Sunday, September 27, 2009

Captain, I Said What

Let's say you are Welsh. At Cardiff airport two policemen come up to you and ask you, in English, to produce your papers. You comply with the demand, but reply in Welsh. One of the policemen insists that you speak English. You do so, but the policeman then says that you must speak in a clearer fashion, to which you ask what he said. The police then, behind closed doors, attack you, hitting you on the head, in the mouth and the stomach and then charge you.

This, in essence, but substituting Catalan for Welsh and Castilian for English, is what is alleged to have happened to one Iván Cortés at Palma airport on 7 August. The police were Guardia Civil officers. The case has been taken up by the Obra Cultural Balear (OCB), an organisation that defends and promotes the use of Catalan. It has obtained a meeting with the director general of the island's Guardia to ask that "aggression" towards Catalan speakers ceases, the Cortés incident being the springboard for this request.

Cortés was allowed to make his journey, to London as it happens, where he was seen by a doctor whose report would appear to confirm injuries. The OCB adds that security cameras at Palma airport could also confirm what is alleged to have taken place.

This incident first came to light at the start of this month. A report in "The Diario" (3 September) listed what I have above. It also carried a photo from a press conference of Cortés, together with Tomeu Martí, the co-ordinator for the OCB. Cortés would probably be in his twenties. He has long dark hair and a beard with a longish, thin goatie. He has a dark complexion, suggesting mixed race or possibly one particular race.

Accusations against police happen everywhere, not always with justification. One has to bear in mind that the incident took place a few days after the Palmanova bombing. The police would have been on high alert, though one thing one can probably say is that Cortés does not look like how one might expect an ETA terrorist to appear. A question might be, however, why the officers demanded to see his papers in the first place. They are within their rights to do so, but the question might still be raised.

Guardia officers speak Castilian. Only Castilian. It is not the first time that one has heard of an incident, assuming the Cortés one to be accurate, in which there has been something of an issue with someone speaking Catalan. Guardia officers speak Castilian because it is the language of the state. And the Guardia is very closely associated with the state, the Spanish state. It is a defender of the state. Whether that means that it should be a defender of one language is another matter. In Mallorca, Catalan and Castilian enjoy joint official status.

One does not of course have the other side of the story. Nevertheless, an alleged attack on a defenceless man, whose only apparent "crime" was to speak Catalan and to seek clarification of what was being asked of him, is deserving of investigation, especially as it involves the schism of language and regionalism. There is, though, more to all this. Go back a bit. That other name. Tomeu Martí. Remember him? Probably not. Remember the "Acampallengua", the pro-Catalan gathering in Sa Pobla in late May? Remember that a senior figure in the OCB was arrested for "disobedience" by the Guardia? That was Martí. He was recently fined for refusing a request to show his papers, the cause of his arrest. Why he was asked to do so, I am unsure. But asked he was.

The OCB is not a party, but it has links to the political establishment locally. You may recall that back in December there was the campaign to speak Catalan over a coffee in the local bar. The OCB was behind that. It followed hard on the heels of the campaign to promote wider use of Catalan in bars and restaurants, one funded at a not insignificant cost by the Council of Mallorca. Both campaigns were innocent enough, but the "Acampallengua" did have an undercurrent of youth radicalisation, and then there was the demonstration in Palma during the summer in favour of Catalan (and indeed another in support of Castilian).

The Cortés case cannot be seen just as an isolated incident of possible police aggression. It has to be seen in a wider political and social context. At a press conference held two days ago to announce that request for a meeting with the Guardia, a representative of the republican left in the Balearics shared the platform with Martí, and a link was made to the fact that José Bono, president of the national congress of deputies, had been prohibited from speaking Catalan in the congress. Moreover, Martí has accused the Balearics delegate to the central government, Ramón Socias, of a failure to respond to "acts of discrimination against Catalan".

If it hasn't already been, the Guardia risks being dragged into some murky political waters, some, given its past reputation, it would do well to avoid. As a defender of the state, the whole state, it should not become the clarion call for political opportunism and polarisation in Mallorca, which this has the danger of becoming, and with the forces of the law set against elements of the political establishment, themselves supported by elements of a spot of "agitprop".

* To see the original "Diario" article and photo, go here:

Yesterday's title - Talk Talk, Today's title - to explain: captain is a rank in the Guardia; the rest follows. Who?


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