Spain’s Catalonia region outlawed bullfighting today, becoming the country’s first mainland region to do so after a heated debate that put animal rights against the idea of preserving a pillar of traditional culture.
Cheers broke out in the local 135-seat legislature after the speaker announced the ban had passed by a vote 68 to 55 with nine abstentions.
The ban in the region, of which Barcelona is the capital, will take effect in 2012.
Catalonia is a powerful, wealthy region with its own language and culture and a large degree of self-rule. Many in Spain have seen the pressure there for a bullfighting ban as a further bid by Catalonia to stand out from the rest of the country.
The centre-right Popular Party, which is fervent about the idea of Spain as a unified country run from Madrid – and also supports bullfighting – said it is considering a legal application to overturn the ban.
The practical effect of the ban will be limited: Catalonia has only one functioning bullring, in Barcelona, while another disused one is being turned into a shopping mall. It stages 15 fights a year which are rarely sold out, out of a nationwide total of roughly 1,000 bouts per season.
However bullfighting fans and Spanish conservatives have taken the issue seriously, seeing an anti-Spanish rebuke in the grassroots, anti-bullfighting drive which started last year.
The result will energise animal rights groups bent on seeking bans in other regions of Spain.
The first Spanish region to outlaw bullfighting was the Canary Islands, in 1991. But fights were never that popular there and when the ban took effect there had not been a bullfight for seven years. That makes the Catalonia vote a much more potent case, even if bullfighting is not as popular there as it is in Madrid or down south in Andalusia.
As debate got underway in Barcelona, protesters from both camps rallied outside the parliament building.
Bullfighting opponents carried posters with pictures of bleeding animals. One man covered in fake red blood carried a sign in English, “Stop animal cruelty, No more blood.”
Pro-bullfighting groups carried signs painted on the red and yellow Catalan flag, with slogans such as Libertad y Toros (Freedom and bulls).