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The great 'Burrada'


Patron saint festivals occur across Spanish territory throughout the year, but are generally more frequent in the summer, with many celebrations treating the animals “as they are, like animals”.

This "non-reasoning", an affirmation pronounced with the surety of a necessary truth, is that –if you ask the locals or local authorities, why animals are submitted to acts which, at the minimum, induce stress in the animals-, you receive as a response: they are treated as they are, like animals. With this apparent logic, loaded with ignorant and insensitivity, some acts are celebrated in our country that even announce the absurdity in their names. I refer specifically to "La gran burrada" [1] in a town in Huesca, consisting in letting loose several donkeys in a closed area, so that the locals can ride them and not exactly one local per donkey. Apparently, the imaginative festival has come to substitute, in the recent years of the crisis, the release of heifers, as these are very expensive, as these festivals with cows, which also do not appeal to popular taste, are indeed more precisely and thoroughly regulated in terms of animal transport, the presence of veterinary workers and the time that the animals can stay on the maddening town streets.

About this particular celebration, which has inspired ever more insistent protests from animalist collectives, local sources shrug their shoulders or respond stubbornly that donkeys are pack animals and they are accustomed to bearing weight, as such, riding them bareback, three or four at the same time, can still be considered civilized. Across the PA system, trying to slip on the blindfold before the wound can be seen, it is announced that the animals do not suffer harm. It’s clear that only the joy produced from riding the donkeys, in letting them loose and ending up on the ground, if the poor animal manages to get rid of the load, is the center of fun where everyone is entertained except the animal. A donkey is not born to carry weight, not to serve as entertainment for people in their free time, even if it is just one day per year. It reveals a serious lack of knowledge about the donkey’s nature in using them for the "burrada". It should be seen if a copy of "Platero and I" –by the Nobel Prize winning Juan Ramón Jiménez- exists in the Municipal Library, and how many times it’s been checked out in recent years.

Moreover, in Aragón, as in the rest of the Autonomous Communities, the law of animal protection [2] is valid, which contains the ban on spectacles with cruel treatment, inappropriate or anti-natural treatment of animals in order to protect the welfare of the animals. What’s more, the article expressly says that, bullfights excluded, practices or spectacles which can be used as an excuse to harm animals will not be allowed. It is clear that the lack of clarity in the drafting opens a lax interpretation of the text, through which it can be argued that, in the spectacle in question, harm toward the animal is not directly sought nor is it about giving the animal an anti-natural treatment. What is “natural” in this case of the donkeys would be (which seems to assuage the conscience of the organizers and cover them legally), to transport weight and bear the brunt of people’s jerking movements and loud noises within an area where they cannot leave. This is seen as the “natural” fate of their species.

The EU is promoting a great legislative debate to improve equine protection, which includes donkeys and mules, as well as horses. There are many deficiencies in the current legislation in the Member States which must be corrected, it is necessary to arrive at a broad consensus about how they deserve to be protected better, in accordance with the knowledge that science has acquired about their nature and needs which, at a minimum, includes them within the category of “sentient beings”, in the tone of art. 13 of the TFEU [3]. This opens a horizon so that, in many countries, including ours, donkeys can stop being the object of scorn, over-use and abuse [4]. This does not depend only on the law, for certain, it also depends greatly on social awareness, but I am convinced that society increasingly rejects animal abuse in spectacles and this rejection is a strong force, apparently quiet, which is opening a pathway and there is no way back.

One of my favorite books from childhood is "Memoires d'un âne" (=Memories of a Donkey), written by the Countess of Ségur [5]. It is a small gem of literature, which is now difficult to find, even searching through the antique bookstores which surround the Sorbonne. It describes the story of a donkey named Cadichon which suffers a thousand misfortunes, hunger, abuse and abandonment until the children from a farm save it, to make it draw a small buggy. This is the turning point in the animal’s life and the beginning of a process of increasing awareness, not only for the children whose knowledge of the animal makes them refuse to fasten the animal to the buggy, but also the residents of the village that had been indifferent to the misfortunes which the animal had previously been subjected to in sight of the whole village.

This is clearly an example of literature with moral depth from the 19th century, which reflects the customs and a vision from a part of French society, which in the 18th century had already mobilized great authors such as Voltaire in defense of animals. It also shows that the consideration and respect for animals is not only a question of laws, but also attitudes and social customs, which in French society has always shown a distinct sign in favor of animals. I wonder if in the 21st century, here in Spain, we still have to be entertained at the cost of the animals.

Teresa Giménez-Candela
Full Professor in Roman Law
Director of the Master in Animal Law and Society
Director of the SGR Research Group ADS
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
Follow me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/editora.da

[1] Translator’s note: The term burrada in Spanish means both “herd of donkeys” as well as “nonsense”. Hence the name of the spectacle itself highlights the absurdity of the act.
[2] Law 11/2003 of 19 March, on Animal Protection of the Autonomous Community of Aragón, which has in section VIII: "The Law establishes both the necessary limitations and prohibitions to prevent cruel, inappropriate anti-natural treatment of the animals in a spectacle, protecting in this way the welfare of the animals as well as that of the spectators.... regulations and prohibitions are established which try to protect the animal when the practices utilized have no connection with the traditional ‘bull festivals’, but are rather used as an excuse to cause harm to the animals.
[3] Art. 13 of the TFEU, the Treaty of Lisbon, which imposes the obligation on Member States to consider animals as “sentient beings” in the internal legislation of each of the Member States, particularly in areas of agriculture, livestock, experimentation and spectacles. See Giménez-Candela, T., Sentient Beings; Crocodiles also cry.
[4] See the notice we published in the Legislative Bulletin of this month, regarding the blow given to the donkey "Capitán", presumably by schoolchildren from Almería, from which the young donkey is slowly recovering.
[5] Comtesse de Ségur, Les Mémoires d'un âne (Paris 1965. Ed. Jean-Jacques Pauvert. édition ilustrée de 75 vignettes). The book was published for the first time in 1860, in a collection from the Hachette publishing house named "Bibliothèque rose ilustrée". Since then, private editions, like the one I cite, have been published and an edition in the set of works by the writer, such as the one which appeared in 1990, "Oeuvres de la Comtesse de Ségur" (Paris 1990).

keys Donkeys, Equines , Popular Festivals , Spectacles with Animals

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