After the bullfighting ban, now what?

Catalan bullfighting fans must hope for the courts to save a dwindling tradition

On September 25, Barcelona's Monumental bullring opened its doors for the last time. A triumphant José Tomás performed to a packed house as the curtain went down on 624 years of bullfighting in Catalonia following the enactment of a ban on the divisive tradition.

Now that the lights are out and the stage is empty, one question leaps out: now what? Should aficionados resign themselves to the fact that bullfighting is now part of the past in Catalonia, or do they have reason for hope that the parliamentary agreement that abolished it will be repealed?

Rumor has it - and so far it has not been dispelled - that the owner of the Monumental was planning to shut down the ring during the 2007 season because of the ruinous state of the business in the Catalan capital. But he changed his mind when the matador José Tomás informed him that he was making a comeback and that he would like to do so at the Monumental.

Common sense says that bullfighting will not return to Catalonia

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By then, all other Catalan bullrings had already shut down, and the Monumental remained open with a seating capacity of nearly 20,000 but no more than 400 sales of season passes. It had been years since the industry had taken its business elsewhere - the general exodus began with the death of the legendary impresario Pedro Balañá Espinós on February 24, 1965 - and left the door wide open for Catalan nationalism to implement its rejection of an activity which it always considered essentially Spanish. It is true, nevertheless, that despite the capital role that Barcelona played in the bullfighting world during much of the 20th century, this activity was more of a leisure option at a time when choices were few, rather than an economic or cultural cohesive element in Catalan society. In a Catalonia that was predominantly industrial and urban, there are no ranches that raise fighting bulls, there is just one bullfighting school and very few bullfighters were born here.

By the time nationalism began its offensive, the Monumental's glory days were long gone. This was the favorable setting for the 500,000 signatures petitioning the regional assembly to abolish the tradition. Most of the house voted in favor of this ban, perhaps not so much because they opposed the bulls - in fact, they awarded extra protection for correbous, the Catalan version of the running of the bulls - but because it was an ideal occasion to reject a Spanish sign of identity.

Common sense says that bullfighting will not return to Catalonia, above all because citizens are not interested in it. But there are two lights at the end of the tunnel for its supporters: an appeal filed by the conservative Popular Party on the basis that the ban is unconstitutional, and the chance that this party will declare bullfighting a National Cultural Asset if it wins the next general elections in November.

No to animal abuse for fun

In the last few months, the Spanish streets have filled up with demonstrations demanding a better democracy and more of it. Essentially, this is all about requesting mechanisms that will allow us to recover political participation: citizens are asking for a new way of doing politics. By the way, in the entire history of our democracy, few decisions have been made in such a democratic manner as the ban on bullfighting in Catalonia. It all began with a Popular Legislative Initiative (ILP) that reached the regional assembly thanks to thousands of signatures. On that occasion, unlike most other times in our young democracy, the ILP overcame the bureaucratic hurdles and reached the chamber of debate. For weeks, experts in favor and against bullfighting expounded their viewpoints freely on the floor. Finally there was a vote in which - and here is another strange occurrence in our democracy - parties gave their deputies freedom to vote according to their personal convictions. No objection can thus be raised against a decision that was made in a radically democratic way.

Social mores change, and Spaniards are starting to no longer enjoy the death of animals inside a ring. It is a fact that the public is turning its back on the bullrings; society increasingly frowns upon the use of animal suffering for mere entertainment purposes. The defense of bullfighting based on the argument of tradition is falling apart even as our social reality changes. Some traditions get lost along the way, and that's a good thing, like that very Spanish tradition of pushing a live goat off a bell tower so spectators below could contemplate it as it crashed against the ground. Supporters of bullfighting want to counter the social lack of interest with political initiatives such as getting regional assemblies to declare the activity a Cultural Asset. Others, like our own party EQUO, radically oppose these measures, which seek to prolong the life of this bloody form of fun.

Just like other shows in which entertainment is sought through animal abuse, bullfighting's days are nearly over. Politically, it must be decided whether the process is prolonged through costly public grants, as some parties want, or whether bullfights definitively disappear from our territory, as some of us are demanding.

Juan López de Uralde is the leader of the green party EQUO.

A moral step back

Bullfighting is one of the most original creations in Hispanic culture, and at the same time the standard-bearer of the most universal of human values: courage, honor, loyalty, the ritual of death, the power over the animality within and without man, and the creation of beauty from its opposite, chaos and fear. Is it possible that this original cultural invention might succumb to a conformism adorned with the trappings of universality, the flavorless universality of McDonald's or Coca-Cola? If bullfighting were to disappear, it would be a great loss for humanity and for animality. We would be faced with a cultural and esthetic loss, of course, but also with an ethical damage. To some, banning tauromachy seems like "progress" for civilization. But that is mere appearance. Animalism is not an extension of humanist values, but its negation: by trying to raise animals to the level at which we must treat men, we necessarily reduce men to the level at which we treat animals.

I do not deny that we have our duties toward animals. It is immoral to betray the bonds of affection that link us to our pets. It is immoral to treat animals raised for their meat, their wool or their strength as "objects," as is scandalously the case in industrial farming; but we accept that it is moral to kill them. And we have environmental duties toward the millions of wild species that populate the oceans, mountains and forests. The fighting bull does not fall into any of these categories. It is not a wild animal, since it is raised by man, nor is it a pet, since tauromachy requires that its natural hostility toward man be preserved. For this animal, a life in keeping with its untamed nature must be a free and natural life, and a death in keeping with its brave nature must be a death fighting the one who would attack his freedom and contest his supremacy on his own grounds. Any prohibition would be a moral step back. The meaning and the value of the bullfight rests on two pillars: the fight of the bull, which must not die without having been able to express its offensive or defensive faculties; and the commitment of the bullfighter, who cannot face his adversary without risking his life. The duty of risking one's life is the price one has to pay for the right to kill the respected animal, rather than sacrificing it in a concealed, mechanized manner.

Francis Wolff is a professor of philosophy at Paris University.