Air Berlin against the use of Catalan when flying to and from Catalan-speaking regions – Where is the European Union language policy based on “multilingualism” when one really needs it?

I don’t like to write about ‘domestic’ problems, so to speak, and I don’t usually do it because I cannot be neutral, but I think this one has transnational implications that go beyond Spain’s language policy – or, better, the language policy of Spain’s Autonomous (i.e. ‘slightly less than federal’) Communities – to reach the very language policy of the European Union, because this is what we are getting by the current “be official or die” policy of the Union.

As I’ve written before, the language policy of the European Union, of which language commissioners are always so proud, talking about “multilingualism as an important asset of Europe“, is just a fraud, a disguise of the actual untenable situation that just help create language predators in the Union, politicians looking for more and more European public support for their languages and, consequently, less for the others. How can a language like German (100 million speakers) be officially equal to Maltese (300.000 speakers) before the Union, while languages like Catalan (11 million speakers) or Basque (4 million speakers) aren’t? How can we European citizens pay millions of euros from our budget for translations from and into only some languages (see El Mundo report or its English translation), while others are left undefended by the institutions? How can we tolerate that English be the unofficious actual language of Brussels, or that any country holding the presidency decides to translate documents into English, or English+French, or English+French+Latin according to their will or frame of mind, while the institutions continue to sell this false idea of ‘multilingualism’, for whose supposed implementation our taxes are yearly wasted?

Air Berlin imageThese are the latest news from regional and national language predators looking for their weekly pray: anti-Catalan and pro-Catalan politicians, against or in favour of the opinion of a “small” private airline (expressed by their director), looking to win one individual linguistic battle here, no matter if it affects the whole European language policy system – in fact, no matter if it’s the very consequence of the EU’s language policy system… I have my view on this, indeed, and it refers (as always) to the need of a common, only one official language legally obligatory for all the Union, and then national or regional support for other languages, but I’ll let you judge from the news. I’ll just add that Catalan-speaking communities are already calling for a Boicott on Air Berlin for the company’s attitude towards the regional language of the Balearic Islands, and that the words of the (intended to be) funny cartoon to the right, “saupreussischer Katalanen” is being translated, instead of “damn-Prussian“, a common Bavarian expression, followed by “Catalans”, as “fucking swine Prussian Catalans” in Catalan-speaking journals, to exasperate still more Catalan language defenders…

Edit: I didn’t see there are other comments of the Catalan blogger community, as the early comment of one of Menéame’s creators Ricardo Galli (in Catalan) on this subject, which criticizes the “literal interpretation” – I would say directly willing misinterpretation – some Catalan-speaking journals gave to the cartoon, which he compares to the overreaction of some Muslim media to Muhammad’s cartoons. His comment in English.

This is an automatic translation of one of the first articles on the subject:

“Today Spanish is no longer an official language”, says blunt Joachim Hunold, managing director of Air Berlin in the journal’s editorial Air Berlin Magazine, available to all users of the company during flights. “There are towns in Majorca where children no longer speak Spanish. In schools, Spanish is a foreign language,” he added. With this letter to passengers, Air Berlin, one of the major airlines operating in the Balearics, denounced the situation, according to the airline, suffers Spanish in front of Catalan.

The cartoon with which the editorial accompanies the article has caused more trouble, and it translates “If they come to Bavaria, these damn-Prussian Catalans, they’ll have to speak Bavarian. Damn it!

It all began when the director general of Linguistic Policy, Margalida Tous, sent Air Berlin and other airlines to destinations in the Balearic Islands, a letter urging them to also use Catalan in their communications with their customers. “I am contacting you to express the interest that the Balearic Islands Government has to ensure proper use of the official languages of the archipelago in the communications company that provides its citizens with Air Berlin who choose to make their journeys,” the letter begins.

“Do we have to give courses in Catalan by law to my employees? And those who fly to Galicia or the Basque Country, who want to turn us into Galician or Basque? is Spanish no longer spoken in Spain?”, Hunold wondered . “The partition of Spain in regional nationalism is actually a return to the medieval mini states. So far I thought we lived in a Europe without borders“, he finishes. The editorial was accompanied with a cartoon which reads in a Bavarian German: “If they come to Bavaria, these damn-Prussian Catalans, they’ll have to speak Bavarian. Damn it!” .

