could be taught as part of Galician language.
13. Galician first. English in primary School. Spanish in Secondary School. In High School the differences between Galician and Portuguese could be learnt very quickly.
14. No
15. Yes
16. Yes, it is a possibility.
17. Everyone is free to free to choose to learn whatever language they want in Galicia, Spain, UK and the rest of EU.

Luis said...

4. It should be