Jordi Galves’ hate crime: denouncing the phobic

On 17 November, 2017 El Nacional published an article by Jordi Galves exemplifying Cornellà de Llobregat and entitled Cornellà is not like Catalonia, which caused quite a stir and led to his becoming the first journalist in the Spanish state to be accused of a hate crime. He had chosen to write about the industrial suburb because he had grown up nearby and knows the place, and because he had been irritated by an electioneering tweet from Ciudadanos’ leader in Catalonia, Inés Arrimadas, which had accompanied an election rally in the town and exemplified it inaccurately, from his his point of view. (Inés Arrimadas was one of the ultimately unsuccessful candidates for the presidency of Catalonia in the 21 December regional election imposed by the Spanish government.)

The tweet was a standard Ciudadanos ‘Plural, Diverse & Inclusive’ concoction, with a dash of JFK’s ‘ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country’ and a splash of ‘better together’, the British unionist slogan in the Scottish independence referendum. Ciudadanos are the copy and paste party par excellence, and the result is often a potpourri of slogans and catchphrases – superficially reasonable, deceptively simple, and ideologically obscure. Ciudadanos are, however, right to think that many people like the rhetoric and are seduced by its underlying message – the Españolistas, the Spanish nationalists and the anti-Catalanists: from the sophisticated rich – urbanely phobic in public (and only violent in private) – to the aggressively phobic and often public violence from people from poorer backgrounds. At both ends of the spectrum they are, ideologically, equally regressive.

The inclusive narrative resonates with the Spanish dispossessed. The Catalanists are to blame. Not the corrupt Populares, Ciudadanos and ‘Socialistas’ that run Spain, just the corrupt Convergents and Unionists that used to govern Catalonia before their divergence. The ‘inclusivity’ hides classic divide and rule politics, cynical divisiveness.

Catalonia, like Cornellà, is a plural and diverse land. We want to continue being Catalan, Spanish and European because the most important thing is not where we come from but what we can do for Catalonia. #OrangeCornellà #BetterTogether

Arrimadas might as well have used the Spanish nationalist slogan, ‘no nos engañan, Cataluña es España’ (‘don’t be fooled, Catalonia is Spain’), but then she would not be able to paint Cornellanians as victims. Galves objected to her idea that Cornellà is plural and diverse in its demographic make-up, her assertion that it is ‘like Catalonia’. Galves objected to the idea that Cornellanians want to continue being Catalan and European, when so many consider themselves to be neither and feel exclusively Spanish, like many Spanish nationalists all over Catalonia.

As Galves points out, ‘plurality’ and ‘diversity’ is Ciudadano-speak, shorthand for areas where people of Spanish origin and speakers of Spanish as a first language are a majority. The ‘Catalanists are white supremacists’ narrative is a main plank of Ciudadanos’ rhetoric and involves promoting the myth of the party’s inclusivity and accusing their opponents of exclusivity. Their demand for a Catalan leader for all Catalans is equally fallacious. Everybody knows that governments are elected by a minority of the population, which is then also forgotten about once the government is in office. Ciudadanos love a fallacy.

In his opinion piece, Galves is at pains to point out that he certainly would not tar all Cornellanians with the same brush, but that this hardcore anti-Catalan Spanish nationalist element is real, significant and often violent. He was saying ‘don’t be fooled, Cornellà is Spanish’, to echo the unionist chant. It was the constituency with the ninth highest Spanish unionist majority in Catalonia in the 21 December regional election.

* * *

El Nacional, Galves’s paper, publish all articles in Catalan and Spanish, with a fair selection translated into English, but did not translate this one.

Here is the full article in English:

When citizen Inés Arrimadas says that Cornellà is a plural and diverse land, like Catalonia, she’s telling a dirty rotten lie. It isn’t like Catalonia, Your Honour. Arrimadas is just flattering her electors in an electoral campaign, smugly soft-soaping the people. Cornellà, territory of that great politician José Montilla (so plural and so diverse, he), is as plural or as diverse as Oslo, for example. Actually, if you have a proper think about it, far less so. A bit more travel might afford a bit of perspective. What Doña Inés means – wink, wink – what the self-interested Jerezana says without saying it in her quest for votes is that Cornellà is part of Spanish Catalonia, a heavily Castilianised and colonized land, affiliated mainly to Spain, olé, where the surviving Catalan speakers are a sometimes remote almost invisible minority; a land where the vast majority are immigrants, or the children of immigrants, who live in exclusively Spanish isolation; a land of very marked Spanish nationalism, made in Spain; a land where only one group is considered superior to others; a group which has decided not to integrate in Catalonia, where these people living in supposed plurality and diversity tell you proudly that, after forty or fifty years here, they still don’t understand a word of Catalan; people who – in defence of Spain – now defend their right to ignorance, to not know Catalan, a language they see merely as a nuisance, which is why they fight, attacking the educational system of linguistic immersion. Save for some, or perhaps many, exceptions, Spanish speakers are the only immigrant group that has the arrogance to live in Cornellà as Chiquito de la Calzada did in Tokyo, as if he had not moved house, that house of Spanish origin, olé, that mythical land that must continue to be worshipped, like some strange religion. Cornellà isn’t really very plural or diverse at all.