The Balearic Government does not explain the Air Berlin public reply to his request for the company incorporates the use of Catalan. “We regret that a letter made in a constructive spirit has taken this misinterpretation”, say from the general direction of Linguistic Policy. “The president Francesc Antich is concerned about this issue and surprised because there are correct relations with the company. I think that the collaborative spirit of the letter has not played well and he will talk directly with Joachim Hunold to restore the situation”, added.

In fact, the letter urges Air Berlin to “ensure that customer service offered, as personally written documentation, web, instructions to passengers on board, etc., are made in Catalan, just as being made in other languages“. In addition, it offers “the possibility of establishing lines of collaboration to incorporate Catalan in response to the company’s customers”.

Air Berlin insists on the fact that “the director has exercised his freedom of expression”, says Alvaro Middelmann, CEO of Air Berlin in Spain and Portugal. He argues that the conflict between Spanish and Catalan “is a reality” and puts an example that does not want to “implement the third time Spanish in Catalonia”. And states that “Spanish is being discriminated against in certain parts of Spain”. “Air Berlin is a European company, to make it clear, and we must ensure the common language of all Spaniards”. That is why we believe that the introduction of Catalan “would be a wrong comparison with other regions and is inasumible”.

The Department of Linguistic Policy states that at no time “the letter spoke of punishing or compelling, but it offers the collaboration of government to improve service to the company but he recalls that Catalan is the official on the islands and has Baleares many customers. ” The same sources explained that so far no other airline has been in contact with the Balearic government to complain about their linguistic recommendations.

These news came from La Vanguardia, and I read it in Spanish Digg-like site Meneame – you can read people’s comments to the first and second most voted news on the subject.

5 comments

  1. Verga

    Now the world is knowing about the real situation of human rights in Catalonia. We are more than 30 years fighting against this situation, but people have always thought that we, spaniards, were the “bad guys” abroad. We only want freedom to speak in your own language. This right does not exist in Catalonia.

  2. Indo-European

    @Verga:
    1) The news is about a Catalan-speaking region, Majorca, in the Balearic Islands. Catalonia is a different Spanish region, where the situation – of the Catalan language and private companies’ synergies when using Catalan – is completely different. I cannot imagine an airline complaining because of the use of Catalan in flights to and from, say, Barcelona, because it would be absurd.

    2) Nobody is talking about “Human Rights”, or “freedom to speak in your own language” – which are (both) well-defended in Spain and its Autonomous Communities alike – but about the linguistic policy of Spain and the EU, that permits, if not directly promotes, unending language predation and competition; not just the one shown by independentists looking to use only Catalan in Catalonia, but the one many Spaniards (like you?) show for Spanish to be used over (or instead of?) Catalan in Catalan-speaking regions, as it seems to me you are playing the same victimist game they have been playing for “30 years”, as you say… And it’s certainly not about this or that political option or “people” in general being ‘bad’ or ‘good’, since they are manicheist classifications (i.e. based on completely subjective impressions) with no place in a practical discussion of pros and contras of the different language policies available to the European market and the EU institutions.

