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In defense of Sanfermines

Political correctness, ignorance and moral righteousness are all enemies of the Pamplona fiestas

The Pamplona bullring on Monday.
The Pamplona bullring on Monday. REUTERS

A combination of ignorance (on the part of those who have never attended or don’t know anything about the fiestas), political correctness and moral crusading has led, in recent days, to many saying and writing a great deal of unjust drivel about the Sanfermines fiestas in Pamplona. And no, we in the media have not been exempt from this.

According to some, the Sanfermines fiestas are nothing more than a disgraceful volcano of testosterone that must be stopped. And by stopped, we mean banned. Ban Sanfermines. In other words, ban what some people don’t like – even, in many cases, what they think they don’t like, given that they have never been. There are, of course, many people who have been to the fiestas and have not enjoyed them. And those people do not return. That’s perfectly normal. A person who does not like Sanfermines does not like it at all. There are not many shades of gray.

I know people who throw themselves  into the fiestas, and then sit down and read the philosopher Habermas

But the majority of tweets, blog posts, articles and think pieces make the most summary judgment of the barbarism supposedly taking place in Pamplona at the moment. Braggadocio, aggression, torture, drunkards, filthiness, delinquents, machismo, sexism, violence, and a sadistic tradition are concepts that today form the basis of all discourse and cursory judgments of the event.

On the EL PAÍS website, the exaggerated indignation of many of our readers’ comments is enough to make you shake. In many cases, people speak of what they know nothing about. And much worse than that, they often lecture others about what they should and shouldn’t do with their lives, as if everyone can simply be typecast. I know plenty of people who throw themselves – physically and mentally – into the fiestas, and then afterwards they sit down to read the works of German philosopher Jürgen Habermas. Pretty strange, right?

A few days ago, this paper published a commendable article looking at the anthropological and psychological reasons that many people love huge celebrations like the Sanfermines. It forgot to mention one, undoubtedly trivial: for better or worse, there are people – call them barbarians and oddballs – who actually enjoy these fiestas, or the tomato-throwing fest of Tomatina or the Fallas of Valencia, because they have a good time, and because they enjoy something as strange as pleasure.

And one must differentiate between the horrible rapists and abusers, and a person who merely enters a crowded bar in San Fermin and starts to dance, grabbing the shoulder of a girl. Or a guy.

Most tweets and articles  make the most summary judgment of the barbarism supposedly taking place in Pamplona

Send the rapists, abusers and their like to prison. And to the bonfire with those who want to burn us alive for doing something as simple as having a good time.

We also need a bit of common sense. The tradition of Sanfermines dates back to the 13th century, and its fiestas, to the 16th century. And they have continued to exist ever since, but have been modernized. Nor will they stop evolving. But every tradition has its excesses.

It’s summer in Spain. Those who are able to, spend the year either studying or working, and they go to Pamplona to let loose. Is it wrong to do so? Some manage this by sitting at midday at a table in the central Pamplona square of Plaza del Castillo, enjoying a glass of vermouth. Others seek it out among the wild parties of the night.

Some manage to get through the celebrations with their red-and-white clothing untarnished (I assure you, it’s possible). Many go with their kids, others with their girlfriends and boyfriends. There’s something about these incomparable fiestas – and I assure you not only Hemingway says it – that brings people to them from across the globe, for this one week, to leave behind millions and millions of euros in Pamplona’s coffers – about €75 million per year, to be exact.

A person who does not like Sanfermines does not like it at all. There are not many shades of gray

People are happy at Sanfermines. People smile and hold hands and kiss each other, as if there were no tomorrow (sometimes there isn’t one). People dance. They sing, sweat, drink, eat, go to the bullfights and run the encierros. Others, from their solitary confinement of life online, type out angry and envious tirades against those of us who defend Sanfermines.

We, who defend the festivities, are sinners. Barbarians. Antiquated. Shameless people, who embody every evil that exists in the world. I don’t know what we are doing, drinking vermouth and dancing. Burn us at the stake.

English version by Henry Hahn.

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