Catalonian leaders pledge defiance
MADRID, BARCELONA––“In Spain,” tweeted Catalonian nationalist member of the Spanish parliament Gabriel Rufian on October 20, 2016, “it is unconstitutional to ban the public torture and murder of an animal. Enough said.”
The Spanish Constitutional Court, the highest court in Spain, had just voted 8 to 3 to overturn the ban on arena bullfighting adopted by the Catalonian region in 2010, in effect since January 1, 2012.
“Once more, the government has used animals in a political war,” fumed Spanish Party for the Animals activist Ana Bayle. “They don’t know anything about animals, nor do they care.”
Wrote Antonio Lorca for the Madrid newspaper El Pais, in an English text translated by George Mills, “The Catalonian ban is unconstitutional, the court argued, because bullfighting had been declared part of Spain’s cultural heritage in national laws introduced in 2013 and 2015 by the conservative Popular Party government of Mariano Rajoy.”
Those laws were passed years after the passage of the Catalonian bullfighting ban.
Catalonia may “regulate but not prohibit” bullfights
“The Constitutional Court upheld the arguments outlined in an appeal lodged against the Catalonian ban by the Popular Party in 2010,” Lorca and Mills of El Pais continued. “In the appeal, the Popular Party argued that Spain’s regions did not have the power “to prohibit bullfights, which are protected by national and European laws,” and that the Catalonian ban “contravened five articles of the Spanish Constitution.”
The Constitutional Court agreed that Catalonia may regulate bullfighting, but not prohibit it outright. The Catalonian government may contend that in effect it has already met this condition, since the ban on arena bullfighting exempted participant events in which mobs pursue bulls through village streets, often after fireworks or flaming torches have been attached to their horns.
Reported Guardian correspondent Stephen Burgen from Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, “The ruling prompted outrage. Neus Munté, spokeswoman for the Catalonian government, said her government would ‘set to work immediately to ensure that the ruling has no practical effect.”
“There will be no bullfights in Catalonia”
“Barcelona mayor Ada Colau tweeted, ‘Barcelona has been an anti-bullfighting city since 2004. Whatever the court says, the Catalonian capital will not allow animals to be mistreated.’”
Among the 35,000 respondents to an online poll conducted by the Barcelona newspaper La Vanguardia, more than 68% said they opposed the Constitutional Court ruling.
Said Catalonian minister for public works Josep Rull in a written statement, “The constitutional court can decide what they want, but we have already decided that there will be no bullfights in Catalonia. The government of Catalonia will make every effort for bullfights not to return to our country. We want a country where it is not possible to make a public spectacle of death and suffering to an animal. This is what we decided at the time in Catalonia and is unalterable for us.”
“Torture Isn’t Culture”
Pointed out Marta Esteban, whose Torture Isn’t Culture coalition represents 47 animal protection organizations, “In 1998, 23% of the Spanish population expressed a high level of confidence in the Constitutional Court and only 11% had little trust in this institution. In 2013, after repeated exercises of politicization, the percentage that had less confidence in it had more than tripled, reaching 38%. I wonder what that figure is now?”
The Catalonian bullfighting ban was approved, Esteban continued, “as a result of a legislative initiative that brought together 180,000 petition signatures when only 50,000 were required, from citizens who had already managed declare the opposition of city of Barcelona to bullfighting in 2004.
Polls show falling support for bullfighting
“According to an Ipsos Mori poll published in December 2015,” Esteban added, “only 19% of Spaniards support bullfighting and 84% of young people aged 16 to 24 do not feel proud to live in a country where bullfighting exists. Only 7% of young people support it. An Ipsos Mori poll done in March 2013 found that 29% of Spaniards supporting bullfighting then, so support for bullfighting has fallen by ten percentage points in less than three years.
“73% of Spaniards are also against subsidies for bullfighting,” Esteban said. “However, around 600 million euros annually are allocated from public funds to try to keep this business alive,” which accounts for only 0.015 / 1.000 of the Spanish GDP,” according to data produced by the Spanish parliament, “and not 2.1%,” as the Popular Party government has argued.
Few full-time bullfighters
“According to a report from AVATMA,” an association of anti-bullfighting veteriarians, “of the 10,194 officially registered professional bullfighters, only 8.8% participate in as many as one bullfighting event per year,” Esteban continued. “It is clear that the remaining 91.2% already have other ways of making a living.
“Among the 1,339 existing breeders of fighting bulls, only 311 (23%) managed the sale of a bull for events in a bullring [last year]; and out of that 23%, only 8% (155) managed to sell more than 10. Since 77% of bull farms did not sell any bulls to participate in bullfighting, it is quite obvious that they are living on money from citizens who would much rather have it devoted to other things.”
“Bullfights will not come back”
Esteban predicted that “Bullfights will not come back to Catalonia,” regardless of the Constitutional Court ruling, “for three main reasons. First, the ‘Monumental’ bullring of Barcelona,” the only one still standing, “is governed by ordinance of the city of Barcelona. The judgement of the Constitutional Court does not affect it. Barcelona does not allow bullfights or any other spectacle where animals are mistreated, as mayor Ada Colau has affirmed. The other two rings, in Olot and Tarragona, do not meet the [current] requirements [for hosting such events]. They would have to be renovated before any bullfight took place there.”
In addition, Esteban pointed out, Catalonia retains regulatory jurisdiction over bullfighting, as recognized by the Constitutional Court, and “The government of Catalonia has already said it will not abide by the ruling.”
“Ignored the superior interest of the child”
But Esteban expressed concern that “Judge Encarna Roca and the Constitutional Court have ignored the superior interest of the child and the specific recommendations of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child,” which “in its reports on the situation of children in several bullfighting countries, has explicitly urged their governments to protect children and adolescents from the physical and mental violence of bullfighting.”
Added Asociación para la Defensa de los Derechos de los Animales, the Barcelona-based animal rights organization which initiated the 2004 petition to ban bullfighting, “This ruling ignores the value of a democratic and participatory process of citizens that was developed with all transparency.
“The commitment of the spokespeople of the Parliament of Catalonia, the Government of Catalonia, and the Barcelona City Council encourages all of us to find appropriate mechanisms to prevent the reoccurrence of these depressing and anachronistic bloody spectacles of death and suffering to an animal.”
Catalonia, the most affluent region of Spain, with a population of 7.5 million, speaks the Catalan language, not classical Spanish, exercises more self-rule than any other part of Spain, and has long hosted a strong movement for political separation from Spain.
The current Catalonian government has declared intent to hold a referendum in 2017 on whether to secede from Spain––which the Popular Party national government has declared it will not allow.
Other bullfighting bans
Catalonia banned arena bullfighting 19 years after the Canary Islands. After the Catalonia ban took effect, the largely Basque city of San Sebastián banned arena bullfighting in March 2013, and Mallorca banned arena bullfighting in March 2016.
The northwestern cities of Castile and Leon meanwhile allowed arena bullfighting to continue, earlier in 2016, but banned the forms of participant bullfighting that Catalonia still allows, to stop events such as the Toro de la Vega festival, in the city of Tordesilla, at which spear-wielding horsemen chase and eventually kill a bull outside the medieval city gates.
Under federal pressure, however, San Sebastián reinstated bullfighting in August 2015.
Number of bullfights down 61%
Despite the Popular Party effort to rebuild the bullfighting industry, the number of arena bullfights held in Spain fell from 953 in 2007 to 398 in 2014, according to the national Culture Ministry.
Despite the Constitutional Court verdict, “We are seeing the beginning of the end of corridas,” said AVATMA president José Enrique Zaldívar.