Connect to share and comment

Spanish bullfighting under fire

Ban sought on bullfighting in Spain but tradition of killing runs deep.

MADRID, Spain — When people think of bullfighting, they think Spain.

But that might change if the current trend of events continues.

While bullfighting is strongly associated with Spain, the cultural tradition is changing.

Catalonia, where only one bullring has been active, outlawed bullfighting in July, provoking widespread debate about the country’s centuries-old tradition.

Three years earlier, a major Spanish broadcaster, RTVE, stopped live coverage of bullfights. And in 1991, the Canary Islands became the first Spanish Autonomous Community to ban bullfighting.

The landmark Catalonia vote was seen in very different ways: Animal rights organizations saw it as a tremendous success but bullfighting advocates viewed the ban as merely an attempt by nationalist-minded Catalans to strut their political differences.

To learn more about this hot topic, GlobalPost sat down with Sharon Nunez, founder of the European animal rights organization “Igualdad Animal,” to discuss the future of bullfighting in Spain.

GP: Why did Catalonia become the first mainland Spanish region to ban bullfighting?

Nunez: I’d say there are two reasons. First, there’s a strong anti-Spain movement in Catalonia. Bullfighting is associated with Spain and Spanish culture. Second, there’s more sensitivity towards bullfighting, more caring about bullfighting and animal suffering in Catalonia because it is a region very much influenced by a European mentality.

How big is the bullfighting industry in Spain?

Aside from what we see in the bullfighting rings, there’s the special breeding of the bulls, restaurants that offer bull meat, also the running of the bulls on the streets in Spanish cities and villages. There’s also “becerradas,” which is basically torturing less than 1-year-old calves until they are dead in Spanish villages. It’s a big industry because practically every village of Spain has some sort of entertainment based on bulls and other animals. Bullfighting industry is also highly subsidized by the government, so it’s bigger than it should be.

Bullfighting is a centuries-old tradition and provides full-time jobs and part-time jobs, so why ban it?

Culture and tradition don’t justify animal suffering. Animals suffer not only during the bullfight, but also during the transport. They are frightened, bleed and sometimes vomit blood. If we are talking about human rights, no one would justify torture in the name of culture. On the other hand, surveys such as the 2006 Gallup Poll show that more than 70 percent of Spanish people have no interest in bullfighting. What we are seeing also is that young people tend not to support bullfighting. So I think eventually the tradition will die out, but we want to see it end as soon as possible. The more we make the public aware of the animal suffering, the sooner it will be abolished. I believe that [the ban] in Catalonia will have a domino effect in the rest of Spain in the next couple of years.