Spain's Catalonia region bans bullfighting

28th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

Catalonia's parliament on Wednesday voted to ban bullfighting from January 1, 2012, becoming the first region in mainland Spain to outlaw the centuries-old tradition.

Cheers broke out in the assembly as the ban was approved by 68 votes in favour to 55 against and nine abstentions, while supporters and opponents of the ban both held noisy rallies outside.

But while the vote delighted animal welfare campaigners, some observers saw the vote as much about Catalonia asserting its regional identity for nationalist reasons as an issue of animal rights.

The motion tightens Catalonia's animal protection law to remove an exception for bullfights from a ban on killing or mistreating animals in shows, in what is the biggest ever setback to the practice in Spain.

Animal rights activists campaigning under the platform "Prou!", or "Enough!" in the Catalan language, had collected 180,000 signatures on a petition calling for the assembly to decide on the ban.

Their campaign won international support, with backing from celebrities including British comedian Ricky Gervais, Canadian actress Pamela Anderson and South African Nobel Prize-winning author JM Coetzee.

Just before the vote, the leader of Catalan separatist party ERC, Joan Puigcercos, appealed for lawmakers to approve the ban, saying that "all biologists say that there is pain, much pain, for the bull".

"Let us create a more humane, more responsible society. This could be our contribution to the next generation," he added.

Bullfighting retains a passionate following in Spain and leading matadors are treated as celebrities.

But the practice's mass appeal has faded, with polls showing a rising disinterest throughout Spain, especially among the young. A 2007 Gallup survey showed that almost three-quarters of Spaniards have no interest in it.

Catalonia, whose capital Barcelona is Spain's second-largest city, has now followed the lead of the Canary Islands which made the practice illegal in 1991. Animal rights activists hope other regions will now also ban bull runs.

The vote reflected a fall from grace of the sport in the wealthy northeastern region, which has its own language and distinct culture and where many seek independence from Spain.

Barcelona's last working bullring attracts just a couple of hundred season ticket holders compared to some 20,000 at Madrid's main bullring.

But while Catalonia's arguments for banning bullfighting have focused on animal rights, many in the rest of Spain believe the push is also based on a desire among some Catalans to emphasise their distinct identity.

Top Spanish bullfighter Enrique Ponce said "Catalan nationalists" had hit out against "a symbol of the identity of our country" with the decision.

"They are attacking the culture, traditions and history of our country," he said.

The vote to ban bullfighting came one month after Spain's Constitutional Court struck down several articles of Catalonia's "statute of autonomy", which expanded the already significant powers of regional self-rule.

More than one million people marched in support of the deal -- which was approved by the parliament in Madrid in 2006 and endorsed by Catalan voters in a referendum -- in Barcelona on July 10, according to a police estimate.

Jose Montilla, the socialist president of the Catalan regional government who voted against the bullfighting ban, said he hoped the issue would not trigger a conflict between Catalonia and the rest of Spain.

"I expect moderation and a sense of responsibility on behalf of everyone," he told a news conference after the vote.

The main opposition Popular Party, which sees itself as the champion of a centralised Spain, said it would present a motion in Spain's national parliament to annul the prohibition against bullfighting in Catalonia.

© 2010 AFP

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