Legislation advances to protect Spanish bullfighting as cultural heritage

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  September 2013: (Actually published on October 8,  2013)

MADRID––Legislation to protect bullfighting as part of the cultural identity of Spain,  pushed by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the center-right Popular Party,  moved closer to passage on October 2,  2013 when endorsed by the parliamentary culture committee by a vote of 24-6,  with 14 abstentions.

The bill is to be put to a vote in the Spanish Senate later in October.  It is expected to pass,  since the Popular Party currently is the Parliamentary majority,  and in February 2013 passed a preliminary resolution to protect bullfighting as a cultural heritage by a vote of 180-40,  with 107 abstentions.

The current bill,  implementing the February 2013 resolution,  will “allow public funds to be used to promote and protect bullfighting and related activities such as runnings of the bulls,”  reported Daily Telegraph Madrid correspondent  Fiona Govan.  But the bill is not expected to overturn bans on bullfighting introduced by the regional governments of the Canary Islands in 1991,  Catalonia in 2010,  and the largely Basque city of San Sebastian in March 2013.  And recent polls show more than 75% of Spanish voters oppose public subsidies for bullfighting,  potentially a problem for the Popular Party in a nation with 25% unemployment,  economically crippled by financial austerity measures.

The Popular Party pushed the pro-bullfighting legislation ahead less than three weeks after the opposition Animalista Party Against Animal Abuse (PACMA) on September 14,  2013 packed Madrid streets from the Plaza de Colón to the Plaza de España with thousands of anti-bullfighting protesters.

The demonstration grew out of annual protests held for nine years in the town of Tordesillas against a public bullfighting event called the Toro de la Vega,  reputedly held annually since 1453.  Five hundred demonstrators broke symbolic bullfighting lances to initiate the march.  Others set up 150 cardboard cutouts of protesters in Tordesillas to remind the Toro de la Vega participants that even though the demonstration was in Madrid this year,  the Toro de la Vega was not forgotten.

The most conservative of the major Spanish political parties,  the Popular Party was founded in 1976 by former supporters of dictator Francisco Franco,  a bullfighting enthusiast who ruled Spain from 1939 until his death in 1975.  Elected in November 2011,  the Popular Party returned bullfighting to prime time broadcasts by the Spanish state television network RTVE in September 2012.  RTVE had not broadcast bullfights in prime time since Toro de la Vega participants in September 2007 assaulted a female RTVE reporter during a live broadcast.  A male videographer documented the attack until the mob destroyed his camera.

Arena bullfighting may no longer be economically viable in most of Spain without subsidies,  suggested the Washington Post in July 2013.  “Amid plummeting demand,  more bull breeders are dispatching their stocks to the butcher rather than the ring,”  the Post assessed. “Bullfight organizers are engaged in highly public disputes with matadors and creditors over wages and overdue payments.”

Bullfight ticket prices soared––and attendance fell 40% from 2007 to 2012––after the national sales tax on cultural events was jacked up to try to raise more revenue from foreign tourists.

There were 1,014 arena bullfights held in Spain in 2012,  down from more than 2,000 held in 2007.

Spanish bullfighting already benefits from $177 million per year in European Union subsidies issued under the Common Agricultural Policy,  an EU internal report estimated earlier in 2013.  The subsidies supposedly promote cattle breeding,  but bulls produced with the help of the subsidies often go into bullfighting rather than into breeding cattle for meat and dairy production.

The Dutch Parliament on July 7,  2013 unanimously adopted a resolution asking that the subsidies be cancelled,  but a cancellation amendment introduced by European Parliament Agriculture Committee member Alyn Smith,  of Scotland,  failed on September 2,  2013.

“Today’s vote is disappointing,  but I’ll confess it is no surprise,”  Smith said.  “We sought to achieve a policy outcome via the budgetary process,  so while it was worth a shot,  it was always going to be a big ask.  But that doesn’t make it wrong.  It is for me unconscionable that EU money is going,  however indirectly,  to subsidize bullfights.”

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