Review of Marita Giménez-Candela, Transición animal en España (Animal Transition in Spain)
From a historical perspective, modern animal advocacy, and in particular modern legislation on animal protection and welfare, originated in the United Kingdom and spread first to anglophone and “northern” countries, establishing a sort of orthodoxy and a paradigm. Other countries progressively followed suit and today some forms of more or less advanced animal protection are present in most legislations around the world. In the countries of Southern Europe, the change was indeed slower and culturally problematic, as if to confirm an (Anglo-Saxon) ingrained prejudice that sees Latin countries as insensitive and cruel towards animals. But the tide of change (well propelled, among other things, by the integration in the European Union) has brought the Latin countries up to par in a cultural revolution that is by now planetary. In this book, Marita Giménez-Candela purports to map this change in Spain, focusing in particular (but not only) on its legal aspects.
To characterize the change Giménez-Candela uses a peculiar term, “transition” (transición), which in Spain has a very connoted meaning and immediately refers to a specific historical occurrence: the process of democratization opened by the death of dictator Francisco Franco in November 1975 and closed by a new constitution and democratic elections at the end of the 1970s – the so-called “Spanish transition to democracy,” known in Spain simply as “la Transición.” By using this term Giménez-Candela denotes the change as a process towards a fairer and more just society, but also as a preparatory phase that is far from being concluded and needs a lot more work and efforts, at a social, cultural and juridical level. But immediately this term also transmits a sense of hopefulness and optimism (the “Spanish transition” was indeed a non-violent and successful change), and it is with explicit optimism that Giménez-Candela presents the social, cultural and legal improvements that changed Spain in the past decades. A professor of Roman Law at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Giménez-Candela firmly believes that it is in the law that the change must be anchored and fortified, and that the law presents adequate and sufficient resources to structure, reinforce and ultimately produce the change. The legal aspects of the “transition” constitute therefore the framework structuring the book but are not its only topic.
The book in fact is far from being a systematic and impersonal presentation of legal reforms but is rather a personal and passionate testimony of an epochal change by one of its protagonists: Giménez-Candela counts as a pioneer in the teaching of animal law and in the proposing of legal reforms in Spain and her presentation weaves together social and structural changes with personal experiences and commitments. The first two parts of the book focus indeed on cultural changes (part I) and animal abuse (part II), whereas only part III focuses on the legal status of animals and the fourth and last part on the teaching of animal law in Spain. The vantage point is obviously always that of a law professor who construes her presentation of the Spanish case through constant comparative references to other (especially European) legislations; but it is also that of a passionate and committed teacher who sees in education a fundamental means to foster the transition to a more just society.
The first two parts describe the transition in Spanish culture and mores in a vast number of areas and situations and through events, anecdotes and legal reforms. The point is sure enough that of showing how Spanish society has changed and evolved, in particular in the last two decades, but also that of highlighting the strong pockets of resistance that still obstruct and slow down the change: still very strong in Spain (as elsewhere) is the appeal to “tradition” as a way of justifying the cruel treatment of animals, where bullfighting is just one among many possible examples. But the intent of Giménez-Candela is to show that society can change and has actually already changed, rejecting old practices that are today no longer acceptable. For example, as a result of strong and prolonged pressure from society, in 2010 bullfighting was forbidden in Catalonia, and even if the prohibition was then lifted in 2016 by the Constitutional Court, the ideological Rubicon was crossed and a secular tradition was shown as no longer untouchable and immune to change.
Part III is certainly the more complex and articulated from a theoretical and juridical perspective. Its goal is to show, on the one hand, the philosophical and juridical need to modify the legal status of animals from that of “thing,” as they are considered by Roman Law and all Western modern legislations derived from it, to that of a new category, intermediate between “thing” and “person,” that should be created to reflect and structure their new (and future) status in contemporary societies. On the other hand, this part describes the historical and actual legal changes in the status of animals in international legislations, from the 1988 pioneering (though ex negativo) designation in Austrian law of animals as “non-things” up to the 2017 (unsuccessful) proposal to change their status in Spanish law to the positive definition of “living and sentient beings” (seres vivos dotados de sensibilidad). Part IV wraps up the book with a more personal focus on Giménez-Candela’s own teaching of animal law and the need for it to foster and stabilize the transition through education. Giménez-Candela was the first professor to offer a course of animal law in Spain in 2006, in 2011 she created the Master in Animal Law and Society, the first not only in Spain or Europe but worldwide (since 2015 also offered online), and in 2015 co-founded the ICALP (International Center for Animal Law and Policy) and the book series “Animal and Law” for the publisher Tirant lo Blanch.
The book concludes thus on a note of (fully justified) pride and hopefulness, which, if it does not entirely convince those not sharing Giménez-Candela’s optimism (so much still remains to do to really change the life – and death – of billions of animals “used” by humans every day), certainly marks with hope the vast ground already covered in just a few decades.