In Spain, No Ole for Bullfights

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Paul Hanna / Reuters

Animal rights protesters in Madrid call for the abolition of bullfights, July 22, 2007. The placards read: "Enough Killing" and "Abolish Bullfights".

Malaga, on the Costa del Sol, in romantic Andalusia, home to Antonio Banderas and the capital of one of Spain's most sophisticated resort areas, is also a city where bullfights hold a hallowed place. Every August the feasts bring thousands of bullfighting fans to the Plaza de Toros. But this year, the bullfights are also bringing in something more. On August 11 the pro-animal rights group Andalusian Collective Against Animal Mistreatment (CACMA, according to its Spanish initials), will stage the first demonstration ever in Malaga against this most popular and gory of Spain's traditions. It is the latest manifestation of an emerging protest movement against one of the most archetypal — critics would say stereotypical — of Spain's symbols.

The demonstration is also sponsored by a couple of foreign groups, notably the League Against Cruel Sports from Britain and the Comite Anti Stierenvechten (CAS) which is based in the Netherlands and Belgium. But it follows Barcelona's groundbreaking move banning bullfights altogether in the city; 42 other cities and towns have declared their opposition to the sport. Spain's antitaurinos, as those opposed to bullfights are called, are gaining momentum, with scores of demonstrations and protests held across the country in places with a significant bullfighting tradition like Bilbao, Madrid and Seville. "In reality we are the real taurinos, the bull lovers," says CACMA president Antonio Vicente Moreno Abolafio.

Animal-rights defenders also have found a well-placed ally in Cristina Narbona, Spain's Environment Minister. Narbona, herself the daughter of a bullfighting expert — her father used to write a regular newspaper column about the sport — does not hide her distaste for bullfights. "I am deeply ashamed of living in a country with such a tradition", she said last year at a meeting of her Socialist Party Barcelona. That has allowed more Spaniards to come out of the closet and say they are against bullfighting. CACMA expects 3,000 people to gather at their Malaga demonstration. "This is not a tradition to maintain, but to eradicate," says Moreno Abolafio. "We must cast away the cliche of Spain represented by a man dressed as a bullfighter and a woman as a flamenco dancer."

Although the Government seems divided over the issue, Narbona certainly speaks to a growing sentiment within Spain. According to a Gallup poll, only 8% of Spaniards consider themselves bullfighting fans, But the end of bullfighting as we know may not be around the corner. If anything, its appeal may be growing beyond Spain's borders. Many South American and other European countries like Portugal and France maintain a vibrant bullfighting tradition — French President Nicolas Sarkozy and former Socialist candidate Segolene Royal fancy the sport. Moreover, bullfighting has also been exported to places like China, as well as Armenia and South Korea. More than 13 million Chinese a week have been watching bullfights on TV since 2000 according to, a bullfighting website. And in 2004, Shanghai hosted the first bullfight ever in the country. "I have a letter from a Chinese business group saying that they want to keep organizing bullfights," says Carlos Ruiz Villasuso, editor-in-chief of, a popular website for bullfighting aficionados. Asked about the growing debate in Spain, Ruiz Villasuso says that "bullfights are like the Church; they will be here for ever. The law says bullfights are a right of the Spanish aficionado."

Not that this really matters to the determined activists of CACMA, who are convinced bullfighting is losing traction in Spanish society. That notion is disputed by Ruiz Villasuso, who says this year's attendance will hit record heights. Moreno Abolfario counters by saying that even more famous fighters will now perform in portable rings, temporary and therefore unprestigious corridas set up in smaller, less affluent towns. "Five years ago," he says, "none of the main stars would fight in a portable ring." With the decline in attendance, he argues, they are now forced to. "[In Spain] young people pass on bullfights."