Catalan lawmakers cited European humane values in putting the first ban on bullfighting inside Spain today. But ending the ancient rite is widely seen as an opportunity in Catalonia to tout the region’s old dream of separation from Spain.
The ban on the “sport” sparked by a citizen’s petition of 180,000, passed 68 to 55 in the legislature of Catalonia in northeast Spain. It came days after the famed annual running of the bulls through the streets of Pamplona, always an ecstatic local festival though one viewed with increasing skepticism in the rest of Europe.
It also comes days after more than a million Catalonians gathered in Barcelona to protest a Madrid constitutional court ruling that Catalonia could not be defined as a nation. Animal rights groups, popular in the region, declared victory and bullfighting industry officials predicted dire effects on the economy. Spain's conservative Popular Party opposed the law and will challenge it in court.
“In spite of a vegetararian varnish over this affair, Catalonia has always seen the anti-bullfight struggle as a political issue with a nationalist undertone,” argues Salvador Boix, a political analyst with the Spanish daily El Pais.
However, Joan Puigcercos, a pro-Catalan independence politician, told reporters that “it it not a question of politics, nor of national identity, but rather about animal suffering.”
Bullfighting in Spain has been declining for years, even as it lingers on powerfully in the national imagination. The spectacle of a lithe matador in his “suit of lights” facing off against the deadly horns of 1000-pound snorting bull is romanticized globally in the masculine prose of writers like Ernest Hemingway, who found the fights a metaphor for honor, struggle, and relations between the sexes in works like “Death in the Afternoon.”
But bullfights have undergone some de-mythologizing. Studies depict them as ghoulish struggles in which a bull with horns shaved to make them less dangerous perishes after a prolonged encounter and multiple stab wounds. In the past 20 years no matadors have died in Spanish bullfights, putting the honorable outcome of a “contest” between man and beast more in the framework of professional wrestling.
"There are some traditions that can't remain frozen in time as society changes. We don't have to ban everything, but the most degrading things should be banned," a Catalan member of parliament, Josep Rull, told Reuters today.
Catalonia, with its seaport Barcelona, has long been one of the more cosmopolitan and industrialized regions in Spain; it has retained a proud cultural and linguistic tradition, and a sense of somehow being “other” in Spain, often in opposition to Madrid -- where bullfighting remains much more popular. Catalonia was a stronghold of the Spanish republican left, immortalized in George Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia” – which brought it suppression by the Franco dictatorship.
After today’s Catalan vote, Claire Staronzinski, part of a French anti-bullfighting league, described it as “a symbolic vote that foretells what is going to happen in France in several years…It shows …. an anti-bullfight feeling…including in our own country.”