Josep-Anton Fernàndez: Like Britain's hunting ban, this is a battle of cultures in society

The pro-Catalan side demands rights, the pro-Spanish side appeals to symbols like the bullfight and football

Share
Related Topics

It's no surprise that the ban on bullfighting in Catalonia has provoked such media interest: the bullfight has an intense symbolic significance that is often tangled up in a clichéd, traditional image of Spanish identity.

In fact, though, the so-called "bullfight ban" did not initially have such connotations. The ban itself is nothing more than an amendment of a previous Catalan animal protection law that made a convoluted exception for bullfighting, an exception that was motivated solely by Spanish nationalist political pressure.

Likewise, the initial move to get bullfighting banned in Catalonia had nothing to do with nationalism. It was first triggered by a public petition, signed by 180,000 people in the region, and a further 140,000 worldwide.

Bullfighting is hardly a popular pastime in Catalonia. Whereas Las Ventas, the main bullring in Madrid, has 19,000 season-ticket holders, its Barcelona counterpart has no more than 400. This is the only such venue in Catalonia, and it attracts mostly tourists.

Given this, it's difficult to claim that removing the one exception to the ban on public killing of animals constitutes an aggression to cultural identity. Indeed, during the parliamentary debate, only the socialists and the Spanish conservatives of the Partido Popular (the fourth party in number of seats in Catalonia) claimed it was an anti-Spanish move, whereas all other parties argued it was an animal rights issue. But a few months ago, despite those origins, the matter did indeed acquire nationalist significance. And yesterday's vote coincides with a period of great dissatisfaction among a growing majority of Catalans with the treatment they receive from Spain. This culminated in early July with a ruling of the Spanish Constitutional Court that severely cut down the devolved powers of the Catalan Parliament, as voted for in a referendum by the people of Catalonia.

A majority of Catalans feel that this ruling confirms their status as second-class citizens within Spain (notably in economic and linguistic terms), and consequently support for independence has soared. But whereas the pro-Catalan camp makes an economic argument and demands equal rights, the pro-Spanish side appeals to symbols and emotions: the bullfight, football, and so on.

In a way, then, the bullfight ban has as much political significance as the hunting ban in the UK, in which different ways of understanding British society and culture were at stake. It is true that the bull is widely regarded as a Spanish symbol; but it is also an icon present in most Mediterranean cultures. Traditional festivals involving bulls exist in Catalan culture too – and they will not be banned as long as the animals are not killed.

This is, fundamentally, an animal rights issue. But if we insist on seeking a political dimension to it, we could say that the problem is not the bull, but the bullfighter. He is the one who turns the animal into a symbol of macho power and political domination in order to maintain privileges and deny equal rights to others.

Josep-Anton Fernàndez is Professor of Catalan Studies at the Open University of Catalonia. He is writing a book on contemporary Catalan cultural politics

React Now

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

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

Maths Teacher

£22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

Day In a Page

Read Next
In this handout provided by NASA from the the Earth-orbiting International Space Station, weather system Arthur travels up the east coast of the United States in the Atlantic Ocean near Florida in space. The robotic arm of the Space Station Remote Manipulator System or Canadarm2 is seen at upper right. According to reports, Arthur has begun moving steadily northward at around 5 kt. and the tropical storm is expected to strike the North Carolina Outer Banks  

Thanks to government investment, commercial space travel is becoming a reality

Richard Branson
With a record turnout forecast, Thursday's poll will be unlike any election Scotland, or anywhere else in the UK, has experienced  

Scottish independence: There's been as much hatred as hope. But this is democracy at its best

Andreas Whittam Smith
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week