Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Language Of Tourism

Formentera is a small island. With a surface mass of some 83 square kilometres it is a little over two per cent the size of Mallorca. Because it is tiny, when there are noises about it being inundated with tourists and cars, one is intuitively inclined to accept that it is: more so than with the constant laments that Mallorca is overrun. In addition to its size, it has a disadvantage in not having an airport. Tourists mainly arrive with their cars on the ferries.

The largest tourist groups, it is said, are mainland Spanish and Italian. These tourists, of whatever nationality, are being confronted with publicity urging them to become aware of Formentera's environmental delicacy. The key aims of the campaign are the promotion of water-saving, of keeping beaches clean and of "sustainable mobility": traffic and transport.

Understandable though this is, less understandable is the fact that the campaign is being conducted in Catalan with some English. While Catalan, or at least the Formenterenc dialect, is of course common, the people who visit the island are not typically Catalan speakers (or even English speakers). Why, therefore, is there a campaign directed at tourists that's in Catalan?

Among those asking this question are Catalan speakers. They recognise that visitors will not necessarily be au fait. Use Catalan in the campaign but also use other languages, and not just English. And use one language in particular: Castellano.

The Council of Formentera is bossed by the Gent per Formentera party. This is a grouping described variously as being socialist, eco-socialist, Catalan nationalist and simply left. As such, therefore, it is inclined to butt heads with the right, i.e. the Partido Popular. The president of the PP in Formentera has described the campaign as being "one of those absurd things that our Council does".

The PP, one feels, does have a point. There again, it is, or was under Bauzá certainly, the great defender of Castellano. So, it would seem duty bound to offer an assault on the non-use of the other co-official language, just as it can now rely on the support of Ciudadanos (C's) in doing likewise.

However, there is a perceptible shift in language emphasis among the upper echelons of the PP at present. This may in part be as a means of distinguishing itself from the C's, with whom it does share some generally similar policies. Language is one; Catalan nationalism is another.

But more important is the leadership's wish to distance itself from the Bauzá era. In this regard the PP in the Balearics is basically returning to what it used to be: more sympathetic towards regionalism and so a regional identity and so also more sympathetic towards Catalan.

This is a style that helped to make the PP (and what was the forerunner of the PP from the time of regional government in 1983 until 1989 when the PP was formally founded) the dominant political power in the Balearics, a position it has never lost in the sense that it has always polled better than other parties. While the party is still led by an interim president - Miquel Vidal - when it is finally allowed to have a regional congress to elect a permanent leader, it is anticipated that the regionalist faction will win. (There was meant to have been this congress after the general election in December last year, but the indeterminate nature of the election result put that off.)

Vidal is not a contender as permanent leader. The most likely one comes from the regionalist camp - Biel Company, who was environment minister under Bauzá and who also led the revolt against Bauzá following the disastrous performance at the 2015 regional election (though the PP did still gain more seats than others). Two more of those rebels were the mayors of Campos and Santanyi, Sebastià Sagreras and Llorenç Galmés. They are now, respectively, the general-secretary and spokesperson for the PP, indicating the direction that the party has been going and is likely to continue to go.

Coming back to the Formentera affair, both have been asked why, if the PP has been critical of the Council of Formentera, their town halls have issued tourist publicity material without Castellano. This isn't wholly the case, says Galmés, pointing to dual-language use for Cala d'Or's fiestas. In Campos, there isn't much tourism from the mainland, unlike in Formentera. Both can perhaps refute any accusations of hypocrisy, but underlining situations in their respective municipalities is surely the renewed alignment with Catalan as part of a general policy reversal. In Campos, with its comparatively little tourism and greater agricultural tradition, it might be said that here is a municipality that is typical of that former PP regionalist style.

Language can so often be a determining factor in Mallorcan political success or failure. The PP leadership is not about to repeat the mistakes that Bauzá made.

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