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Barcelona to debate bullfighting ban

18 December 09 17:06 GMT

By Sarah Rainsford
BBC News, Catalonia

On the outskirts of Barcelona, a group of boys trains every week to join one of Spain's most celebrated professions.

For three hours the would-be matadors twist and turn on a strip of land, waving bright pink and red capes before them. Their moves are smooth and graceful, like dancers.

But the trainee toreros fear the days of bullfighting in Barcelona could be numbered.

The corrida, or bullfight, has long been a part of Spanish life. But the Catalan parliament in Barcelona will in the next few months consider a proposal to ban it, becoming the first mainland region in of Spain to do so.

Parliament voted to hold the debate after campaigners gathered 180,000 signatures of support for a petition calling on deputies to include the bull in existing animal protection legislation.

The petition recommends compensation for those currently working in the industry, including breeders of the bulls.

"Bullfighting is about animal rights, it's about cruelty and about a bloody entertainment," says Eric Gallego, from the group known as Prou.

"We think that we must stop this cruelty because we don't want to be a barbaric society inside Europe."

Tourist spectacle

The Spanish season is over, and the only remaining bullring in Barcelona has been taken over temporarily by a circus.

But campaigners have filmed several fights inside which document the bloody struggle as a lurching bull is taunted, stabbed and, finally, killed. The triumphant matador then strides around the ring in his sequined suit, soaking up the applause.

Bullfighting is still hugely popular in other parts of Spain, but the video from Barcelona reveals that the vast majority of seats are empty. Many of the few hundred spectators are tourists.

Aficionados complain high-priced tickets and talk of cruelty have already driven many people away.

But not everyone in Barcelona wants a total ban on bullfighting.

"Bullfighting is a Spanish fiesta," explains one woman outside the imposing city bullring, one of the oldest in the country.

"It's a very old tradition which should continue. I'm not a fan, I've never been, but I respect it."

"Bullfighting is an old tradition that's known all over the world," a man says.

"But I don't like the fact an animal is killed for it. There could be another solution, not a total ban. I think they could have the show without the actual killing."

'Imposed tradition'

Back on the city outskirts, bullfight correspondent Paco March watches the would-be matadors practise their moves for that show.

One boy goads and sidesteps as another plays the imaginary bull, pushing an adapted bicycle with horns strapped to the handlebars.

Mr March is convinced that Catalonia's matadors are the victims of nationalist politics that have portrayed bullfighting as a right-wing Spanish tradition imposed on the region and heavily promoted here by General Francisco Franco during his dictatorship.

The columnist for La Vanguardia, Catalonia's biggest newspaper, blames "30 years of persecution" of bullfighting since the advent of democracy, for the closure of the two other Barcelona bullrings.

And he is not swayed by the animal rights argument.

"The bullfight is a portrayal of life as it is, from life to death," he argues. "All the activists see the blood, they don't see the art. The fight is the struggle between man and beast, transformed into art."

Campaigners retort that the struggle in the bullring is by no means equal.

"If the matador started the fight with a fresh bull, they know he would probably die in the struggle," says Eric Gallego, pointing out that the animal is weakened by other fighters before the matador enters the ring.

For the trainee toreros, though, bullfighting is a glamorous and alluring profession, and they have no qualms about their choice.

"The bull lives in the best possible conditions for four years," Alejandro Debe points out. "And if it dies in the ring, it is the dignified death of an animal that has been able to fight for its life."

"I like the matador's bravery," says Miguel, a 10-year-old who comes every week, hoping to follow in his matador uncle's footsteps. "I like it when you receive the bull into the ring."

The boys dream of receiving their first real bull on home ground, at the Monumental Plaza in Barcelona.

Even if the practice is banned in Catalonia, they could make their debut elsewhere in Spain, where the tradition and the bullfighting lobby are still strong.

But not if the anti-bullfight activists have their way. If they manage to get the practice banned in Barcelona, they have vowed to spread their campaign across the country.

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