Jason Webster: Bullfighting ban is more about Catalonia than cruelty

Few things ruffle an ordinary Spaniard's feathers more than the seeming airs adopted by some Catalans

Share

Things are rarely black or white in Spain. That's not to say this is a country that revels in shades of grey. Simply that, after a while, you understand that life here is frequently both black and white at the same time.

Yesterday saw the last ever bullfight in Catalonia. This year's season has come to an end, Barcelona's Monumental bullring has closed its doors, and the regional ban on Los Toros comes into effect on 1 January. So no more bullfighting, then? That's right. And wrong.

For one thing the Catalan prohibition is being contested in Spain's Constitutional Court, which could, in theory, overturn it. That will take years and may not be successful, but meanwhile bull-running in towns and villages, which isn't covered in the ban, is still a highly popular Catalan pastime, particularly in the province of Tarragona, and is now a legally "protected" tradition. Nobody's killing them, but violence against bulls, including the placing of flaming torches on the animals' horns, is far from over in the region.

But it's a victory nonetheless, the animal rights activists say, however limited. Well, again, yes and no. Not very long ago the future of bullfighting looked anything but healthy: spectator numbers were down; more and more Spaniards were expressing a lack of interest in the spectacle; the bullfights themselves lacked sparkle. People were beginning to wonder if the national fiesta, what Lorca described as "the poetic and vital richness" of his country, might simply die out.

That has now changed, and bullfighting looks set to last for many years yet. One reason is the galvanising effect of a bullfighter named José Tomás, who has made the corrida once again the truly life-and-death struggle it is meant to be (ignore those who talk of the odds being stacked against the bull; that's an extremely powerful killing machine weighing over half a tonne). It was no coincidence that Tomás was one of the three matadors to perform at the Monumental on its last day as a bullring. Barcelona was his favourite venue and no torero campaigned harder against its closure.

The other reason is the Catalan ban itself. Few things ruffle an ordinary Spaniard's feathers more than the seeming airs adopted by some Catalans, with their hint of greater wealth, sophistication and proximity to the rest of Europe. And then Catalonia will insist on inching towards greater independence, threatening to break up the, admittedly troubled, Spanish family. The fact is that the ban may have been argued on moral grounds, but no one here, including the Catalans, is in any doubt that the main impulse was to distance Catalonia further from the rest of Spain – or at least to appear to do so.

At one time some tried to claim bullfighting had never been a Catalan thing at all, until it was pointed out that the first recorded instance of a bullfight in Barcelona dates back to 1387. "Imagine what would have happened if bullfighting had been renamed the 'Catalan Bull Fiesta'," one commentator said recently, his point being that no ban would have been contemplated if, in the creation of a Catalan national identity, bullfighting had been included.

No matter. After a petition, the bill was brought to the regional parliament and passed. And the immediate reaction? The regions of Madrid and Valencia began moves to give bullfighting cultural heritage status, to protect it against any possible future bans. Meanwhile a pro-bullfighting pressure group has started its own petition for parliament to pass a similar measure across the whole of Spain. Ironically, bullfighting hasn't looked in such good shape for years.

So what's really going on? Has anything changed at all? Who's to say? As the Spanish proverb says: "The wisest of wise men knows that he knows not; only the fool thinks he knows."

Jason Webster's crime novel set in the world of bullfighting, Or the Bull Kills You, is published by Chatto & Windus

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Communications Executive

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Ashdown Group: SQL DBA (SSIS, ETL) - London, £60k

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: SQL DBA (SSIS, ETL) - Central London, £60,000...

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Assistant

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...

Recruitment Genius: Service Agent / QA Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join an est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Benedict Cumberbatch race row: Calling black people 'coloured' removes part of their humanity

Yemisi Adegoke
 

Dippy the Diplodocus: The great exotic beast was the stuff of a childhood fantasy story

Charlie Cooper
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness