many classics of Catalan literature, such as Joanot Martorell’s Tirant Lo Blanc , were written by Valencians
When, back in the late 70s, the Spanish King (now self-exiled in Abu Dhabi) and the then Spanish prime minister Adolfo Suárez (now dead) decided to grant a measure of autonomy to 17 regions of Spain, they and many others had a problem with the Valencian area, long a bugbear for Spanish centralists, who had tried to minimise its close links with Catalonia (both areas used to share a king, James I, who took Valencia by force from North African caliphs in the mid 13th century and populated it with Catalans who came from what is now the province of Lleida). Since then, Valencia has become an important part of the Catalan-speaking areas (which include part of Aragon, the Balearic Islands, part of France, Andorra, a town in Sardinia and, of course, Catalonia itself) and many of the great classics of Catalan literature, such as Joanot Martorell’s Tirant Lo Blanc (available in English) - were written by Valencians. So when, in the 1960s, leading Valencian authors and artists began to promote the concept of the Catalan Countries or ‘Països Catalans’ - which they envisioned as a loose federation of areas sharing a common language and history - the Spanish centralists (most of them on the far right) were thrown into a permanent hissy fit, as they saw it as a threat to their semi-totalitarian control of Spain as a whole. Their reaction was to claim that the language spoken in Valencia wasn’t Catalan at all but a derivation of Mozarabic (the long vanished family of Latin languages once spoken in Andalusia), despite the fact that Valencian and Catalan are quite obviously the same tongue, as recognised by Hispanic departments in universities the world over, by many Valencians themselves, and by Catalan visitors to Valencia and vice-versa (which hasn’t stopped the Spanish post office from still distinguishing between the two ‘languages’). From 1976 through to 1981 people on the far right went to the extent of bombing bookshops that sold books in Catalan; blowing up the homes of intellectuals who insisted on the unity of the Catalan language, such as Joan Fuster (author of the delicious ‘Dictionary for the Idle’, also available in English); and threatening or beating up left-wing Valencian politicians. The very name of the area became a major bone of contention: the right-wing centralists wanted to call it ‘the Valencian Community’ (‘Communitat Valenciana’) but influential thinkers like Fuster insisted on ‘the Valencian Country’ (‘País Valencià’), which was adopted by many magazines, the statute of autonomy, and by Catalan public radio and TV, whose signals were blocked for years by Valencia’s right-wing government for just that reason. All this was defused in the new millennium by the Valencian Socialist Party and its supporters, who admitted the unity of the language and made it possible for Catalan and Valencian media to be available in both areas. But no longer: with the PP and the far-right Vox party now in the Valencian saddle, the public library of the town of Borriana, near Valencia city, was banned from subscribing to news, music and children’s magazines in Catalan. And the Valencian government is doing its level best to illegalise the term ‘País Valencià’, while going back to claiming that Valencian and Catalan are different languages. Aside from the expense and time wasted over this needless doubting of the bleeding obvious, it is yet one more symptom of the inability of the Spanish right to accept the cultural and linguistic reality of a country over which they claim to be the rightful masters. And may well be, come the next elections.