    3) “This right does not exist in Catalonia”. The news refer to the implications of the conflict between Air Berlin and the Balearics linguistic policy in our supposedly unified European market, in which airlines could in the near future (as Air Berlin’s director fears) need to have translators of Catalan, Galician, Basque, Occitan, Breton, Alsatian, Scots, Kashubian, Scottish Gaelic, Turkish, Welsh, Piedmontese, Ligurian, Venetian, Bavarian, Griko, Frisian, Sardinian, Low German, Saami, Sicilian, and so on and on. How can “small” airlines like Air Berlin, essential for proper and fair competition within the EU market, survive to such a request? Now it’s still a polite request of the Balearic government, as they put it, but it could easily turn into an obligation as well – as it happens somehow currently in Catalonia’s commerce, as you probably wanted to say with your comment – to use the regional language always when Spanish is used: shouldn’t the own public resources be used for that language promotion, instead of compelling private companies to spend their resources in unending translations? Are these unending requests of language translations and promotions in local, regional, national and transnational communications ‘in fact a question of actual communication needs, or are they mere cultural promotion? Should airlines flying to Galicia speak Galician, to Asturias speak Asturian, to Aragon speak Aragonese to Extremadura speak Extremaduran? Furthermore, given the regional and political differences reflected in language policy and regulation – that makes e.g. Galician and Portuguese different Galician-Portuguese de iure ‘languages’ -, should airlines have translators of Valencian (a Catalan dialect like the Catalan from Catalonia) or Leonese (an Asturian or Astur-Leonese dialect like Asturian) too, because of the regional linguistic policy followed within those Autonomous Communities? Where is the limit to regional or “minority” (i.e. non-official in the EU) language obligations of European public institutions, and especially of private companies acting within the EU? Will language policy depend on regional or local governments, on who cries or shouts more, on who makes such political confrontations usual within its country or the EU until obtaining what they want? Is it all that language supporters need to do, to look for confrontation, to predate other languages and climb more levels in the European Union language policy? Are we really searching for perfect competition in the European Union, when in fact regions and cities can today oblige – either formally or by promoting social pressure, like boicotts – private companies to do such unnecessary local and regional efforts, that we are actually supporting the maintenance or even new development of oligopolistic markets, where only huge companies, able to comply with all regional obligations and still having benefits, will survive?

    I could agree with your comment, but it seems to me that you are just criticizing the excessive use of Catalan in front of Spanish in Catalonia, and thus trying to revert the nationalistic trend in favour of Spanish, instead of directly addressin the real (i.e. practical) questions behind this conflict. To counterargument your “human rights” question: why shouldn’t airlines communicate in Catalan in Catalonia, where it is the ‘usual’ language, while they apparently have to communicate (according to your comment) in Spanish? or why should European flights use Slovenian in Slovenia, or Maltese in Malta anyway, and not Catalan in Catalonia? Why should Maltese speakers be more defended than Catalan speakers within the European Union? Shouldn’t private companies have just some minimal standard obligations – be it English, or English+French, or English+French+German, or in the best case English+European 😉 – and the rest of language promotion measures be left for the regional or national public institutions, so that no more artificial hindrances are put to our common European market and (almost) European country?

  3. Endavant

    Noi catalani soltanto vogliamo che la nostra lingua sia paragonata alle lingue svedese,ceca,finlandese… lingue meno diffuse che il catalano, ma che vengono usate nel web di Air Berlin. Ma per chè il catalano no? Perchè i Paesi Catalani non hanno uno stato propio? (Soltanto l’Andorra è un paese indipendente e ha il catalano come lingua ufficiale, ma non fa parte de l’unione europea.
    D’altra parte, lo stato spagnolo e quello francese (dove si trova la Catalonga dell nord), considerano che il catalano da fastidio e allora non diffendono i nostri diritti di catalonoparlanti. Se invece Air Berlin avesse ingiuriato e offesso la lingua spagnola e gli spagnoli lo stato spagnolo avrei protestato.

