Piles of papers lie in Jordi López’s otherwise rather empty living room in El Prat, a town near Barcelona. They are legal documents, objections, pleadings before the European Parliament. They are all about López’s struggle to get his children more Spanish lessons. And less in Catalan.
For his eldest son, who is deaf, the problems are big, says López. Because the family speaks Spanish at home, his son suffered a learning disability. “My son finds it more difficult than other children to participate in the lessons. It would be better if the lessons were partly in Spanish. But the school doesn’t want to hear anything about it. ‘The language we speak here is Catalan’, was the answer .”
Following court rulings, the state must teach a quarter of the classes in schools in Spanish. But in practice that figure is not reached. The Catalan administration, formed by two separatist parties, supports school boards that deviate from the rules. In this way, the schools can better adapt to the ‘linguistic reality’.
López doesn’t believe much in that theory. “Five years ago, the separatist groups tried to get their way through a referendum. And now the language has become the weapon of the independence parties. It is the indoctrination of children through the language. The teaching is only two hours a week in Spanish.”
But Teresa Vivancos, principal of a primary school in Badalona, sees it differently. She shows off the school building, where a majority of Spanish-speaking children have almost all lessons in Catalan. This local language is closer to French and Italian than Spanish. “Everyone here has the right to speak Catalan,” says Vivancos. “The only way is by immersing children in Catalan.”
Vivancos has fond memories of the referendum five years ago. Although it did not end with the desired independence, she believes that it will happen one day. “Teaching Catalan is inevitable if we want to have our own country. A country for us, separate from the Spanish state. This is the language of this country.”
At least eighty parents, including Jordi López, have launched individual lawsuits against the Catalan government to enforce the teaching of Spanish. Some political parties and other organizations support the opponents. They want Spanish not only to be taught as a separate language, but also used in classes in other subjects.
It is far from that, López has clearly shown. “There is a lot of fear among parents because it concerns their children. No one talks to me anymore when I take the children to school. I have been kicked out of the class WhatsApp group. You become isolated.”
Headteacher Vivancos sees it very differently: “Parents who want us to speak much more Spanish in class have no idea what is happening in our schools. They are using their children for their own political struggle.”
And it is exactly the same accusation that the other camp in the Catalan school struggle makes.