Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Who Is Jaume Sastre?

The story is a simple one but also an heroic one. It is the story of a man willing to defend his language and the quality of education of his language by depriving himself of food and undertaking a hunger strike, which is now almost three weeks long. It is a story which lends itself to a simplicity of reporting, to the heroism of this gesture, because the heroism and the self-inflicted suffering are the stuff of good stories. Yet behind every story there is another story. Behind the gesture of one man, there are questions, and one of them is - who is Jaume Sastre?

We know him as the teacher on hunger strike, the teacher from the secondary school in Llucmajor. He is listed under the Catalan language and literature department. Sastre Font, Jaume, tutor, library co-ordinator. But what more do we know of him? Is it important that we know anything more of him? Or is the heroic, courageous gesture all that matters?

Jaume Sastre has been closely involved with the establishment of two entities. One was formed early last year. It is the Assemblea de Docents de les Illes Balears. It was created as a means of defending schooling in Catalan and of confronting measures to relegate the Catalan language by the Balearic Government and principally, therefore, by José Ramón Bauzá of the Partido Popular. (I have, incidentally, quoted and paraphrased this last sentence from a blog by Martí Gasull i Roig, a founder of the Platform for the Language - Catalan, that is.) He had awarded the Assemblea a "prize". He is one of several who have, including the main defenders and promoters of Catalan in the Balearics, the Obra Cultural Balear (OCB).

The other entity has been very much longer established. It dates back to 1995. It is the Lobby per la Independència, a body which advocates the independence of the Catalan Lands. It states on its website that it is "an organisation created in November 1995 which has as its prime objective the independence of Mallorca and of the whole Catalan nation". This is an extraordinary website, packed full of information. The "menu" items are far too many to list, but they include ones for "fascism", "Bourbons" (i.e. the Spanish royal family), "neo-Nazis", "Spanish inquisition" (which is not the old one but a current one), "Rafatxa Nadal" (Rafa Nadal renamed as Rafa-fascist). On and on and on the list goes. Numerous "fascists" are identified, Air Berlin are Nazis, many a "foraster" (mainland foreigner) is fingered in legal, political and media circles and is typically styled as being, you guessed it, a fascist.

There are also menu items for Pedro J. Ramirez and for "La guerra de piscina". These are related to the remarkable legal battle that Sastre engaged in with the now former editor of "El Mundo". It was all to do with a swimming-pool that had allegedly been built illegally at Ramirez's property in Costa de los Pinos. It was a battle which finally resulted in victory for Sastre when the Balearics High Court ruled last year that the pool was on public land. If some of the sentiments offered on the Lobby's website might seem offensive, then so are those directed at Sastre by Ramirez. "Racist". "Xenophobe." "Fascist." There is a long section devoted to Ramirez's views of Sastre.

Behind the story of the hunger striker, therefore, is another story. The website Fotolog has an entry about Sastre from April 2009. Its headline refers to the "contemporary Mallorcan revolutionary". Is that what Jaume Sastre is? A revolutionary?

The cause of independence for the Catalan Lands is one that has, or appears to have, very little support in Mallorca. If one takes the regular Gadeso surveys of public attitudes and the public's "identity" as indications, then the almost total absence of identity with the Catalan Lands in those surveys would seem to reflect this lack of support. Yet, the policies of the Partido Popular government give the impression of being directed at an enemy within which, at most, exists on the margins of local society.

One has to distinguish between the language issue in teaching and the independence movement. There can be support for Catalan but none for independence. Indeed, the surveys, set against the general parental preference for Catalan, back this up.

The conflict that has consumed education may have started out as a conflict over a system of teaching (itself debatable), but it has ceased to be that. The Assemblea has moved it on, and one of its prime movers was one of the prime movers behind the Lobby for independence. Jaume Sastre. 

Sympathy, yes, because of the way that the PP has gone about the whole wretched language teaching affair. Sympathy, yes, for the defence of Catalan. But is there more to the hunger strike? And another question. What about the students at Llucmajor's school?

* The photo is of Jaume Sastre (left) and the former mayor of Pollensa, Joan Cerdà - one of a series of photos of visitors he has received - posted on 26 May on the blog which is tracking his hunger strike:


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