by RAMON FOLCH translated by Ingrid Vilanova
Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger created Wikipedia in January 2001. Its success was instant. There are now versions in 236 languages, the main one being English (5 million articles). This predominance is to be expected. What wasn’t expected was that the second version to appear should be Viquipèdia, i.e. the Catalan version, started in March 2001, just two months after the English language version. Viquipèdia now boasts 482.000 entries and is the 17th of the existing 236. Surprising.
Surprising because only 10 million people understand Catalan and barely 7 million speak it. The Catalan language occupies the 88th position in number of speakers worldwide. How is it possible that it is the 17th “Wiki language” in number of articles? The anomaly is a repetition when considering Catalan’s track record in publishing. The Col•lecció Bernat Metge, created in 1922, has published over 400 works by Greek and Latin classical authors in Catalan, exceeded, worldwide, only by the Collection des Universités de France (Guillaume Budé collection, in French) and by the Loeb Classical Library (in English). The Gran Enciclopèdia Catalana sold more than 200.000 copies, that is one for every 14 households in the “Catalan Countries” , which is a huge number, taking into account the number of volumes (24) and the high cost of each collection. The Catalan language is a language of culture of the highest level, both from a humanist and a technical and scientific stand point, but it is not official in the EU. Nor is it in Spain or France, the two states where it is mainly spoken, apart from Andorra. Yet another surprising anomaly. One wouldn’t expect such resilience in a minority language, whose speakers are bilingual (in Spanish and French, both of which are powerful cultural vehicles), nor would one expect for it to be so ignored by officialdom, let alone so persecuted. It is, then, doubly anomalous.
Other social and economic factors are equally anomalous. The 7.5 million Catalans represent 1‰ of the world population, yet its GDP (240 000 million dollars) is equivalent to 3‰ of the world GDP, three times what one would expect in terms of averages. Before the crisis, Catalonia adopted 1400 foreign children each year, that is one per 5000 inhabitants. This is the greatest proportion in the world. This figure, as well as belying the defamation that Catalonia is a closed and endogamous country, is yet another parameter which deviates from the norm. Not to talk about immigration: 40% of Catalans are first or second generation immigrants. The list could be extended ad nauseam. This is why it makes sense to refer to the Catalan anomaly.
Weak demographics, a military defeat in 1714, political annihilation in 1716, further to the Decreto de Nueva Planta, barely any natural resources and commerce with America forbidden until 1778 should have ensured the disappearance of Catalonia by the end of the XVIII century. The Catalan language, excluded from the Administration and high culture, should have become a colloquial irrelevance (“dead to the republic of literature” said the illustrious Antoni de Capmany). It is an impressive anomaly that this has not occurred. Catalonia is entropically contrary. As is the present process for sovereignty.
One would not have expected such a movement well into the XXI century. Or perhaps the accumulation of anomalies would indeed make the unpredictable expected. From 1922, Lucretius can be read in modern Catalan, but Catalan cannot be used in either the lower or senate Spanish chambers, nor in the European Parliament. Catalonia genrates 3‰ of the world GDP but cannot control the taxes levied by Spain, nor can it comfortably cover its public expenditure. How can the surge in the sovereignty movement be surprising? The independentist anomaly is the understandable way of responding to the previous anomalies.
The collective will and imagery, like love, do not arise from some mathematical calculus. They are the most robust of sociological vectors; and therefore, the strongest of economical forces. Based on its size, population and lack of political power after a succession of military defeats, Catalonia should not exist beyond a barely remembered place name. However, it leads processes, is a successful member of world ranking lists and it aspires to a place among the independent nations, even if only to exercise its sovereignty to fuse into a superior European order in the decades to come. It is hard to imagine a more anomalous situation. Nor a more exciting one. The argonautic obstacles being encountered pale before the fascinating grandeur of the challenge.