Homage to Catalonia

31st July 2010

In 1938, George Orwell wrote his Homage to Catalonia, a poignant account of his experience of the Spanish Civil War and the heroic resistance of the Catalans to the fascist forces. Since then Catalonia (the north eastern region of Spain) has always had something of a romantic aura as one of the last bastions of civilization. It has now reinforced that reputation with a stunning decision to reverse centuries of bull-fighting.

On Wednesday, 28th July, the 68 members of the 135 strong Catalan parliament (a clear majority) voted to ban bull-fights, beginning in 2012. The vote was 68 to 55 with 9 abstentions. The significance of this decision cannot be underestimated. Bull-fighting has been called the national past-time, glorified by Hemingway, and even mentioned by Picasso who claimed it would be part of a “perfect day” for him.

Spain has strong anti-cruelty laws, but up until now the so-called “fighting bulls” were excluded. Having visited a bull farm on one of my many visits to Spain, I can testify that Spanish bulls are perfectly placid, not aggressive, and smaller than the regular American bulls. Most of the photographs of the bull and the matador in the bull ring are shot from very near the ground so that the bull looks taller in comparison with what can only be called his tormentor.

Anyone who has ever seen a bull fight knows that the bull-fighter is dressed in a very fancy costume, the music is pleasing to many, but none of this hides the fact that what one is watching is the bloody torture of an animal being repeatedly stabbed, his neck muscles cut, almost drowning in his own blood before he is finally stabbed—sometimes repeatedly—to death by a small dagger-like instrument.

In the1970s, there was no obvious opposition to bull fighting in Spain, but in 1979 Ferrater Mora, after whom the Centre is named, wrote in a dedication to one of his important philosophical works De la materia a la razón [From Matter to Reason] that he viewed animals as our “companions in suffering”. He also wrote several essays against bull-fighting as well as the cruel “fiestas” in Spanish villages. Ferrater Mora, himself a Catalan, has the accolade of being one of the first, if not the first, Spanish intellectual to publicly oppose bullfighting.

Before this momentous vote, several villages or cities in Spain had declared themselves bull-fight free zones. One of the first was Tossa de Mar in 1989. The Canary Islands, which belong to Spain, prohibited bull-fights in 1991. In the last few years, other cities and towns in Spain have also opposed bull-fights, as have a few in Southern France and in Ecuador, Columbia, and Venezuela in South America.

The seeds have been planted: the struggle against bull-fighting is taking place around the world. Catalonia is the first region in Spain to legally ban bull-fights and, in doing so, has delivered a decisive blow in the war on cruelty.

Priscilla N. Cohn