Saturday, February 15, 2014

Defenders Of Culture

It went very much under the radar, but last week the Spanish Government managed to slip in a small adjustment to the application of IVA. Having previously decided to reduce the maximum 21% rate for the sale of works of art to the 10% rate, commonly known as the tourist rate because it is the one which applies to certain tourist-related businesses, it said that it would be looking to possibly also reduce the 21% rate for other "cultural" activities. And last week it did just that. Final approval for these adjustments will wait until March, but there seems little doubt that the two activities so far identified as warranting the reduction will indeed benefit from it. And what is the second activity, the one that was quietly introduced last week? It is bullfighting.

When IVA was increased in September 2012, a number of activities which had until then enjoyed the reduced rate (8% before the increase to 10%) suddenly found themselves bracketed at the maximum rate. These included attractions, clubs, golf courses and many other activities which would probably not be defined as "cultural". The government, in reducing the rate for works of art, appeared to want to portray itself as defenders of culture, conveniently ignoring the fact that it, together with the banks, is the main collector of works of art in Spain. Nevertheless, and any possible vested interests aside, giving the art world some encouragement was not unwelcome. The same, however, cannot be said for the encouragement of the bullfighting industry.

Apart from its history, bullfighting qualifies as being of cultural importance (where the government is concerned) because last October Congress approved an initiative to have the bullfight declared as an example of "intangible cultural heritage of humanity" by UNESCO (this is the same award that was made to the Mallorcan Sibil·la chant). This initiative had been placed before Congress through a piece of "popular" legislation, which is the process whereby, if a required number of signatures are gathered for a petition, governments are obliged to consider legislative change or introduction. It is a process which can only be used for certain things, such as cultural activities, and the presentation of this petition to the national parliament (which required 600,000 signatures) was the same as the process in Catalonia which resulted in bullfighting being banned there (the required number of signatures was lower). Among those whose signatures appeared on the petition was Mariano Rajoy.

It shouldn't really need explaining that there was a huge chunk of politics behind the petition presented to parliament, just as it shouldn't really need explaining that the Spanish Government, i.e. the Partido Popular, has portrayed itself as the defender of the bullfight. As with art, so with the bullfight. Defenders of culture.

The announcement about the IVA reduction was overlooked because there was far more important parliamentary work last week. PSOE had attempted to overturn the introduction of the reformed abortion law. In a secret ballot in Congress, PSOE failed to do so. The new law will stand.

Reaction to confirmation of the reformed law in the Balearics led to some 80 gynecologists signing a letter calling for the law to be withdrawn; the 80 represent a majority of approximately 70%. Opposition to the reformed law has been widespread; even the Balearics health minister (Partido Popular) isn't fully in favour of it. And this opposition has centred on the lack of medical sense contained in the law. It has been condemned for having been politically motivated and politically motivated alone; a means of the Partido Popular nationally aligning itself with conservatives in the Catholic Church. It has also been condemned for being out of step with public opinion, and a Gadeso survey in the Balearics last week revealed that 71% of people were in favour of what had been a more permissive law before the government went ahead and made it that much more restrictive.

There is something rather perverse about a government which seems determined to return to the past and to ignore general public sentiment. Both bullfighting and abortion are symptomatic of that past. Franco liked nothing more than watching a bull get its ears cut off. He was of course also dead against abortion.

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