Catalonia has voted to ban the centuries-old practice of bullfighting. Supporters of the ban say it is a victory for animal rights, but some opponents say the ban has more to do with politics than animal cruelty.
The sport remains popular elsewhere in Spain
The autonomous region of Catalonia in northeastern Spain became the first region in the country's mainland to ban bullfighting on Wednesday, after a heated debate in the regional parliament.
The margin of victory for bullfighting opponents was relatively comfortable, with 68 in favor of the ban, 55 opposed and nine abstaining. The ban revises Catalonia's statute on animal protection, which previously made an exception for bullfighting, and it takes effect on January 1, 2012.
During the debate, lawmakers said the popularity of bullfighting has declined in recent years, and that the practice's long history in Spain did not justify its cruelty.
"There are some traditions that can't remain frozen in time as society changes," said Jose Rull, member of parliament for the Catalonian nationalist party, or CiU, during the debate. "We don't have to ban everything, but the most degrading things should be banned."
The result was not unexpected because the parliament had cast a preliminary vote last December to accept a petition calling for the ban. But approval became less certain after the CiU and the ruling Socialist Party allowed their members to vote according to their conscience.
Opponents say bullfighting is outdated and barbaric
The campaign in favor of the ban was spearheaded by the group "Prou!", or "Enough!", which gathered 180,000 signatures for the petition last December. Eric Gallego, spokesman for the campaign, said that Catalonia is now a society that respects its animals, and that he hoped other regions would follow suit.
"The effect will be very important," he told Deutsche Welle. "It's only a matter of time before bullfighting is in banned in other parts of Spain."
A central argument to the pro-bullfighting campaign was that a ban would have a negative economic effect, which Gallego denied.
"There's only one bullring open (in Catalonia) today, it's Barcelona's bullring," he said. "There are only tourists… and it's only open on Sundays."
Prou! claims that 71 municipalities in Catalonia have passed declarations condemning bullfighting, one as far back as 1989. In contrast, several other local governments in Spain, including Madrid, have recently declared bullfighting to be a part of their region's cultural heritage.
Critics blamed the ban on Catalonia's independence-driven politics
Animal rights or politics?
Sandra Salas, of the pro-bullfighting Platform for the Promotion and Spreading of the Fiesta, said she was disappointed in the vote.
"We don't stop people from eating meat or doing other things just because someone doesn't like it," she told Deutsche Welle. "I don't prevent you from doing anything, because I respect you and I believe you should have that freedom that democracy has given us."
An editorial in the center-right daily El Mundo on Tuesday said that the bullfighting debate had devolved into a political issue, and that independence-driven Catalonia sought only "to ban everything that is Spanish."
But Gallego said that there was agreement in the Catalan parliament that the campaign had no nationalistic interests.
"This was only focused on ethics and moral issues," he said. "We have no interest at heart but the bulls."
Catalonia is the second region in Spain to ban bullfighting, after the Canary Islands did so in 1991.
Author: Andrew Bowen
Editor: Chuck Penfold