Àlex is from Catalonia, in northeast Spain. He is an undergraduate at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, where he studies a joint degree in Business and Law.
During the first lesson of this academic year, his International Public Law lecturer announced that he would always refer to Spain as “the fascist Spanish State” in his classes. Indeed, this is systematically how Spain appears in all written examinations that students must pass to graduate.
The lecturer then added that he did not care about the feelings of Ciudadanos voters in his classroom because they were “parasites.” Ciudadanos, a centrist, liberal, “unionist” party, is the largest single party in Catalonia’s autonomous chamber. It leads the opposition to Catalonia’s nationalist coalition, an establishment that has ruled the region for almost 40 years.
The lesson was a continuous, aggressive outburst peppered with insults such as “those retarded fascists,” referring once again to unionist parties and their followers.
Catalan Education as Independentist Bubble
Social media is full of similarly toxic effusions attributed to this academic. From day one, he wanted to establish his nationalistic credentials: the sole existence of democratic opposition against independentism in Catalonia was enough to provoke the spontaneous combustion of the barretina (a Catalan traditional hat) that he sports, comically defiant, in his institutional profile.
Àlex waited patiently for his lecturer’s bitter tirade to come to a natural end. After the “lesson,” he politely asked him in private to refrain from insulting political opponents in subsequent sessions, as he had felt uncomfortable as a Ciudadanos voter himself. The lecturer complained that his student was “trying to censor him.” He also accused Àlex of being “worse than the Francoists” – an allegation often weaponized to silence dissent without further critical engagement.
On day two of the course, the lecturer asked if Àlex was in the classroom. He was. The teacher then called him “pathetic” in front of the rest of the class. He justified this by mentioning that he knew Àlex was a member of S’ha acabat (“Enough is enough”), Catalonia’s first and only youth organization to defend Spain’s democratic constitution. S’ha acabat additionally advocates for Catalonia’s continued union with the rest of Spain and the EU.
This surrealist turn of events is symptomatic of the moral vacuum that has turned Catalan education, at all levels, into an independentist bubble and echo chamber that confronts anyone perceived as anti-patriotic with hostility, and often with aggression.
The lecturer’s anger with his student was sincere and denoted his certainty that impunity was guaranteed. In fact, within his mental and ethical coordinates, the academic’s verbal violence against a student was fully justified. However, scandalous instead was Àlex’s civilized suggestion that he could exercise more tolerance and better academic manners in the future.
In most free and democratic societies (and Spain is one of the world’s 18 “full democracies,” according to The Economist’s Intelligence Unit), ideological harassment of students and indoctrination is rightly considered an abuse of power. They are usually indefensible when proven (as is the case) and tend to lead to disciplinary procedures. During an investigation, the lecturer proudly acknowledged all allegations. Nothing else was done.
In Catalonia’s nationalistic, anti-Spanish dystopia, dominant discourse tends to condone and celebrate authoritarian attitudes while singling out those who dissent, often branding them as troublemakers. This happens from early childhood, for instance when native Spanish speakers (a majority in Catalonia) are denied access to at least 25 percent tuition in their mother tongue. In this, Catalan education is in conflict with the rulings of its own autonomous tribunals.
This puts these students at a disadvantage throughout their studies and subsequent careers. Further, it perpetuates a society where Spanish speakers are denied opportunities for social mobility, often resulting in their voluntary exile to other regions of Spain. This, in turn, consolidates a monocultural Catalonia defined by exclusionary nationalism.
Rise of Militant Nationalistic Education
Àlex himself is a native Catalan speaker. However, like his friends from S’ha acabat, he wants to live and study in peace. As a law student, he is also aware of the importance of the rule of law for the preservation of democratic freedoms. Instead, S’ha acabat have suffered harassment, violence, and, in some universities, signatures have been collected against them.
Unfortunately, their case is far from anecdotal. It is the culmination of a finely tuned 40-year process of nation-breaking in education. It has created a militantly nationalistic education system that goes all the way from early childhood to higher education. This began with Jordi Pujol’s Programa 2000, in which the former Catalan leader openly sought to occupy every level of the administration with patriotic civil servants.
More recently, Catalonia’s former Education Secretary Clara Ponsatí proclaimed that the autonomous region’s education system was “already that of an independent state.” Throughout these years of independentist rule, the nationalist administration has consolidated a model that is blatantly incompatible with democratic values, and one that fails to reflect, or at least respect, Catalonia’s diversity.
Education System as Weapon of Democracy
Language and history are used as elements of separation, but these are just two of the many bricks in a wall that Spain’s successive governments have studiously ignored. They have been doing so in the knowledge that their stability in Madrid often depended on the parliamentary votes of the nationalistic elites in the wealthier regions.
Turning a blind eye was the convenient thing to do for the preservation of their power when a child in Barcelona was attacked by her teacher for drawing a Spanish flag, or when secondary school teacher Francisco Oya, also from Barcelona, was suspended without pay for complementing his history program with academically rigorous materials that “made the 19th-century nationalists look bad.”
The education system played a crucial role in the events leading to Catalonia’s constitutionally illegal referendum on independence of October 2017. School principals broke the law to symbolically (and physically) hand the school keys to partisan activists.
On the following days, multiple reports spoke of the sons and daughters of police officers being shamed by their teachers in classrooms. And, of course, during election campaigns, public universities are papered over with undeclared independentist materials, in open defiance of the preceptive neutrality of public spaces during democratic campaigns.
In short, the education system has become a tool to erode the democratic quality of Catalonia’s institutions.
For these reasons, 356 lecturers from 12 different countries have written a letter to the Vice Chancellor of the Autonomous University of Barcelona, asking her to protect students. These young people are defending freedom and democracy. Their only purpose is to make sure that, in the future, nobody must endure what they have had to go through to protect their rights. Their struggle is for a free education system where no one is attacked or harassed for their ideas or their identity.
As lecturers, it is our moral duty to join their cry of “S’ha acabat! Enough is enough!” We owe it to them, and we owe it to the dignity of our own profession.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.