Bullfighting, a divisive issue in Spain
As election fever starts to grip the country ahead of the Spanish General Election on 28th April, I thought I’d scratch the surface of one issue that continues to cause political controversy in Spain. It’s not the country’s much-contested budget. It’s not the emergence of any far-right or far-left party. And it’s not Catalan independence.
It is none of these things. Although it has campaigners in polarised for and against camps and does indeed continue to divide the country at a social and political level, it is, in fact, bullfighting.
Bullfighting has long been a divisive issue in Spain and its following has traditionally pertained to a certain political ideology; synonymous as it is with the right wing.
Of course, to be clear, there are a proportion of centralists and individuals with no political sympathies who also follow los toros. However, there is undoubtedly a correlation between conservative values and practices ingrained in Spanish tradition such as bullfighting.
I have to be careful here. While the following descriptions do encompass a large part of the “bullfighting community”, I have exaggerated them for dramatic purposes and they are by no means exhaustive. So, here we go…
If the stereotypical vision of a bullfighter is a lean, olive-skinned southern Spaniard with slicked-back, jet black hair and a confident swagger, the stereotypical profile of a bullfighting enthusiast is quite different.
Picture a (usually male) resident of a small town or village – pueblo, in Spanish – of around 500 inhabitants, at least 50 years old, who has worked in said town or village his whole life (and rarely having left it), is a church-goer, drinks in the only bar in the community, has a paunch and perhaps uses a walking stick, wears a flat cap and smokes a pipe.
As you can probably gather from the (somewhat embellished) picture I’ve painted of a bullfighting aficionado, it’s hardly the personification of a "progressive" society.
And this is why it causes political controversy in Spain. Left-wing factions and other political parties across the nation argue that, besides being an outdated tradition that has been replaced with other more popular spectator sports and has no place in today’s technologically-advanced society, the blood sport is barbaric and showcases an abhorrent level of animal cruelty.
For the reasons mentioned above, the Catalan Government outlawed bullfighting in Cataluña on 1st January 2012 (although not by a large majority), however it still remains legal in most of the peninsula.
This is one of the things that the anti-animal cruelty political party PACMA (Partido Animalista Contra el Maltrato Animal) has made it its mission to overturn since its formation in 2003.
Ahead of this month’s General Election, PACMA will be staging protests in Spain to seek a definitive ban on hunting, bullfighting and using animals for circus acts, zoos and sea life centres.
Their annual anti-bullfighting rally will take place in Sevilla tomorrow, Saturday 6th April, at the Palacio de San Telmo at 5pm, kicked off with an address by the group’s president, Silvia Barquero.
I remember the one and only time I went to a bullfight. It was just weeks after moving to Madrid from the UK and I saw it as a rite of passage – something I ought to do if I were ever to understand Spanish culture… plus the tickets were only €4.
I think I lasted all of half an hour.
I’m not going to get embroiled in the ethical argument right now, or add fuel to the fire in the face of its political controversy in Spain, but I will say that I knew pretty early on that it wasn’t for me. With the Santiago Bernabeu stadium just around the corner, I would much rather watch Real Madrid than “El Cordobés”!
What I will say, though, is the bullrings in Málaga, Ronda and Mijas Pueblo, for example, emblemise the roots and traditions of southern Spain and add an extremely unique architectural element to these special places.
Whether you agree with bullfighting or not, the essence and charm of these towns would be altogether different if they were bulldozed to the ground (pun intended) and wiped off the map, and – purely selfishly, as a foreigner – the tourist experience would be worse off as a result.