Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Bullfighting Apologies And Apologists

One of the grandest fairs of a Spanish spring is that of San Isidro in Madrid. It is a fair which attracts visitors from across Spain and from overseas. As part of the promotion for this year's fair, the travel agency Nautalia Viajes had offered a package which included hotel accommodation and entrance to one of the main events of this grand fair: the bullfight in the Las Ventas bullring. The agency had offered this package; it now no longer does. Nautalia in fact withdrew this promotion almost two weeks ago. The withdrawal followed an avalanche of criticism from opponents of the bullfight.

Nautalia's explanation for dropping the promotion was posted onto its Facebook page. Its wording was such that it left no one in any doubt that it, Nautalia, recognised that a mistake had been made. "After listening to your petitions (and the informal 'vuestras' was used for 'your') and as a business which values opinions of its community, we have decided to cease selling the package." The explanation went on: "We are conscious of the argument with regard to bullfighting, so for this reason we apologise to people who may have been offended by the sale of this package ... At no time has Nautalia defended the mistreatment of animals." 

This was a strong statement of regret. It may have been for PR purposes, but it was PR that was necessary in the face of the onslaught of criticism and of the power of social media. The agency doubtless calculated that it stood to lose more custom by continuing to offer the package than by withdrawing it. Its Twitter account revealed that some supporters of the bullfight said that they would stop being clients. 

Spain.info is the website for the national tourism agency Turespaña. Under a heading, "Bullfights: the magic of Spain's 'national fiesta' ", the website talks about the "excitement" of this fiesta and says that "to discover Spain is to discover bullfighting culture". It refers to the San Isidro event as indeed it does to others. It makes one crucial mistake, though. It includes reference to the bullfight in Barcelona. There no longer is a bullfight in Barcelona. Catalonia has banned bullfighting.

The effusive description that Spain.info offers is probably to be expected. Even if there are those at Turespaña who are wary of being involved with the argument in the way that Nautalia has been, the agency could hardly not mention bullfighting or be critical of it. One could argue, however, that it goes over the top in seeking to convey the "excitement".

But Turespaña is of course a government agency, and the national government of the Partido Popular has made clear its commitment to and support of bullfighting. And there are others from the PP who are clear in this support. The party's president in Madrid, Esperanza Aguirre, is one of them.

On Sunday at Seville's April fair (where there is a bullfight), Sra. Aguirre issued her own strong statement as part of the oration for the bullfight, one that was very different to that which Nautalia had felt compelled to make. She spoke of how bullfighting was part of her family's tradition and had been since her great-grandfather's days. She placed her love of bulls alongside her Christianity and her love of country. She accused critics of bullfighting of being anti-Spanish and said that their arguments were of a much lower intellectual level than had been inherent to criticisms expressed a century ago. In other words, one has to conclude that opponents, in addition to being anti-Spanish, are little more than an unintelligent rabble.

Invoking being anti-Spanish and so also its opposite, being pro-Spanish, can be seen within the context of the Catalonian argument. The bullfighting ban, where many within the PP are concerned, was purely political. But this ignores the fact that the ban was the result of popular legislation through petition. Not all the thousands upon thousands who signed the petition could surely have been motivated solely by Catalonian nationalist sentiments and a desire to attack a potent symbol of Spanishness, i.e. the bullfight.

Spanish nationalism is quite clearly threatened by Catalonia's quest for independence, and this is a threat felt by those on both the right and the left politically (PSOE isn't in favour). But there is a crucial difference when it comes to the nationalist narrative. Elements within the PP are in tune with Sra. Aguirre's back-to-the-future model of nationalism. The Spanish people may still be Christian but they aren't necessarily staunch Catholics, as has been demonstrated, for example, by opposition to abortion reform. And nor are they necessarily defenders of the bullfight. None of this opposition makes them anti-Spanish.

If Sra. Aguirre and the PP were a travel agency, they might feel obliged to issue a retraction.

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