In Barcelona’s industrial belt, in this great land, which Inés Arrimadas mythologises in search of votes, I met a lonely, isolated and scared youth, known to his peers as “the Catalan” to stigmatise him, to harass him, as if we weren’t in Catalonia and they weren’t Catalans. I met another former student of mine who hid the fact that he spoke Catalan at home from everyone, aware of the unseemliness of his linguistic and cultural identity, like gays or Jews surrounded by the majority. I’ve experienced this furious contempt for Catalonia in this plural and diverse land of Cornellà, where an education is just a nasty badge worn by the privileged, like a sign of dissent, where Catalan culture is seen as an intolerable imposition by foreigners, hated or disdained. This is the plural and diverse land of which Inés Arrimadas speaks, a hostile, depressed area, punished by various crises, which everyone who can flees from and forgets about, a territory that celebrates Spanish nationalist indoctrination, hatred of those who are different, where the law of the jungle rules, with all its forms of violence: the far-right, the sexism, the permanent resentment of the immigrants who don’t want to stop being immigrants, or to ever accept that they now live in Catalonia and that Catalonia has now become their home. I was born and lived for many years near Cornellà, and Catalan speakers, Your Honour, were pointed at. By you too, Inès.

* * *

The piece attracted much criticism for its focus on the Spanish origin of a good part of the Cornellà population. He was accused of inciting racial hatred, of classism, of treating Cornellanians like ‘settlers’ and of being generally ‘unhelpful’. His piece even attracted a lawsuit. In January, he was summonsed to testify for “alleged participation in a hate crime” as a result of legal action taken by the council of Cornellà. The alleged offence carries a sentence of up to three years imprisonment, yet the summons made no reference to the article or, in fact, any particular event. Galves described this as being like scolding a child and saying ‘you know what you’ve done’. The case, however, reflects the fact that a part of the Spanish judiciary, at all levels, has abandoned rigour, and become politicised and unashamedly partisan. Galves declined to testify. Last week he returned to court, in Cornellà this time, to be informed that the case had been dropped, much to his relief.

Whatever you might think of Galves’s opinions, he was exercising his right to freedom of expression to point to the propagation of a myth by unionist politicians and media. TV3’s upmarket nightly political and cultural talkshow, Més324, presented by the omniscient Xavier Grasset, invited Galves onto Friday night’s edition to discuss, amongst other issues, the case that never was. He was righteously truculent as he lost patience with fellow guest and detractor, Alejandro Lopez-fonta Fabregas [sic], on observing the Esade alumnus and businessman scrolling through, and simultaneously criticising, the offending piece live on air.

Lopez-fonta cast his aspersions with pompous ignorance, confused by the fact that the article was in Spanish, having done little or none of his homework before going on the show. ‘El Nacional … ,’ said Lopez-fonta, apropos of nothing. I am sure he had never read anything published in the paper previously. His ignorance of the article was echoed by his ignorance of the law and of feminism in the programme’s other sections. Galves rightly accused him of ‘insulting frivolity’ (a charge that could be levelled at everything Ciudadanos say, do and are). It is an offence I would like to see included in the new Spanish penal code when, if ever, it is reviewed and the Gag Law is scrapped, legal aberration that it is.

Despite the improvised objections, Galves was in fact pointing a finger at an abusively phobic part of Catalan society not just in Cornellà, but anywhere, from Balsareny to Barcelona, but Lopez-fonta would not have known. He picked at the piece like an unwanted meal. Had he consumed and digested it, however, he might have found it equally unpalatable, but at least made some semblance of a point.

Galves sees the complex cultural reality of Catalonia’s constituent parts and objects to their cynical mythologisation for political ends. Trying to tell some truths about pro-Spanish constituencies in Catalonia can be considered a hate crime, but pumping out anti-Catalan propaganda in the potent pro-union media 24/7 cannot. The level of catalanophobia of recent times is the worst seen in decades. Spanish nationalism has been piqued by Catalanist stridency, though that is the Catalanists’ fault for piquing it, of course, and they deserve everything they get. Catalanophobia is real in the papers and on television, and it is real in the homes and on the streets of Catalonia. However, if we pretend that Catalonia is not real, catalanophobia cannot be real either. Simple.

Islamophobia (546 recorded incidents in 2017) results in at least as much aggression, abuse and assault day-to-day as catalanophobia, and that gender violence (12,789 recorded incidents in 2017) and misogyny are a daily ordeal that women in Catalonia have to suffer, and hate crimes against other ethnic groups and the LGBTQ community are terribly common. All Galves meant was that some Cornellanians seem to be going for bingo as far as phobias are concerned. He could have just as easily said Balsarenian or Barcelonian – the phobias are the same. And there is a problem with the way all of these offences are being prosecuted in the Spanish legal system.

The woman who bottled a black actor in Madrid, who actually said she did not want blacks in the bar or in front of her and could kill him and nothing would happen to her, is not accused of a hate crime by the National Police. How many of the 139 assaults committed against Catalan-speakers in Catalonia in the three months following the 1 October referendum will be prosecuted and, if they are, how many will be prosecuted with the aggravating factor of a bias crime? The answer is none. Spanish nationalist vociferousness often turns violent. No unionists have been injured by independentists for being unionists. Unfortunately, the inverse cannot be claimed. Bizarrely, those accused of hate crimes wear yellow ribbons or red noses, sing songs, manipulate puppets, make art, and now they write or broadcast.

We are meant to pretend this violence does not exist in gloriously diverse, plural and inclusive Spain. In my opinion, many members of the National Police were guilty of hate crimes on 1 October Catalan referendum and during the days leading up to it. Voters were attacked because of their ethnicity and ideology. For the far-right in Spain, Catalonia does not and has never existed, and Catalan is some weird dialect used to make them feel uncomfortable or look stupid. How is it possible to be guilty of a hate crime against a group that does not exist?

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