Connect to share and comment

How un-Spanish can you get?

Why it might take more than a bullfighting ban to put an end to the centuries'-old custom in Catalonia.

Spanish bullfighter Jose Tomas is tossed by a bull during a bullfight at Monumental bullring in Barcelona, July 5, 2009. (Carlos Cazalis/Reuters)

MADRID, Spain — The Catalonian Parliament will vote in a few weeks on whether or not to ban bullfighting, an initiative spearheaded by a dozen people who may ultimately be responsible for putting down a centuries’ old tradition in Catalonia.

Regardless of the outcome, however, the fiesta, as bullfighting is known in Spain, may be fatally wounded.

The proposal was promoted by Prou (“Enough,” in Catalan), a platform constituted in August 2008 whose members belong to various animal rights’ groups.

Animal rights’ movements have been campaigning against bullfighting in Catalonia for three decades, but have mainly done so through politicians. Now, the proposal comes directly from the people. More than 180,000 signatures were collected by 800 officially authorized volunteers, more than triple the 50,000 needed to present the initiative in Parliament.

Prou feels there is an increasing sensitivity in society to animal protection, a decrease in enthusiasm for bullfighting in Catalonia and a continuous rejection of bullfighting by foreigners visiting the country. It also argues bulls and humans share “many aspects” of their “neurological and emotional systems.”

The proposal is now in the hands of political representatives. Nationalist Catalonia’s Republican Left (ERC) will likely vote in favor of the initiative. Conservative People’s Party (PP) will almost certainly vote against it. But bullfighting doesn’t divide along political lines, so other groups, such as the center-left Socialist Party (PSC) and Convergence and Union (CiU), a conservative nationalist party, will give their members freedom to vote.

“In my group, there’s a minority who likes bullfighting, a minority who wants to abolish it, and a majority who feels close to animals’ rights associations but doesn’t think banning is the way,” explained David Perez, a PSC spokesperson, who likes bullfighting.

Perez thinks bullfighting will end up dying. “But,” he said, “if bullfighting has to disappear, let it be of natural death, not because politicians ban it.”

Luis Corrales, coordinator of the Platform for the Promotion of the Fiesta, concurs: “The day people stop going to bullfights, the business will leave Catalonia.”

A 2008 Investiga survey, covered in many media outlets, found that seven out of 10 people in Spain’s northeastern region — including Catalonia — had no interest in bullfighting. Corrales argues “no interest” equals indifference, not a desire to prohibit it.

“When there are good bullfighters, the 20,000-seat ring in Barcelona sells out. What other cultural or sport activity, except soccer, can draw so many people?” Corrales asked.

“Bullfighting has a long tradition in Catalonia. Barcelona had three bullrings with morning and afternoon sessions,” said Perez. Now there is only one arena — the Monumental — in the whole Catalonian region.

“I wouldn’t say there’s less liking for bullfighting here, but animal rights groups are stronger in Catalonia than the rest of Spain, because the region, and particularly Barcelona, has always respected minority movements, and also because there’s a Catalonian identity component that views bullfighting as Spanish,” argued Perez. There are strong nationalist feelings in this region, where Catalonians highlight their differences from Spaniards — ranging from their language to their character.