A Spanish speaking friend found it strange that many Catalans wanted our country to be an independent state, and I answered him: «Imagine that the French force you to give up your Spanish language and culture, and compel you to learn French, and make you say that French is your mother language». He understood immediately.
From that answer has come out a short fiction story meant to explain to the people from other areas in the Iberian Peninsula why the Catalans want to have their own state, by means of the simple principle which says that «if you want to understand others you should put yourself in their place».
Let us imagine the Iberian Peninsula occupied by the French.
The whole of the Iberian Peninsula was occupied by the French after the Napoleonic wars. This specific war finished when Napoleon conquered the city of Cadiz, after a 14 months siege, on 11th September 1814.
The French occupiers forbad then the use of the Iberian languages and imposed French as the official language in schools, political institutions, administration, justice, culture, the army, etc. The papers, literature and the textbooks in the Peninsula must show their contents in French. Censorship translates or causes Iberian authors to translate their own books into French, modifying their contents to fit them into the ruling imperial ideology, eliminating from circulation all the original works of the several Iberian languages, so that all the traces of their true origin are lost.
History books and encyclopaedias must be newly published to follow the present reality. Latent or declared censorship pretends that truly the origin of culture in the Iberian Peninsula is to be found in France, that its artists, philosophers, scientists, politicians, explorers, etc. were French.
After a period of military occupation and government, Napoleon dies and the French call elections for the two chambers in the whole of the empire. The French speaking deputies are the majority in both chambers. A Constitution for the empire is drawn up, whose main articles may only be modified by means of a qualified majority and, after that, the convocation of a confirming referendum of all the citizens of the empire. It is then decided to offer a self-government charter to the Iberian Peninsula, with an autonomous president and parliament.
The Constitution of the empire, in one of its first articles, grants the indissoluble unity of the imperial homeland, with the support of the armed forces. The troops hold once a year the «Day of the French country», with parades under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, with the new emperor saluting the different units, flanked by his ministers and the autonomous presidents who wish to attend.
In the autonomic chamber the parliament members may speak French and the other Peninsula languages. The Peninsula representatives attend the parliament meetings of the two chambers in Paris, where they are a minority with respect to the other members of the whole of the empire.
In the French Congress of Deputies and the Senate, the only official language is French, except one given day during the year in which, thanks to a great deference and generosity of the majority, the parliament members from the different non French speaking possessions may speak in their native languages, offering however a simultaneous translation into French, so that the French members do not need bother to listen to a language which is not theirs. If an Iberian parliament member speaks in his own language outside this day, the chamber president withdraws his right to speak and his microphone is put out.
In the meantime the French empire as a whole joins the European Union. In the elections for the European Parliament there is a single district for the French empire, where the members of the Iberian Peninsula territories, a small minority within the imperial French whole, are represented with a number of deputies much smaller than those of other European states with a population similar to that of the Iberian Peninsula. One of the Iberian members of the European Parliament, a pro-French deputy, again and again forbids the use of the Iberian languages and the fact that they may become official in the European chamber, saying that these Iberian deputies should feel extremely proud of using the French language.
Some French politicians criticize the Iberians attitude defending their mother language, culture and country, defining such attitude as «nationalistic», «provincial», etc., while they define the defence of the French language, culture and nation as a normal attitude for any citizen of the empire.
In the meantime, in the Peninsula, some Iberian researchers have discovered, by means of a job as good as that of the best detectives, that, within that which has survived the French censorship, in a good part of the literary production attributed to the French there are inconsistencies and language idioms which allow to demonstrate that many of the creations which at the time were attributed to the Île-de-France, are actually original works of the different peoples of the Peninsula, but translated into French. They also discover that their contents and authorship have been tampered with and distorted.
Curiously enough, some French intellectuals and artists, even if among them there are some exceptions, feel shocked by the publication and diffusion of the results of the new researches. Used as they are to the fact that their culture has assumed this plentiful Iberian creation as theirs, they feel as if they were the victims of spoliation when in fact their predecessors were the usurpers. The names these intellectuals and artists give to the Iberian researchers go from disdain to the most blatant insult.
Besides, it is pointed out in some budget estimates that the different peoples of the Iberian Peninsula are net taxpayers to the French public treasury, while they receive much less money of what the French administration collects in the different territories. As a matter of fact, this discovery is not exceptional, as always when there is a dominating empire and a colony subject to it, the colony contributes more resources to the mother country than the other way round. Later, the tax balance is not publicized to avoid arousing further the Iberian «nationalistic» feelings.
One day comes when the different peoples of the Iberian Peninsula massively demand independence, fed up with marginalization, bad ill-treatment and the plunder that their nations have suffered. They demonstrate exactly on an 11th September, the anniversary of their decisive defeat at Cadiz in front of Napoleon’s armies, having this day become their national day. The mass media of the Île-de-France at the beginning hush up this public act.
After a vain negotiation with the French President of the Cabinet, the president of the Iberian autonomous community decides to dissolve the autonomic parliament, summons new elections and proposes to carry out a referendum at the next legislature, so that the inhabitants may decide whether they want to be an independent state or not.
The French President of the Cabinet makes then statements saying that such a referendum is beyond the French imperial Constitution that outside this Constitution there is no European Union. He understands that a new state born out of the French empire cannot belong to this Union. He threatens to veto the entry of the new state of the Peninsula if this independence takes place. Besides he says that an independent Iberian Peninsula is economically impracticable and that its inhabitants would live in the greatest destitution.
There are Iberian pro-French politicians who also demonstrate in the Peninsula in favour of belonging to the French empire. They praise proudly the brotherhood of the French and Iberian peoples as a result of Napoleon’s occupation, and warn against the risk of dividing the peoples of the Iberian Peninsula between independent and pro-French peoples.
In spite of this there are other politicians, Iberian supporters of independence, which say that an independent Iberian Peninsula should be a new state within the European Union, on equal terms with the old French empire and the other European countries, with its official native languages in its new state. They sustain that this independence must take place in a non-violent way.
They also discuss among themselves the opportunity or not of keeping the French language co-official in their territory. Some claim that it is necessary to respect the groups of people which have lived with this official language in the Peninsula, in order to avoid a social division which may restrain the process of peninsular emancipation. Others emphasize that French is not in danger of extinction, because it can go on being official in the French territory, while the Peninsula languages are endangered unless they have a geographic area where each of them be essential.
This is the story, which for Catalans is deeply familiar and illustrative. This story has been written to explain that the members of any nation want to be themselves and not others. But that we want to be ourselves and not others does not mean that we want to create a new dependency relationship, rather that we do not want to have first class nations: the metropolis of every empire, and second class nations: their colonies. As simple as that every nation must be free and must be able to take part, on an equality basis, within the common political project in every continent, as simple as that every continent must participate, with its own voice and as equals, within the common political project of the whole world.
Barcelona, Sunday December 2nd 2012.
Translation: Loto Perrella.
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