The only reason why two bullfights were held in Majorca last year - one in Inca, the other in Palma - was the rejection of Balearic legislation that had been designed to make bullfighting untenable. This legislation stopped short of prohibiting bullfighting because the government knew that a ban would be overturned by the Constitutional Court. It was aware of this because the court had decreed that the ban in Catalonia was - to use the expression normally trotted out - “an invasion of state powers”.
The court, in applying its ruling with regard to Catalonia, had nevertheless indicated that regional governments could legitimately adopt certain measures deemed to be within their powers. Based on this, the Balearic parliament approved legislation that it believed contained such legitimate measures. Parliament was proved to be wrong.
The Spanish government, irrespective of whether it agreed with the Balearics or not, was obliged to refer the legislation to the Constitutional Court. This is standard and indeed mandated practice. Within the decentralised system of government in Spain, the state retains supremacy if there are apparent conflicts between national and regional legislation. The need for referral to the court is often worked round by coming up with agreements to amend regional legislation. This didn’t happen in respect of the Balearic legislation, the so-called “ley de toros” (bulls’ law).
Of paramount importance in the court’s deliberations was the fact that the Partido Popular government had decreed that the bullfight should be protected in the national and cultural interest. Such a decree means that the state assumes the obligation to maintain the subject of the decree - in this case bullfighting - in all its aspects.
One of the key reasons for the court ruling against the Balearics was that the regional law would have prohibited the killing of the bull. There were other reasons, but this one was fundamental, as it went to the heart of the protected status given to bullfighting. The attempt to make bullfighting untenable in the Balearics thus failed.
I mention all this because the impression I have, and I don’t imagine I’m alone, is that there is now an overwhelming majority view in the Balearics which rejects bullfighting. The state, it might be said, therefore acted against the wishes of the people of the Balearics. But there is a further reason for going over what happened with the Balearic legislation, and that is what it originally was meant to have included. And those inclusions spoke to a different perspective when it comes to the use of animals for “traditional” events and fiestas.
The ley de toros was inappropriately dubbed because it was a fairly broad piece of legislation to do with animal welfare. Contained in its original draft were items which, in effect, would have definitively ended the involvement of animals in any of these events. That the draft was altered owed everything to opposition based on tradition, a key example that was cited having been the horses for the Sant Joan fiestas in Minorca.
There is of course a world of difference between the barbarism of bullfighting and numerous fiesta events, but there was nevertheless a similar and basic principle of animal welfare contained in that original draft. The legislation eventually accepted the strength of opinion in favour of traditions, for unlike bullfighting, there isn’t the same degree of rejection of the use of animals.
The legislation, had it gone ahead in its original form, would have eliminated the interpretations that are allowed under the 1992 animal protection act in the Balearics. These interpretations keep resurfacing. They have done so once more for tomorrow night’s pine climb in Pollensa. The mayor, Tomeu Cifre, has hinted that a real cock may be restored as the prize to be claimed at top of the pine. That he has suggested that there might be is a reflection of the law’s interpretation.
Bizarrely, or so it can seem, the 1992 law established that if one hundred years of unbroken tradition using an animal could be proven, then this use could continue. As such, it was therefore nothing to do with animal welfare; it was purely tradition. However, the law also made clear that animals couldn’t be used in an unnatural manner. When the previous administration at Pollensa town hall decided that real cocks could no longer be used, it was this which was given as the reason. The decision was therefore based on animal welfare rather than an arbitrary timeframe (one hundred years) for defining what is tradition and what isn’t.
There will be many who agree with the current mayor in Pollensa, just as there are many who would like to restore real ducks for the summer fiestas swim in Can Picafort. But ultimately, what is more important - tradition or animal welfare? The Constitutional Court gave its ruling, and the legislation that it ruled on had already been diluted because of tradition.