So, Catalonia have banned bullfighting! This, by anyone’s standards, is something of a shock. All of a sudden,one of the most emblematic parts of Spanish culture has dissappeared from one the greatest regions of Spain.
In a way, Catalonia’s bull fighting ban appears more profound than the ban on fox hunting was in the UK. After all, fox hunting was never really a part of the UK’s national culture. We did not have fox’s on our flags nor did we ever revel in being ‘foxy’. The closest ‘animal’, nationally, to which we emphathised was the British bulldog.
By contrast, bulls (normally huge and black) feature constantly on Spanish flags and emblems. As a national animal, they go deep into Spanish culture and vitally represent courage, nobility and strength – perhaps in a way that bulldog’s for the British never quite could.
Of course, bull fighting in Spain is a highly stylised sport (to the Spanish almost an ‘artform’) that is all about pitting a man against a ferocious beast in close combat. Certainly, the fighting bulls used in bull fighting are a far cry from the gentle Fresians you may see in the lovely green fields of England. Fighting bulls are huge, over four years old and weigh well over 1,000 lbs. Furthermore, they are bred specifically (and only) to fight and, regardless of animal cruelty issues, it is a brave man who stands in a ring with an enraged fighting bull.
The trouble is that Catalonia’s banning of bull fighting may not be quite all it seems. On the face of it, you could draw the conclusion that Catalonia has a far more powerful anti-animal cruelty lobby than elsewhere in Spain. There may be some truth to this – but ask most non-Catalan Spaniards and they will tell you that Catalonia’s action is politically driven. By this, they mean that by banning bull fighting Catalonia is, once again, demonstrating that it is not really a part of Spain.
This may seem an odd comment but Catalonia has a very strong regional identity and many Catalans feel that Catalonia should be a state independent of Spain as a whole. This is one of the reasons why, for example, the Catalan language (which is a language not a dialect) is so important to them.
So, for non-Catalan Spaniards the suspicion is that the bull fighting ban in Catalonia is all about an attempt by the Catalans to separate themselves from the rest of Spain – even if the bull fighting ban is more of an attempt at cultural ‘separation’ than an economic or administrative break away.
To many Spaniards Catalonia’s desire for separation is galling and viewed as an irritation. However, it has some importance given the similar aims of the Basque country – albeit that extremist Basques have been waging a violent ‘war’ to this end for the past fifty years.
Of course, to many people (both here and abroad) the ban on bull fighting in Catalonia will be welcomed – irrespective of any ‘political’ overtones. Many people view the sport as cruel and the popularity of bull fighting in Spain has been waning for years now.
Certainly, although I often see bull fights televised in bars I can think of no Spanish friend of mine who is a devotee of the sport. I grant you that, as ‘straw polls’ go, this is pretty poor but perhaps it reflects the probability that bull fighting is more popular with the elderly than it is for younger generations.
My own suspicion is that, over time, bull fighting in Spain will die out. It may be emblematic of Spanish culture but, like bear baiting in England, it has probably had its day. On a personal note, I will not be sorry. There is something about the lack of any chance for the bull to survive, once it enters the ring, that I consider deeply unfair.
Mind you, I find distasteful any blood ‘sport’ that, undeniably, causes distress and pain to animals (however ferocious). Surely, w e should be able to enjoy ourselves in the 21st Century – without such savagery.