Back in July 2010, animal rights activists in Catalonia were celebrating a significantly symbolic legal victory. Bullfighting had just been outlawed by the Catalan parliament, following the submission of a 180,000-signature petition. A year later, 20,000 spectators crammed into Barcelona’s La Monumental – the one remaining Catalan bullring – as it hosted its last ever fight before being closed and converted into a bullfighting museum. It was a bold declaration of autonomy and self-governance for the aspiring independent state (it became the second Spanish autonomous community to ban the practice, after the Canary Islands in 1991). Meanwhile, much of the rest of Spain, where bullfighting remains popular, mourned Catalonia’s ‘ignorant and culturally insensitive rejection’ of a ‘proud Spanish tradition’.
“Bullfighting is rejected because it is associated with an old-fashioned vision of Spain”
However, the tables were turned last month when Spain’s Constitutional Court declared the Catalan ban to be in violation of a national law protecting bullfighting as an essential part of Spain’s cultural heritage, thereby deeming the ban illegal. The response in Catalonia has been one of defiance, with hundreds of protestors marching in the streets of Barcelona, and condemnation by local Catalan politicians. ‘There’ll be no bullfights in Catalonia, regardless of what the Constitutional Court says,’ responded Josep Rulls, Catalan Land Minister.
‘Bullfighting is rejected because it is associated with an old-fashioned vision of Spain,’ explains Dr Andrew Dowling, Senior Lecturer in Catalan and Spanish History at Cardiff University. He points out that correbous (bull runs) still take place in Catalonia with, as he terms it, equally ‘insensitive treatment of animals. There is an ever greater psychological and cultural process of distancing underway [in Catalonia] from that which is seen as “Spanish”. Secondary are the ethical and moral arguments about bullfighting.’
This was published in the December 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.