  4. Indo-European

    @Endavant:
    [Again, this is about the Balearic Islands, not about Catalonia. But it’s OK, you both antis and pros want to come here and comment without reading anything, without thinking, let’s go then]
    1) We are both apparently Spanish citizens who can speak Spanish and Catalan, writing in an English blog – then, why use Italian?
    2) “Noi catalani soltanto vogliamo” – false, you cannot speak in the name of others, as “we, Catalans”. Not even if you were the president of the Generalitat would that be true nor correct about all Catalonia inhabitants. And still less if you are (as it seems) an individual from Catalonia talking in the name of all Catalan speakers, as you apparently identify “Catalan”=”from a (historical?) Catalan-speaking region”, which is actually false, too; there are more Spanish speakers than Spaniards, more German speakers than Germans, …
    3) “vogliamo che la nostra lingua sia paragonata alle lingue svedese,ceca,finlandese… lingue meno diffuse che il catalano” – Swedish and Czech are by far languages more spoken than Catalan, in any possible world – including the nationalist-independentist Matrix you are apparently living in -; Finnish, on the other hand, is spoken as mother tongue by ca. 5 million people, few if compared with the ‘great’ languages of Europe, and slightly more than Slovenian, Lithuanian or the rest “minor” official languages of the EU: BUT, could you tell us how many people do have Catalan as mother tongue? I guess not; you only repeat “Catalan is spoken by 11 million (or 9, or 12, or any number you like)” without further details whatsoever… In fact, you pro hooligans would like to see the more people possible in your “Catalan countries” unable to speak Spanish, just to be able to repeat such eternal slogans, but without having to invent number of real mother tongue speakers…
    4)”ma che vengono usate nel web di Air Berlin. Ma per chè il catalano no? Perchè i Paesi Catalani non hanno uno stato propio?” Is that the most important thing for the pro-Catalan-hooliganism? that Catalan be used by Air Berlin when travelling to the Balearics, because Finnish is used when travelling to Finland or Swedish when travelling to Sweden? Are those cases the same? HAVE YOU READ MY POST OR MY COMMENT AT ALL before posting your pro-Catalan victimist spam here?
    5) “D’altra parte, lo stato spagnolo e quello francese considerano che il catalano da fastidio e allora non diffendono i nostri diritti di catalonoparlanti” First, it’s you who obviously consider a “fastidio” not to have a state called “Països Catalans”, and not the ‘Spanish state’ or the ‘French state’ “who consider” anything, because they are not able to “consider” or “think” anything by themselves – again, if you cannot talk for “we, Catalans” (not even for yourself, as you copy&paste opinions of others), how can you so easily talk about “the French and Spanish state”? Do you hear voices, or speak with God? If yes, you can be healed by psychiatry. If not, you are just another demagogue, there’s nothing to do.
    And second, it’s you who wrongly consider that we the rest of Spaniards or French people (i.e. the whole ‘Spanish and French states’) should defend ‘your rights as Catalan speakers’, as you put it; what rights are those? The ones you want? The ones ERC wants? what about Galician, Asturian, Leonese, Cantabrian, Basque, Navarran, Aragonese, Valencian, Extremaduran, Castillian, Andalusian, Murcian speakers? What about Spanish speakers ‘rights’ in Catalonia, in the EU, how do you see them defended within your ideal Catalan world? What about the rest of European minority languages not defended before the EU, don’t they deserve to be defended like Catalan? HAVE YOU REALLY COMMENTED HERE WITHOUT READING ANYTHING BEFORE?
    I guess you pro hooligans are becoming too active in spamming blogs to read anything first.
    6) “Se invece Air Berlin avesse ingiuriato e offesso la lingua spagnola e gli spagnoli lo stato spagnolo avrei protestato” Again, you wrongly consider “injury and offense” the comment of Air Berlin’s director about some Balearic inhabitants not understanding Spanish anymore due to the language policy, or about the possible future need to pay for translators of Catalan, Basque, Galician, Aragonese, Asturian, Occitan, Breton, Piedmontese, Ligurian, Sardinian, Sicilian, Scots, Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic, etc. etc. in EACH European private company; in fact, you support the opinion and reaction of (your?) ERC party – which is just playing again and again the perennial Catalan victimist/imperialist role -, which has at the same time offended all Germans by immediately identifying Air Berlin with Nazis, just because its director expressed an idea they disliked…Very mature, adult reaction of pro-Catalan-hooliganism. Again.

    So, all in all, your conclusion is that your “Catalan countries (sic)” should have a State because the Catalan language should be “more important than” Swedish, Finnish, Danish, Czech or Slovenian, etc. and etc. BECAUSE YOU WANT IT, or, if not, your “rights” are being “injured”.

    Thanks, you are the perfect representative of how LANGUAGE PREDATION is working in this whole story and in the European Union.

  5. Chris Coleman

    Dear Indo European languages of Europe

    I m inquiring if you can begin to pass a law that makes Andalusian the offical language of Andalusia,Spain and standardize the Andalusian language ,of Andalusia,Spain!

    As you may know the Spainish government didn’t pass a law in parliament that makes it’s okay for Andalusians to speak Andalusian,in schools,business ete!

    Also as you may know the Spainish parliament made Catalan,Basque,Galician,and Aragonese official to speak in their region besides spanish!

    I would like to encourage you to please forward this idea to the Director Indo European languages of Europe!

    I would like to take this time to thank you for having a organization that’s concern in preserving European languages for the furture!

    I look forward to hearing from you soon! Thank You very much have a good day!

    Sincerely,
    Christopher Coleman

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