The Spanish Constitutional Court in Madrid has overturned Catalonia’s ban on bullfighting. The vote was an 8-3 decision. The justices argued that the autonomous community cannot outlaw the practice because it was “enshrined in the cultural patrimony of the Spanish state”. Unsurprisingly the decision was met with anger from animal rights activists and Catalan secessionists, both of whom have vowed to fight this decision by appealing to the European court system. If this issue remains unresolved it is likely that bullfighting could be weaponised to promote the secessionist cause.
Bullfighting has a long and controversial history in Catalonia. Historical primary sources show that the first bullfight to occur in Catalonia took place in the late 14th Century. The sport remained popular in the province until the early 20th Century when attendance numbers sharply declined. In late 20th/early 21st century the anti-bullfighting movement began to organise and argue against the practice. Animal rights activists have always disapproved of the practice but this opinion became a mainstay of political debate in the 2000s. After a period of sustained pressure the Catalan voted to outlaw bullfighting in 2010, with the ban coming into effect on January 1st 2012.
The realpolitik of this decision is also worth noting. Many people, in view accurately, believe that this issue was adopted by secessionists in order to create a wider cultural gap between Catalonia and Spain. The evidence for this is that the traditional practice of correbous remains legal despite the fact that it entails attaching flares to the horns of bulls, which many animal rights activists deem as cruel. Another important point to make is that Catalonia is not the only region of Spain that has outlawed bullfighting; the Canary Islands banned the practice in 1991. The secessionists will likely argue that there is a double standard here, and I will address this point later.
There are many kinds of nationalism, both in terms of their natures and their ideological slant, however the crux of all kinds of nationalism are that the territory in question is somehow distinct from the larger community that they are currently members of. The solution to this problem is secession and the creation of an independent nations-state. In the case of Catalonia bullfighting is being used as a way of illustrating difference. For example, in Barcelona there were very few spectators at bullfights in 2011 before the ban came into force, but in Madrid the practice is still widely popular. This cultural difference will be a way secessionists mobilize their supporters, and for many years there have been many other examples such as the promotion of the Catalan language in schools to foster a feeling of nationhood among Catalans.
I have stated my support for an independent Catalonia on many occasions, because I believe that all efforts to decentralise wealth and power should be supported. Further, I support a ban on bullfighting and the right of Catalonia to ban the practice if they so wish. So I oppose the Constitutional Court’s decision? No. The legal structure of Spain allows for regional governments to regulate culture in the way that it sees fit, however the Spanish government in Madrid has the power to deem some practices culturally significant thus making preventing their prohibition. By all legal standards the Constitutional Court’s decision was perfectly legitimate, and it appears that bans in other parts of Spain, namely in Valencia, San Sebastián, and Mallorca, may have their bans overturned as well.
The solution to this is to promote legislation in the Catalan Parliament that severely regulates the practice so that actually putting on a bullfight is impossible. You can impose ridiculous regulations on bullfighting to regulate it out of existence because the burden of these regulations would force participants to jump through so many hoops that no new bullfights would take place. You could make them as serious or ludicrous as you like.
For example, you could say that only people born in Catalonia can watch bullfighting in Catalonia, and to prove this all spectators have to provide a physical copy of their birth certificate before they can buy tickets. This would prevent pro-bullfighting activists from other parts of Spain travelling to Barcelona to see the practice re-instituted and would also deter spectators from showing up. Another example could be that all bullfighting can only take place in specially built bullrings that have certain size dimensions for the animals and that were built after 2011. This would be a very good regulation because it would specify ridiculous spatial measurements that no bullrings could abide by, and the post-2011 construction date would mean that any potential bullfights would have to take place in custom built arenas. No investor or bank would give a businessperson a loan to construct a single-purpose bullring as the demand for such a building wouldn’t exist.
These example of stupid regulations are only a short-term measure. In order for the Catalan Parliament in Barcelona to be sovereign the region must secede from Spain. As funny as suggesting hilarious regulations to stop bullfighting is, the real point is that within the current legal and political system of Spain the people of Catalonia are being ignored. The Constitutional Court’s decision is legally correct so rather than moan that the court is acting in a way that overrides the will of the democratically elected representatives of Catalonia, people should be on the streets agitating for independence. In an independent Catalonia the people’s representatives will be able to legislate against this barbaric practice and Madrid would not have the ability to prevent it.
My take away from this is simple: as much as I oppose bullfighting, the Catalan Parliament doesn’t have the legal authority to outright ban the practice as Madrid has designated the custom culturally significant. Do I wish this were the case? Of course not, but an honest appraisal of the legal arguments shows that the ban should have never been allowed to stand. In order to once again see bullfighting banned in Catalonia, the law has to be changed in Madrid or Catalonia has to secede. Given that the political climate in Madrid is not exactly in favour of giving regions more autonomy, I believe that secession is the way forward. Animal rights activists should now seek to help Catalonia become independent so this archaic practice can be consigned to the history books for good.