Homage To Catalonia

Parliament in the Spanish autonomous community of Catalonia has voted to ban bullfighting throughout the region.

The vote was 67-59, with some members casting their anonymous votes by hunching over their desks to hide their fingers from photographers.

Spanish rightists screamed that the ban was akin to outlawing tapas, but 180,000 Catalans—three times the required minimum—had signed petitions to place the measure before parliament. That body will cast a final vote on the ban in May, after hearing from a parade of pontificators, to include prominent bull-killer Luis Francisco Esplá, who wishes to continue slaughtering the animals, and former matador Álvaro Múnera, who wants the killing to end.

Bullfighting was first banned in the Canary Islands in the mid-1990s; it was expected that Catalonia would be the next Spanish region to leave off ritually butchering bulls.

Over the past three decades, bullring after bullring has closed in major Catalan towns such as Gerona, Lloret de Mar and Tarragona, and in Barcelona only one of the original three rings remains. As far back as 1909, Barcelona hosted Spain’s first anti-bullfighting protest, and by 2004 more than 80 per cent of Catalans were opposed to the practice. “Banning the bulls in Catalonia would be like drawing up a death certificate for a long-dead corpse,” said Juan Ilian, a leading Spanish bullfighting correspondent for nearly five decades. “And even if they don’t, it’ll remain on its deathbed.”

Bull-butchers are increasingly forced to confront human beings in the ring, who, like the woman pictured above, arrive bearing signs reading “Abolition.”

As the Barcelona Reporter notes, “[t]he origin of bullfighting has always been uncertain. Some historians say the tradition is rooted in the prohibition by Roman emperor Claudius of gladiator fights, others say the tradition stems from the worshiping and sacrificial practices of Bulls by prehistoric Iberic tribes.”

The Reporter also correctly notes that rightist fulminators who contend that bullfighting is an indisputable part of Spanish life and culture are issuing blats from their nether regions: “The acceptance of the bullfight as a cultural practice has never been undisputed, neither in Spain as a whole or in Cataluña[.]” Eight years after the Reconquista of Spain, Pope Pius V outlawed bullfighting there; Catalans have actively opposed it for more than 100 years.

As Spanish actor Unax Ugalde puts it, “if bullfighting is culture, than cannibalism is gastronomy.”

National laws prohibiting blood sports in Spain specifically exempt bullfighting. Some efforts have been made in recent years to better protect those who are not the bulls: it is now required that the horses involved wear padding—formerly, more horses were killed, generally by disembowelment, during bullfights than bulls themselves—and that fully staffed medical operating rooms be cited near each bull ring.

Still, the thing is clearly on the way out.

Spanish state television in 2007 ceased broadcasting bullfights during prime-time. It did so despite the fact that, as El Mundo put it, such programming was “a proven audience-winner.” Bullfights were shifted to late-night programming, where children would not be expected to watch them; as a result, they were no longer broadcast live. Bull-killers in the National Association of Bullfight Organisers foamed that this constituted “a shameless, unjust attack on culture.”

In a previous era, the fascist dictator Francisco Franco deployed bullfighting broadcasts as a political weapon.

At times of political tension the regime of rightwing dictator General Francisco Franco reputedly programmed bullfights against protests. How many people, the logic apparently went, were going to join a march for freedom if the sex symbol matador Manuel Benítez El Cordobés was on the television?

As late as the 1990s, matadors were as popular in Spain as rock stars in America; women would hurl their underwear at Jesus Janeiro after he had slaughtered a bull.

Today, however, bullfighting is popular mostly among the old. A 2002 Gallup poll indicated that 68.8% of Spaniards had “no interest” in bullfighting, while 20.6% expressed “some interest,” and 10.4% were consumed by “a lot of interest.” While 51% of those 65 and older liked them a bullfight, only 23% of those between 25–34 years of age expressed any interest at all.

Not that bullfighting carny barkers are not endeavoring to lure young people to the slaughter.

Sixteen-year-old Spanish matador Jairo Miguel Sánchez opened this year’s Spanish “bullfighting season” by massacring six bulls in a single afternoon. This kid has sense enough to know that what he does is wrong—”I feel quite bad when the bull has been good, and you see the expression on his face, the innocence. He has given you his bravery, he has collaborated so that you win praise and people stand in ovation”—but he does it anyway.

Mom is not thrilled.

His mother, Celia Alonso, said she chain-smokes in the days leading up to one of her son’s fights, cannot sleep even with tranquilizers and would prefer he do anything but this—”football, computers, whatever.”

However, Dad—a former matador himself, natch—is. He spirited his son off to Latin America to whack at bulls when the boy was 11, as Spain prohibits people under the age of 16 from murdering bulls. The previous year the 10-year-old matador had been fined 3000 euros for killing a bull in Aliseda.

His presence in the bullring also sparked a debate about whether children should be exposed to the cruelty and danger of the sport.

“It was controversial because of the risk involved with someone so young,” his father and manager, Antonio, said. “But let’s face it, just getting in a car is risky and we allow children to do that.”

Groused Carmen Mendez, president of Spain’s Animal Rights Association: “It is simply surreal that people send children to fight bulls. There are 47 bullfighting schools, all with public subsidies, while Spain has some of the worst education results in Europe.”

Arthur C. Clarke, in Childhood’s End, envisioned a quick and final end to bullfighting. In that novel, an alien race stations itself in the skies above earth, there to, among other things, peaceably prevent human beings from using the weapons of their nation-states to transform the planet into a burned-out husk.

“You may kill one another if you wish,” the message had gone, “and that is a matter between you and your own laws. But if you slay, except for food or in self-defense, the beasts that share your world with you—then you may be answerable to me.”

No one knew how comprehensive this ban was supposed to be, or what Karellen would do to enforce it. They had not long to wait.

The Plaza de Toros was full when the matadors and their attendants began their processional entry. Everything seemed normal; the brilliant sunlight blazed harshly on the traditional costumes, the great crowd greeted its favorites as it had a hundred times before. Yet here and there faces were turned anxiously towards the sky, to the aloof silver shape fifty kilometers above Madrid.

Then the picadors had taken up their places and the bull had come snorting out into the arena. The skinny horses, nostrils wide with terror, had wheeled in the sunlight and their riders forced them to meet their enemy. The first lance flashed—made contact—and at that moment came a sound that had never been heard on earth before.

It was the sound of ten thousand people screaming with the pain of the same wound—ten thousand people who, when they had recovered from the shock, found themselves completely unharmed. But that was the end of that bullfight, and indeed of all bullfighting.


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