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Catalonia Bans Bullfighting

Catalonia became the first mainland Spanish region to outlaw bullfighting after the regional parliament passed the ban by a vote of 68 to 55 with nine abstentions. Many heated debates centering on animal rights versus preserving traditional culture preceded the passing of the ban, which will take effect in 2012.

The origins of the corrida—as bouts are known—in Spain can be traced back to 711 AD, when the Moors from North Africa conquered the Iberian Peninsula and ritualized the rough form of bullfighting practiced by the Visigoths. Ever since, bullfighting has remained very popular and each week, several thousand Spaniards attend local bullfights.

Animal activists have reacted enthusiastically to the ban. Aida GascÛn, the Spanish director of AnimaNaturalis, an organization that campaigns against bullfighting, told the New York Times that the ban is “the most important victory for animal rights that we’ve had.”

But many Spanish do not believe that animal rights were the main motivation behind the ban. Catalonia is a wealthy region with its own language and culture and a growing degree of self-rule. Many in Spain see the bullfighting ban as part of the efforts of independence-seeking Catalonia to stand out from the rest of Spain.

Luis de Grandes Pascual, a Spanish member of the European Parliament, expressed his concerns in the New York Times: “There is a legitimate debate about the pros and cons of bullfighting, but this has now fallen hostage to the agenda of Catalan nationalists determined to show their values are not those of the rest of Spain.”

Catalan politicians stress the fact that the popularity of bullfighting has been on the decline in recent years in Catalonia. The only remaining bullring in Barcelona stages just 15 fights per year, and these rarely sell out and attract only 400 season ticket holders, compared to 19,000 at the main bullring in Madrid. Antonio Lorca, the bullfighting critic for El PaÌs, the leading Spanish newspaper, agrees “there is no doubt that Catalan society has completely turned its back on this practice.”

The bullfighting sector is worried that this could set a precedent for other regions where bullfighting is less entrenched than in Catalonia. They fear that the Catalan ban could be the beginning of the end for Spain’s most controversial sport.

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