Sunday, October 25, 2009

Extra post for today. Bit of a dissertation really . . .

Last night I did what I hoped I’d never to have to do and started moderating comments to this blog. This was after Cade had sent his two most abusive messages to-date. Henceforth, if anyone wants so read his views, they’ll have to track down the blog he says he’s starting, with the express purpose of exposing my idiocy and wickedness.

But, walking my dog this morning, it struck me I should record my views on Galician nationalism, based on nine years of living here. If you’re not interested in these, just scroll down to the normal post of the day.

Firstly, let’s get some positives on the table. Over the years, both publicly in the Comments section of this blog and privately via personal emails, I’ve had exchanges with several Galician nationalists who’ve argued their case cogently and reasonably. I’ve never arrived at full agreement with them but I think I’ve developed more sympathy for (or at least understanding of) their stance. And maybe I’ve revised my original position to some degree. Which perhaps tended too much towards mockery. Incidentally, my personal email address ( has been published many times but, rather tellingly, our friend Cade has always managed to avoid writing direct to me. Though I guess this is consistent with his mission of proving to the world at large that I’m the spawn of the devil.

Secondly, I’ve never had any particularly bad experiences at the hands of Galician nationalists. True, I’ve witnessed bureaucrats answering friends in Gallego when spoken to in Castellano but this has never been done to me. My only real irritations have come in struggling with tax guides, letters from the town hall or the Xunta, exhibition brochures, tourism leaflets, etc., etc. which are only in Gallego. Even when meant for visitors from the rest of Spain.

Most importantly, I totally accept that Gallego is a fine language in its own right, that it would be a huge shame if it died and that it must be defended and promoted. My argument, then, is not with the What but with the How. Particularly in the context of the education of children.

But I have no children being educated in Galicia and, moreover, I probably won’t stay here for the rest of my life. So the issues are somewhat academic to me. Especially as I’m not allowed to vote in key elections. I am a mere commentator, drawing on my own observations and on the experiences and comments of both the Galician folk I talk to and foreign friends who do, for example, have children here.

To be brutally honest, I don’t accept that Galicia is a nation. But I have said regularly that this is a democratic issue; if the nationalists can persuade enough fellow Galicians to vote for independence, then (as with Scotland, Cataluña and the Basque Country), they should be allowed to sail off into the wide blue yonder. As of now and following the loss of votes for the Galician Nationalist Party at the last regional elections, things seem to be going in the opposite direction. This, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with what I think and write. Though I did predict that trouble was brewing and that this would happen.

Nor do I believe that Galicia is the 5th, 6th or 7th Celtic nation. In fact, I don’t even accept that it’s any more Celtic than Asturias next door. Or much of the rest of Spain, for that matter. But – again as I have said many times – if it’s profitable for Galicia to market itself as Celtic and if it helps to give people a sense of identity, then who am I to complain? It is harmless and, more importantly, can be productive of a great deal of fun and enjoyment. Witness the annual festival of music at Ortiguiera. Neither the Romans nor the Visigoths - who lorded over the local population after the Celts - left much of a musical heritage to appropriate in the 19th, 20 and 21st centuries. So the Celts are a wise choice if you want to re-invent yourselves and have fun in the process.

Nor do I accept Ms Deakin’s thesis that Galicia had a first Golden Age in the 4th century and a second in the 14th. I regard it as significant that I’ve not found a single Galician friend who’s ever heard of the three or four 4th century luminaries Ms Deakin cites as those responsible for this accolade. Nor have I met anyone who agrees that everyone – from the king down – who was writing poetry in the 14th century wanted to do this in Gallego.

But, as I say, none of this really matters. If the Galicians, like the Scots, want to create and exploit a romantic past, then good luck to them.

So where do I have problems with nationalists? Well, many will doubtless argue with this, but I believe I’ve witnessed over nine years a reduction in the linguistic harmony which is/was the pride of Galicia. Under this, people spoke to each other in whatever language they preferred, understanding both. Meaning that one of them could be speaking in Gallego while the other spoke in Spanish. And I attribute this loss to the hardening of attitudes, to the politicisation of the language issue that followed the bringing of the nationalists into power by the minority socialist government four years or so ago. And to the latter’s courting of the nationalist vote prior to gaining the reins of power. In a nutshell, if you want to play to nationalist sentiment but have no chance of becoming a nation, then the local language is the only issue you have.

