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Should you really go to the Bayonne Festival?

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Should you really go to the Bayonne Festival?
A bullfighter and a crowd at this year's festival. Photo: AFP
16:16 CEST+02:00
France's biggest festival has kicked off in Bayonne - but many say they would never think about going because of the bullfighting that takes place. Are they right?
The Bayonne Festival in southern France attracts around 1 million people for its annual five-day festival, which features a range of events from live music and parades to games for children and fireworks.
 
Controversially, the festival also features prominent bullfighting.
 
Indeed, The Local's preview of the event, which kicked off on Wednesday under tight security, prompted a furious backlash from anti-bullfighting readers.
 
Comments calling the festival a "shameful display of animal abuse", "tragic" and "disgraceful" quickly appeared on our Facebook page
 
Others said they would never contemplate going to the Fête de Bayonne due to the bullfighting, while others suggested we should not even cover the festival.
 
"It's not a 'party' - it's a shameful display of animal abuse," said Sam Goff.
 
"Because there is bullfighting and terrified animals running around I will never go to this," said Sophie Eibrand. 
 
"Let's face it, this festival is all about bullfighting," said another reader.
 
The festival is under tight surveillance after terror attacks in France this month. Photo: AFP
 
Stopping 'perverse' bullfights
 
But it's not just The Local's readers who are against the festival's bullfighting, or "La Corrida" as it's called in French. 
 
The French group CRAC Europe (The Radical Committee Against Corrida) is among the leading voices against bullfighting, however the group would not support a boycott of Bayonne festival, just the Corrida.
 
"Bullfighting in general is perverse, it's sadism, and it's incredible that in the 21st century there is still entertainment based on stabbing animals to death," the group's vice president, Roger Lahana, told The Local on Thursday. 
 
"In Bayonne they have nice parties, and we have nothing against people who want to have fun, drink, dance, and listen to music. But festivals don't need bullfights," he said. 
 
CRAC's Lahana said around a thousand members of his group marched on Saturday at a festival in Mont-de-Marsan where 100,000 people were on the street partying while just 7,000 were attending the bullfight. 
 
"You can do the maths, people will still go to festivals without bullfights, and festivals are going to continue even if bullfights were to disappear," said.
 
Lahana says in France, most people have no idea that there is bullfighting, most likely because it only happens in a small corner of the south, in only 65 of France's 40,000 towns.
 
A bullfighter at a previous Bayonne festival. Photo: AFP
 
Bullfighting crowd 'small but devoted'
 
Xabi Belain of Bayonne's tourist office told The Local that people who wanted to come to the festival shouldn't let the bullfights stop them. 
 
"Bullfighting is a tradition in France," he said. 
 
"We understand that it is complicated for some people, but this is a strong tradition, especially in Bayonne which was the first place in France to host bullfighting."
 
"But the bullfighting is one of the smallest parts of the festival. One million people come for a whole host of activities - it's a huge party - and the bullfighting arena only fits 10,000 people."
 
He said that those who come for the bullfights are a "small but devoted" group, many of whom come to see some of the world's best bullfighters perform.
 
And for those who are against the bullfighting, he had a simple message:
 
"For those people who don't want to see the bullfighting - we understand - but you don't need to boycott the festival," he said. 
 
He added that it was no secret that the festival itself was "extremely important" for the town's economy. 
 
France's wildest festival gets underway amid tight securityThe Bayonne Festival - a sea of red and white. Photo: AFP
 
What else can I actually do there?
 
The five-day programme (only available in French) is overflowing with activities on offer, with every hour of the day seemingly filled with something to do. 
 
The event, which sees participants dressed in a sea of red and white, has been described as one of the biggest and wildest parties in all of Europe. 
 
And there's never a dull moment. For example, Thursday's programme alone promises children's events throughout the day, a morning yoga class, a street hip hop performance, traditional music shows, a pétanque tournament, and a night-time ball that runs from 10pm until 3 in the morning. 
 
The weekend will see even bigger and presumably better events including concerts and fireworks. 
 
Ship crews take part in the traditional "joutes languedociennes" on the Nive river in Bayonne. Photo: AFP
 
But the weekend will also see bull running and bullfighting, both of which look set to remain a fixture in south western France.
 
While it's a safe bet that the bullfighting will draw a crowd over the next few days in Bayonne, this might not be the case in the future. 
 
The anti-bullfighting group CRAC Europe scored a major legal victory on Wednesday after France's highest administrative body, the Conseil d'Etat, upheld a ban on the practice from the national list of cultural heritage. 
 
Perhaps a total ban isn't too far away. 
 
Men cook as they take part in the traditional "championnat d'omelette aux piments" in Bayonne: Photo: AFP
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