New left­ist may­ors turn back on bull­fight­ing


Bull­fights or school­books? A new breed of lo­cal of­fi­cials in Spain are ask­ing.

Ju­lian Bolanos, the mayor of this cen­tral Span­ish town of around 5,000 in­hab­i­tants, re­cently an­nounced he was tak­ing the 18,000 eu­ros (US$20,000) in public fund­ing for bull­fights to in­vest it in text­books and other ed­u­ca­tional ma­te­rial.

Days be­fore, his new left­ist coun­ter­part in the north­west­ern city of A Coruna with­drew 50,000 eu­ros in bull­fight sub­si­dies and vowed to find a bet­ter way to spend it.

The mea­sures may be sur­pris­ing in a coun­try where bull­fights are an em­blem­atic part of the cul­ture and a tra­di­tional fix­ture in nearly ev­ery town’s sum­mer fes­ti­val. But they are not un­usual: Since May 24 lo­cal elec­tions, the rul­ing, pro-bull­fight­ing, con­ser­va­tive Pop­u­lar Party has been ousted from town halls and re­gional gov­ern­ments across the coun­try and re­placed by left­ist coali­tions that are ques­tion­ing fund­ing for bull­fights — seen as a lux­ury in times of eco­nomic hard­ship.

“Of ev­ery 10 peo­ple that come to me, nine ask for work or help, not one has come to me ask­ing for bull­fights,” Bolanos, a So­cial­ist Party mem­ber, told The As­so­ci­ated Press. His town, like most of Spain, suf­fered se­verely in the eco­nomic cri­sis that has left the coun­try with 22 per­cent un­em­ploy­ment.

In Madrid, the world’s bull­fight­ing cap­i­tal, new left­ist Mayor Manuela Car­mena has said she won’t be us­ing the pres­i­den­tial box at the bullring — a may­oral priv­i­lege — and is study­ing with­draw­ing sub­si­dies and declar­ing the cap­i­tal an an­i­mal-friendly city, a mostly sym­bolic ges­ture to­ward an­i­mal rights groups.

That move has al­ready been taken by Palma de Mal­lorca in the Balearic Is­lands, also ad­min­is­tered by a new left-wing mayor.

‘Un­just treat­ment for Spain’s


The ma­jor city of Va­len­cia, in the east, also has a new left­ist town hall team that has axed bull­fight sub­si­dies, while nearly a dozen towns in the re­gion, in­clud­ing the port city of Ali­cante, are push­ing for ref­er­en­dums on keep­ing bull events as part of town fes­ti­vals.

“We’re un­der at­tack,” said Car­los Nunez, pres­i­dent of the Spain’s Fight­ing Bull Breed­ers Union. “The May 24 elec­tions have brought about many changes with coali­tions in­clud­ing anti-bull­fight­ing par­ties.”

He said it was un­just treat­ment for a spec­ta­cle that has been de­clared part of Spain’s na­tional her­itage, and is the coun­try’s most pop­u­lar spec­ta­cle af­ter soc­cer. Bull­fight­ing and bull-run­ning have al­ways stirred strong pas­sions; some see the spec­ta­cles as artis­tic while oth­ers view them as anachro­nis­tic, bloody and cruel.

Go­ing against the trend is the north­ern Basque city of San Se­bas­tian, which un­der a new con­ser­va­tive mayor has rein­tro­duced bull­fight­ing, end­ing a two-year ban by the for­mer left­ist town hall. The first bull­fight was held Thurs­day, at­tended by for­mer King Juan Car­los and other mem­bers of his fam­ily. The monarch called for bull­fight­ing to be de­fended, say­ing it “is an as­set for Spain that we must sup­port.”

The king re­ceived a rous­ing ova­tion by those at­tend­ing and a spe­cial ded­i­ca­tion by one of the bull­fight­ers, who said the king was de­fend­ing cul­ture and free­dom by his pres­ence. Out­side, pock­ets of anti-bull­fight protesters joined forces with anti-monar­chists.

The de­bate of tra­di­tion ver­sus an­i­mal rights has lit­tle to do with this par­tic­u­lar de­bate, how­ever. Spain’s eco­nomic cri­sis plunged bull­fight­ing into cri­sis, with smaller crowds at ever fewer bull­fights. Younger peo­ple pre­ferred to spend what lit­tle money they had on travel, theater shows, movies, pop con­certs and night clubs. De­spite dwin­dling pop­u­lar­ity, Spain still holds some 2,000 bull­fights an­nu­ally and some 16,000 town fes­ti­vals in­clude bull events.

One mile­stone in the de­bate came in 2011, when Catalonia, the rich north­east­ern re­gions whose cap­i­tal is Barcelona, be­came Spain’s sec­ond re­gion to ban bull­fight­ing. It joined the Ca­nary Is­lands, which stopped the prac­tice in 1991.

In re­sponse, a string of other re­gions mostly run by the Pop­u­lar Party passed di­rec­tives pro­tect­ing the spec­ta­cle. Par­lia­ment also took moves to en­shrin­ing bull­fight­ing as a key part of the na­tion’s cul­tural her­itage fol­low­ing a pe­ti­tion bear­ing 600,000 sig­na­tures, in­clud­ing Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy and No­bel literature lau­re­ate Mario Var­gas Llosa.


In this Aug. 15 photo, Span­ish bull­fighter Car­los Es­co­lar “Fras­cuelo” kills a San­ti­ago Domecq’s ranch fight­ing bull dur­ing a Span­ish tra­di­tional bull­fight at Las Ven­tas bullring in Madrid, Spain.

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