Madrid pulls plug on Catalan anti-royalists

IT WAS called, officially, The Worst Programme of the Week. But even if it was, it is not any more. It has been taken off the air by Spain's state television channel TVE because its presenter, who goes by the name of El Gran Wyoming (The Great Wyoming), planned to interview a Catalan writer called Quim Monzo.

Mr Monzo's crime was to have broadcast a programme on Catalan regional television recently that made the Infanta (Princess) Elena, the King's 30-year-old elder daughter, look less than Brain of Spain 1994. It was tame stuff, but monarchy-bashing is still a sensitive issue here and none other than Catalonia's 'President', the regional prime minister, Jordi Pujol, was forced to apologise after the royal household protested.

As El Gran Wyoming, a fast- talking, streetwise madrileno whose real name is the less exotic Jose Miguel Monzon, prepared to interview Mr Monzo, TVE announced the series was to be dropped. It cited falling ratings and admitted the projected interview with Mr Monzo had brought forward the decision.

The move was the latest broadside in a simmering civil war, so far only verbal and psychological, between independence-minded Catalonia and the rest of the Kingdom of Spain.

Mr Pujol appealed for calm, saying outsiders were 'trying to start a fire in Catalonia'. Much of the heat, however, is coming from his side.

For the first time since it first met in 1980, the Catalonian parliament in Barcelona heard a deputy, Josep Lluis Carod of ERC, the radical Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican Left of Catalonia), attack the King on Wednesday as 'an offspring of the Francoist dictatorship'.

Earlier in the week, the ERC leader, Angel Colom, attacked the monarchy at a party convention and spoke of an 'anti- Catalan offensive generated in Madrid'. In a way he was right. Much of the rest of Spain has reacted angrily to two recent events in Catalonia widely seen as reflecting the Catalans' desire for independence.

The daily El Pais came into possession of a draft document drawn up by Mr Pujol's office and showing he hoped to win complete executive power for Catalonia and a new relationship with the monarchy. It fell short of an independence plan only in terms of semantics.

Causing increasing friction in recent months has been a war between Catalans and the rest over the region's plan to make Catalan the dominant language over Castilian (Spanish). Mr Pujol's regional government, the Generalitat, ruled that all schoolchildren be taught in Catalan. Minorities, mostly immigrants from southern Spain, demanded their children have the right to be taught in their mother- tongue.

The Supreme Court backed them in a recommendation to the Constitutional Court, which has yet to pronounce.