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Bullfighting may be banned in Catalonia

The Catalan Parliament will vote tomorrow on a popular initiative to ban bullfighting in Catalonia. The initiative has spurred great expectation abroad, as well as lively controversy in Catalonia and the rest of Spain.

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28 July 2010 12:09 AM

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ACN / Gaspar Pericay Coll
Barcelona (CNA).- Wednesday the 28th of July 2010 may be the day that bullfighting is banned in Catalonia. The Catalan Parliament will vote tomorrow on a Popular Legislative Initiative that was sent to the Parliament last year by 180,000 citizens who signed a petition to amend the Animal Protection Act, which prohibits spectacles involving animal torture but makes an exception regarding bullfighting. Most likely, the amendment prohibiting bullfighting will be approved, although it is not 100% certain. The 2 main parties in the Catalan Parliament have given their MPs voting freedom, but most of them will probably vote for the amendment in an open vote which will take place some 3 months before the Catalan elections. The issue has raised controversy in Catalonia and especially in the rest of Spain. The conservative and Spanish nationalist People’s Party (PP) has accused Catalan MPs of voting for the ban based on anti-Spanish feelings and has threatened to appeal the prohibition to the Spanish Constitutional Court. The bullfighting industry and its fans have also reacted vigorously. Considerable international expectation has been raised.
In Autumn of 2009, the citizen platform 'Prou!' presented a Popular Legislative Initiative to the Catalan Parliament backed by 180,000 citizen signatures to ban bullfighting in Catalonia. The platform proposed amending the law protecting animal rights, which currently excludes bullfighting.

On the 18th of December, the Catalan Parliament approved to analyse the possible modification of the Animal Protection Law, despite the rejection made by the People’s Party (PP) and the Anti-Catalan Nationalism Party (Ciudadanos). The new law has been discussed these last few months in a Parliamentary committee, where they have been listening to the different stakeholders, such as bullfighting businessmen, bullfighters, fans and animal rights associations. Tomorrow the Catalan Parliament will vote on the amendment to the Animal Protection Law. To be approved, bullfighting will totally disappear in Catalonia on the 1st of January 2012, as politicians have agreed on a year and a half period to allow the industry to adopt the needed means.

Catalonia and bullfighting

Catalonia does not have a widespread tradition of bullfighting as in the cases of southern and central Spain. Many decades ago, there were bullfighting arenas in Catalonia, many built during Franco times. However, nowadays only one exists in Barcelona, called “La Monumental”. The rest have closed or been torn down. “La Monumental” has a mixed crowd consisting of local fans and foreign tourists.

Bullfighting has been, for centuries, presented by Spanish nationalism as “the national party”, the maximum celebration of Spanish pride. Bullfighting was and still is extremely popular in Andalucía and Castilla, with large crowds in Madrid and Seville. However, in Catalonia, bullfighting has been in the last decades a marginal activity, which had been popular at the beginning of the 20th century but slowly vanished, especially within the last 30 years. Furthermore, the Franco dictatorship made use of bullfighting as a way to spread a homogeneous image of Spain and Spanish nationalism, both abroad and within the State; an image that still persists in the entire world. Many Catalans thus perceive bullfighting as an imposed tradition, intimately associated with Spanish nationalism.

Bullfighting is also an industry, with many jobs involved, especially in the centre, south and west of Spain, where bulls are raised and where most of the bullfighting arenas are located. Arenas are also located along the Mediterranean shore as they are a huge tourist attraction. However, in Catalonia no bulls are raised and only one arena remains active, located in Barcelona. In addition, many claimed that bullfighting is an art, pictured by artists such as Goya and Picasso. The last argument by bullfighting supporters is the tradition, which is deeply rooted in some parts of Spain.

Catalonia has a tradition of spectacles using animals, many coming from medieval times. Most of them were banned many years or even decades ago, such as throwing a live goat out of a bell tower once a year. The only ones that remain are bullfighting and 'correbous', which consists of making a bull run in the middle of a crowd, sometimes with something attached to its horns. In 'correbous', which are popular in South Catalonia, the animal is not harmed physically, but it is exposed to a highly-stressful environment.

The political controversy

Actually, 'correbous' are part of the controversy as MPs from the CiU, PSC and ERC wanted to exclude this practice from the ban. The PP has forced a separate vote on bullfighting and 'correbous' as it has brought the issue to the Catalan institution which certifies if the Catalan Parliament can legislate on the issue. This is a way to delay the debate and to separate both votes, with the hope that by trying to preserve 'correbous', bullfighting will not be banned.

In fact, the PP has already stated that, in the case that bullfighting is banned, it will bring the case to the Spanish Parliament and the Senate, as well the Spanish Constitutional Court. According to the PP, all Spanish citizens “have the right to enjoy bullfighting” and this decision would oblige Catalan fans to go to València or Southern France. In addition, the PP has accused Catalan parties of anti-Spanish feelings to ban bullfighting.

Bullfighting is already banned in the Canary Islands

In 1991, the Canary Islands banned bullfighting because, similar to the case of Catalonia, it was not popular there. The prohibition passed without controversy and it was even approved by all the Canary Islands Parliament groups, including the PP. The same ban in Catalonia is now under the threat of being appealed to the Spanish Constitutional Court and ruled by the Spanish Parliament.

The parties’ positions

The main two parties in Catalonia, the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Party (CiU) and the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), have given voting freedom to their MPs, which sum up to 85 seats out of the total of 135 parliamentary seats. Therefore, the exact result of the voting cannot be known. However, it seems that almost all of the CiU MPs and a significant number of the PSC’s MPs would vote for the ban.

The other 4 parties in the Parliament have announced the side of their votes. The ban already has 33 votes secured and 17 votes against. The Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party (ERC) and the Catalan Eco-Socialist Party’s (ICV) MPs will vote for the prohibition. They claim animal rights and fighting cruelty as their only reasons. The PP and Ciudadanos however see Catalan identity reasons and anti-Spanish motivations. They both sum up to 17 votes.

At a Spanish level, the conservative and Spanish-nationalist People’s Party (PP) is clearly against the ban. The Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) is also against the ban, as its Organisation Secretary has reminded today. The Catalan PSC is federated to the PSOE, but it has given freedom of vote to its MPs, creating some political problems with the PSOE in the rest of Spain, especially in the bullfighting-supporting parts of the country.

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  • The bullfighter José Tomás in Barcelona's arena La Monumental last summer

  • The bullfighter José Tomás in Barcelona's arena La Monumental last summer
Video of Bullfighting may be banned in Catalonia