The bullfighting season has kicked off, but the end of the "Corrida" could be nearer than many think. This week, Barcelona became the first city in Spain to officially oppose the bloody sport. But no ban is in sight.
The future is unclear for bullfighting
As recently as January, bullfighting in Spain was the subject of an academic honor when the University of Cordoba in southern Spain begin offering a degree program in the artistry-filled sport. But not everyone in the country shared the city's enthusiasm for the sport: This week, politicians in Barcelona brandished their own capotes and swords, and took aim at bullfighting, a popular, albeit bloody, national pastime.
With a vote of 21-15 and two abstentions, Barcelona's city council voted on Tuesday following a heated debate in support of a non-binding resolution that, although stopping short of banning the fights, condemns bullfights and defines cattle as beings that are "sensitive both mentally and physically."
With the resolution, Spain's second-largest city after Madrid has declared itself an "anti-bullfighting city." The vote angered fans of the centuries-old tradition, while drawing praise from animal rights activists, who declared it the "beginning of the end of this bloody spectacle."
If Barcelona politicians have their way, young steers may get the upper hand in bullfights in the near future.
The city council of Barcelona itself does not have the authority to ban bullfighting -- such a move would require a change of the laws of the Catalonian government and a vote in the regional parliament. But the vote does carry strong symbolic weight because Catalonia is ruled by the same socialist party as Barcelona. The city's socialist mayor said he was convinced that "bullfighting will disappear in the longterm."
Tensions threatened to boil over at many points in the debate over the resolution. "Bullfighting is a celebration of our culture that has been denigrated by the Germans and the Anglo-Saxons," sighed Javier Basso, a member of the city council and the conservative People's Party (PP) of outgoing Prime Minister José María Aznar. He described bullfighting as a "noble dance between bull and man." Editorialists at many Spanish newspapers criticized the vote, saying it evoked the time of dictator rule under Franco. Members of the People's Party said they would oppose any ban, and the Socialist Party remains divided over the resolution. The issue became so heated that the vote was held secretly.
"Steers share emotions with humans"
Among the parties that supported the resolution were the Nationalists, the Greens and the Left Republicans. The city's deputy mayor, Jordi Portabella, also a professional biologist, was responsible for the final text of the resolution, with which he hoped to once and for all put an end to the image of the "wild steer."
The resolution adopted by the city states that: "the steer (bos primgenius taurus) is a peaceful mammal and a ruminant whose nervous system is similar to that of humans and with which it consequently shares many emotions."
However, the head of the association of Spanish bullfighters, Juan Segura Palomares, said the sport's "lively tradition could not be given the deathblow by a simple vote," adding that, on a good night, as many as 17,000 spectators pour into Barcelona's Le Monumental arena to view the steers and toreadors in action.
"Culture against cruelty"
Martin Riebe, business manager of the international animal rights organization WSPA, said he believed the practice of the Corrida would eventually be brought to an end. "We are very pleased with the animal-friendly results of the vote, which takes the opinions of (Spain's) own citizens seriously and takes a courageous stance against a repulsive and cruel tradition," he said.
Animal rights activists in Spain recently began a "Culture without Cruelty" campaign, drawing close to 250,000 signatures from 30 countries calling for a ban on bullfighting. The campaign ultimately sparked the Barcelona city council vote.