Of course I understand the argument that this harmony is only possible because virtually every adult Galician speaking Spanish as their maternal language has grandparents who – at least sometimes – spoke to them in Gallego, and that this won’t be the case with their own children. And of course I understand this raises genuine and heartfelt fears that the language will die over time. As it might already be doing in the cities and along the more cosmopolitan coast.

And yet, I do wonder whether the solution is to force people to use Gallego and to effectively seek pre-eminence for the language, while pretending you’re merely redressing the wrongs of the past and seeking only to achieve equal status for Gallego.

And this brings us to the nub(s) of my discomfort. Much of the promotion of Gallego seems to be done on the back of political indoctrination, in which Gallegos are conveniently portrayed as victims of Spanish neglect born of imperialist arrogance, etc., etc. This, needless to say, is directed mostly at children, it being an act of faith that the earlier you can turn them into sympathetic speakers of Gallego the better. And it is the children in primary school who are affected by having to learn key subjects in a language they don’t fully understand because it’s not spoken at home. From teachers, it’s frequently said, who don’t speak it well themselves.

I repeat once again that most of this is irrelevant to me. And what I write are only my observations and beliefs. They may well be wrong and I have no problem with people writing – in a reasonable tone – to say that I am and to adduce arguments to prove this. I am not, however, going to be persuaded that I’m wrong because I’m an apologist for the rapacious Spanish state. Or that I’m a ‘Spanish nationalist’ simply because I prefer to speak Castellano rather than Gallego. Or that I must be an idiot to harbour some suspicions that the attitudes and strategies of the Galician nationalists are prejudicial to their own cause.

Finally . . . On the question of the solution to the thorny issue of how to ensure that Gallego is promoted without Spanish-speakers having their rights trampled on, I confess I have no answer. Even a glib one. Perhaps I would if I had a kid aged 4 or 5. Or if I were as much a victim of Galician nationalist policies as many Gallegos clearly think they are. And against which they have recently reacted at the ballot box.

Of course, one can’t expect zealous ideologues to stand back and take a broad view - especially those on the lunatic fringe who want to roll back the clock and restore ‘pure Galego’ and take Galicia into the Lusitanosphere. But surely there must be committed Gallego speakers out there – even nationalists – who can, like the writer of the article I cited a few posts back, recognise that something is going wrong. And that it isn’t entirely the fault of the 'fascist' PP party.

That said, I suspect linguistic harmony is going to reduce further before – if ever - it is restored. Which is a shame.


Liliana Sampaio said...

Hi, Colin!
I've read your post (and others which I hadn't had the time to read before) and here's what I have to say:

Mr. cade left a comment in my blog, which I replied a few minutes later. It had nothing to do with my post (which I found rather annoying... lol), and I didn't realise, at first, why he decided to write it. Anyway, I followed the link and was a bit shocked with what I saw. I only read a few lines and decided to leave, without leaving any comment.

I usually don't take sides, as it has nothing to do with me, but I decided to read your posts and got myself asking: why do people have to be rude just because someone else has a different opinion? Isn't it ridiculous? Mr. cade should be ashamed.

Know what? Ignoring certain comments is the best thing to do. And, by the way, it's because of such things that I activated the comment moderation.

Let me take the oppotunity to tell you that I try to keep up to date with your posts, though I don't always write comments. I like it here.

Please forgive any possible misuse of the language, but, as you know, I'm not a native speaker and sometimes Portuguese grammar gets in the way... I hope I've made my point clearly, though.

Até logo!

Colin Davies said...

Hola, Lilly.

Many thanks for your kind message, which I much appreciated.

I’m sorry you were bothered by my friend Mr Cade. It seems he has ‘publicised’ his new blog about my wickedness to quite a few fellow bloggers and commentators.

Sadly, you are right about comment moderation and I have now activated it. Which is making Mr C very unhappy. But one reaps what one sows, as they say.

You really don’t need to apologise for your English. As far as I can see, it’s word perfect. Are you sure you’re not a native speaker pretending to be Portuguese?

Best wishes,

Ata loguiño.


PS I’ve re-checked and found one mistake . . . “which I replied to a few minutes later” of “to which I replied a few minutes later”. The latter is more ‘correct’ but also more formal. Both are OK.

PPS The cod dish looks great.

Midnight Golfer said...

so concise.

Also - if not soon enough, good riddance to bad apples.