Friday, 23 September 2011

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Barcelona's last bullfight marks end of an era in Spain

 

When Spanish bullfighter Serafin Marin plunges his sword into the back of a bull's neck in Barcelona on Sunday, he will be marking the end of an era. The bull will not only be the last of six killed in the bullfight, but the last-ever to be killed in Barcelona's Monumental bullring, which is nearly a century old. The closure of the Monumental - in keeping with a bullfighting ban in the north-eastern region of Catalonia - reflects the decline of bullfighting in Spain, though fans of the country's 'national fiesta' vow to fight on. 'We have lost a battle, but not the war,' Marin told the daily El Mundo. But animal rights campaigner Aida Gascon said, 'Now that we have achieved (the end of bullfights) in Catalonia, we shall try to finish with them in the rest of Spain.' Catalonia, a wealthy region of 7.5 million people, has spearheaded the campaign against bullfights, or 'corridas,' in a country where animal rights activism is on the rise. The Catalan capital of Barcelona declared itself an 'anti-bullfight' city in 2004. Dozens of other municipalities followed suit, and finally in July 2010 the regional parliament outlawed bullfights from January 1, 2012. The Canary Islands had already done so in 1991, as part of a more general animal protection law, but that decision had gone largely unnoticed. The Catalan opposition to bullfights is explained not only by animal rights activism, but also by Catalan nationalism, many of whose representatives see 'corridas' as an expression of Spanishness. The region with separatist currents 'wants to eliminate everything that represents Spain,' Marin said. Bullfighting remains an important industry in Spain with an annual turnover of more than 2.5 billion euros (3.5 billion dollars), contributing to 0.25 per cent of gross domestic product. It provides direct employment to 200,000 people, including bullfighters, or 'toreros,' bull breeders, managers and others. Yet gradually the spectacle that once inspired artists and writers such as Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway is losing its appeal. Only 37 per cent of Spaniards are interested in bullfights, while 60 per cent dislike them, according to a 2010 poll. 'Corridas' are least popular among young people. Animal rights campaigners see the event, in which darts are stuck into the back of the animal's neck before the 'torero' kills it with his sword, as torture. Some observers attribute the decline also to other causes, ranging from Spain's economic crisis to an alleged deterioration of the race of the Iberian 'brave bull.' Not only are bulls' horns 'shaved' to make them less dangerous, but they are also losing their fighting spirit, some bullfighting commentators complain. Another important reason for the decline of 'corridas' is their image as an old-fashioned form of entertainment. 'Young people do not choose an anachronistic spectacle,' anti-bullfight campaigner Helena Escoda said. Even Catalonia, however, has not outlawed other bull spectacles, such as bull runs. Some Spanish regions have come out in defence of the 'corrida,' describing it as a part of their cultural heritage. Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's government placed bullfights under the responsibility of the Culture Ministry, instead of the Interior Ministry. The opposition conservative People's Party, which is expected to win the November 20 parliamentary elections, has taken legal action against the Catalan bullfighting ban at the Constitutional Court. Catalan bullfighting enthusiasts have also collected 300,000 signatures in defence of the fiesta. Yet it is far from certain that such initiatives will stop what many see as an inevitable social development. Catalan bullfighters, in the meantime, are planning to face the bull elsewhere in Spain or in the south of France.

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