By Liz Castro, Barcelona 

SPAIN’S Constitutional Court, at the behest of the country’s right-wing Popular Party (PP), has overturned Catalonia’s ban on bullfighting, saying the nation could regulate but not prohibit the practice.

The court ruling aims to defend the Spanish state’s responsibility and jurisdiction for protecting Spain’s so-called “cultural heritage”, disregarding the Catalan government’s exclusive jurisdiction over public performances and the treatment, or mistreatment, of animals.

One might ask just how you define “cultural heritage” and who is in charge of doing it. In Spain’s case, it was in reaction to, and as a way of overturning the 2010 Catalan bullfighting ban, that a law declaring bullfighting as Spanish heritage was approved by the Spanish Congress in 2015. Even if something legitimately could be considered Spanish heritage, is it really the role of a state to “protect” a transient and dynamic thing like culture? How can a country progress if it is legislatively cemented into the past? It is a contradiction to force something on people that is supposed to define the way they are.

A bullfight

HeraldScotland: Bullfighting.

Bullfighting, this cruel, ritual, public execution in which the bull’s lungs are punctured, and blood gushes from its body, is not a universal part of Spain’s current “cultural heritage”. It was outlawed in the Canary Islands, without complaint from Spanish courts, in 1991. It has steadily lost favour throughout the country with activists seeking to abolish it in Galicia, Asturias, the Balearics, and even Andalusia and Madrid.

Polls show an overwhelming majority of the public is not interested in bullfighting and would like it to disappear. In Catalonia, people have been campaigning to outlaw the practice for more than 100 years. By the time bullfights were abolished there in 2011, there were only 400 season ticket holders, as compared with 19,000 at Madrid’s Las Ventas. The ring haemorrhaged money as well as blood.

As Catalan government minister Josep Rull declared, “No matter what the court says, bullfighting will never return to Catalonia”. In part, that’s because there is no suitable venue. The owner of the last bull ring in Barcelona would have to pay back €300,000 (£257,000) in compensation and give up on a lucrative hotel deal in exchange for a financially ruinous and extremely unpopular return, and then jump through hoops in a city that is bullfighting-free and then banned animal cruelty as a spectacle in 2014. It’s not going to happen. The only other two bullrings in Catalonia have long ago been adapted for concerts and other special events.

If it’s not about jurisdiction or culture, if there’s little interest and there is nowhere to hold a bull fight, why did the PP party and the constitutional court judges overturn a law passed by a majority of the Catalan Parliament thanks to a citizen-led movement that gathered more than 180,000 signatures?

The first answer is contempt for the democratic system. The Spanish government has used the court system to systematically attack and overturn dozens of Catalan laws, including key provisions of the charter that regulates Catalonia’s relationship with Spain. Laws that would prohibit utility companies from turning off the gas in winter, protect the rights of women and ensure that Catalan schoolchildren are not segregated by language have been ruled unconstitutional by constitutional court. Catalonia’s president, Carles Puigdemont, was chided for his initiative in offering to take in 4,500 refugees on grounds that he had spoken out of place by stepping up to a responsibility shared by most Catalan people, many of whom have first and second-hand memories of being refugees themselves.

Some say Catalans used the bullfighting ban as a way of slyly asserting their differences with Spain at a time of escalating tension between the two nations. It’s the other way around. It is an insecure Spanish state that feels compelled to assert its authority and dominance over the Catalan parliament and its people. It is an issue of pride and of control. You will do as I say because I say so: animal rights, pluralism and democracy be damned. But the more a tiny, archaic segment of Spain insists on forcing its outdated agenda on a forward-looking Catalonia, the more it becomes clear that Catalonia’s only hope for the future lies beyond the reach of Spanish politicians.

Liz Castro is a writer, publisher and campaigner for Catalan independence