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A Heritage of Torment

It's difficult to believe this blog has been around for so long a period, but six years ago I wrote a post regarding the decision made by the people of Catalonia in Parliament to ban the practice of bullfighting.  Proponents of the practice evidently reacted by petitioning the courts of Spain for relief, and now something called the Constitutional Court of Spain has determined that the ban is illegal.  From what I read, the basis for its ruling is that bullfighting is a part of Spanish heritage, and therefore can only be banned by Spain's Central Government, not a regional government.

It apparently took the court six years to decide that bullfighting is a part of Spain's common cultural heritage.  Regardless, it seems that under Spanish law, the central government alone has jurisdiction over this heritage, and so the regional government exceeded its authority by implementing the ban.

I can't help but wonder what this common cultural heritage may be and how and why the central government of Spain may alter it, if indeed it can.  "Heritage" by definition involves the history of a nation, and presumably no government of any kind can modify the past.  It could certainly modify how the past is perceived or understood, but banning bullfighting not only does nothing at all that impacts bullfights held before the ban; it likewise doesn't require that bullfighting which has taken place be thought of at all let alone in any particular way.

Presumably, the court hasn't ruled that only Spain's central government has the authority to do what can't be done, however.  It must be inferred that the court has, instead, determined that only the central government may ban something which has happened in the past from taking place now or in the future, provided it is a part of Spain's common cultural heritage.

Spain being no better generally than most other nations, its common cultural heritage may be said to include some less than admirable things, e.g. fascism, civil war, slavery, the Spanish Inquisition (which nobody expects) and, some would even say, genocide in the Americas.  Is it therefore the case that only its central government may prohibit such things?  Probably not.

So, it must be the case that only certain historical practices which took place in the Spanish nation constitute a part of its common cultural heritage, and so are inviolate unless and until its central government decides otherwise.  Bullfighting is one of them, it seems.

I think it's entirely fair to say that bullfighting consists of the highly stylized (even ritualized) process by which a bull is slowly tortured and killed by men on horseback and on foot through the use of sharpened metal weapons.  To some of us, it has special significance due to the fact that those torturing the bull, and particularly one of them, place themselves at some risk of being killed or seriously wounded by the animal being tortured.  The experience of observing the spectacle is said to be enhanced if the torture is engaged in a particular way, e.g. by controlling the animal's movements by the use of some cloth in a certain fashion, or striking the animal in a particular pose.

Assuming this is part of Spain's common cultural heritage (and setting aside the fact that if it is, it's not something some of us would take pride in), there remains the question why a particular part of Spain may not decide to prohibit bullfighting.  This question seem especially appropriate given the fact the court decided that Catalonia may "regulate the development of bullfighting" and "establish requirements for the special care and attention of fighting bulls."

What exactly are the powers to regulate the development of bullfighting and establish requirements for the special care and attention of fighting bulls?  If they're extensive enough, Catalonia can likely ban bullfighting for all practical purposes.  It could, for example, adopt a law that bulls may be fought, but only without the use of weapons of any kind.  Matadors may punch the bull, or attempt to wrestle it, but can't stick it with a sword.  Perhaps picadors would have to ride their horses sitting on them backwards, or could not ride horses, but instead could only ride other men.  Possibly, a very large tax on bullfighting may be imposed (not as satisfying an option, but far less silly).

Catalonia may explore these option and others, I would think.  Also, if the animus against this practice is particularly strong in any case, they could simply ignore it, and the practice die out for lack of interest and money.

The problem, of course, is that in the interim animals will continue to be tormented and killed as part of a grisly display for the delight of those humans who find such things enjoyable, and those who adopted the ban or supported it will be outraged.  It may be possible to continue to impose the ban regardless of the court's ruling, and force those who want to kill bulls or see them killed to have recourse to whatever remedies the law provides.  And this may be effective itself.

It may be the court's ruling is motivated at least in part by the perception the ban is an effort at Catalan independence.  It may be, in other words, that the court's ruling is purely political, and that it's felt the ban must be found legally invalid in order to avoid seeming to admit such independence.  If that's the case, there may little effort to enforce the ruling for fear of provoking a reaction.

Regardless, though, I wonder whether the Spanish people are well served by a court ruling that bullfighting is part of their common cultural heritage.  A heritage of gaudy, gruesome torment of animals wouldn't seem something to be proud of.

This post first appeared on I, Ciceronianus; Causidus, please read the originial post: here

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A Heritage of Torment


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