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CULTURE

‘Immoral and archaic’: Animal rights activists eye bill to ban bullfighting in France

As thousands of bullfighting aficionados gather across southern France for traditional summer ferias, opponents of the practice are reviving their fight for an outright ban, confident that public opinion is finally on their side.

'Immoral and archaic': Animal rights activists eye bill to ban bullfighting in France
French matador El Rafi performs a muleta pass on a fighting bull in the arena of Arles, southern France, on June 6, 2021 (Photo by Nicolas TUCAT / AFP)

“I think the majority of French people share the view that bullfights are immoral, a spectacle that no longer has its place in the 21st century,” said Aymeric Caron, a popular former TV journalist and animal rights activist who was recently elected to parliament as part of the hard-left France Unbowed party.

For years, critics have sought a final legal blow against what they call a cruel and archaic ritual, but none of the draft bills presented have ever been approved for debate by National Assembly lawmakers.

French courts have also routinely rejected lawsuits lodged by animal rights activists, most recently in July 2021 in Nimes, home to one of France’s most famous bullfighting events.

But Caron, based in Paris, told AFP that the time was ripe for a new proposal given growing concerns about animal welfare, with a draft bill to be submitted this week.

“I do indeed hope this bill will be debated in parliament in November… it would be a first,” he said.

The prospect seems all the more likely after France Unbowed won dozens of new seats in recent elections, helping to strip President Emmanuel Macron of his centrist majority in parliament.

The goal is to modify an animal welfare law that allows exceptions for bullfights — as well as cock fighting — when it can be shown that they are “uninterrupted local traditions.”

Such exceptions are granted to cities including Bayonne and the mediaeval jewel of Mont-de-Marsan in southwest France near Spain, where the practice has its origins, and along the Mediterranean coast including Arles, Beziers and Nimes.

‘Respecting the animal’

For Caron, “it’s not a French tradition, it’s a Spanish custom that was imported to France in the 19th century to please the wife of Napoleon III, who was from Andalusia,” the countess Eugenie de Montijo.

That argument is unlikely to convince the jostling crowds who packed the streets of Bayonne for the bullfighting feria that ended Sunday, a sea of fans clad all in white except for bright red bandanas or sashes.

“The people who want to ban it don’t understand it. Bullfighting is a drama that brings you closer to death… You’re afraid, but that’s a part of life,” said Jean-Luc Ambert, who came with friends from the central Auvergne region.

Like many other fans, his friend Francoise insisted that bullfighting is an art as much as a sport, where “a man puts his life on the line, while respecting the animal.”

“We’re not trying to convert anyone — I just want the people against it to leave us alone,” she told AFP.

The guest star of the Bayonne feria, Spanish matador Alejandro Talavante, did indeed find an appreciative audience, with the crowd demanding the award of the bull’s ear for his performance.

It’s a conflict that echoes the widening rift in France between rural dwellers steeped in deep agriculture traditions, and Parisians and other urban residents accused of trampling on the country’s cultural heritage — often derided as “the Taliban of Paristan.”

Widespread support?

Andre Viard, president of the national bullfighting association, shrugged off the threat of a ban.

“This comes up in every parliamentary session,” Viard told AFP of Caron’s efforts to find allies for the France Unbowed initiative.

“We tell the other parties: Why do you want to be associated with a bill that attacks a cultural freedom protected by the Constitution, and territorial identity?”

The debate echoes similar opposition in other countries with bullfighting histories, including Spain and Portugal as well as Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela.

In June, a judge in Mexico City ordered an indefinite suspension of bullfighting in the capital’s historic bullring, the largest in the world.

Caron is banking on support from across the political spectrum, including top members of Macron’s party such as the head of his parliamentary group Aurore Berge, who was among 36 lawmakers who called for a bullfighting ban last year.

An Ifop poll earlier this year found that 77 percent of respondents approved of a ban, up from 50 percent in 2007.

“More and more people are concerned about animal suffering, including in bullfights,” Claire Starozinski of the Anti-Bullfighting Alliance told AFP, adding that many people don’t realise that the bulls are actually killed.

“I know there are MPs from other parties who will support me, and have said so,” Caron said — though he admitted that more mainstream lawmakers such as Berge might be reluctant to join his leftish campaign.

“Is she going to remain true to her convictions, or make a political calculation that prevents her from supporting me? That’s what will be at stake in the talks over the coming weeks and months.”

Member comments

  1. There is a difference between bull fighting and bull games. In bull games, the bull is not killed. I saw that in Arles. Would the bill outlaw that as well?

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CULTURE

French MP abandons bid to ban bullfighting

A bid to ban bullfighting in France has been abandoned, to the relief of lovers of the traditional blood sport and dismay for animal rights' activists.

French MP abandons bid to ban bullfighting

The 577-seat National Assembly had looked set to vote on draft legislation that would have made the practice illegal.

But the MP behind the bill withdrew it after lawmakers filed more than 500 amendments, many of them designed to take up parliamentary time and obstruct the vote.

“I’m so sorry,” Aymeric Caron, a La France insoumise (LFI) MP and animal rights’ campaigner, told the national assembly as he announced the decision in raucous and bad-tempered scenes.

Though public opinion is firmly in favour of outlawing the practice, the bill had already been expected to be rejected by a majority of lawmakers who
are wary about stirring up the bullfighting heartlands in the south of the country.

“We need to go towards a conciliation, an exchange,” President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday, adding that he did not expect the draft law to pass. “From where I am sitting, this is not a current priority.”

His government has urged members of the ruling centrist coalition not to support the text from the opposition LFI, even though many members are known to personally favour it.

During a first debate of the parliament’s law commission last week, a majority voted against the proposal by Caron, who denounced the “barbarism” of a tradition that was imported from Spain in the 1850s.

“Caron has antagonised people instead of trying to smooth it over,” a lawmaker from Macron’s party told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The bill proposed modifying an existing law penalising animal cruelty to remove exemptions for bullfights that can be shown to be “uninterrupted local
traditions”.

These are granted in towns such as Bayonne and Mont-de-Marsan in south west France and along the Mediterranean coast including Arles, Beziers and Nîmes.

Around 1,000 bulls are killed each year in France, according to the Observatoire National des Cultures Taurines.

READ ALSO EXPLAINED: Could bullfighting finally be banned in France?

Many so-called “bull towns” depend on the shows for tourism and see the culture of bull-breeding and the spectacle of the fight as part of their way of life – idolised by artists from Ernest Hemingway to Pablo Picasso.

They organised demonstrations last Saturday, while animal rights protesters gathered in Paris – highlighting the north-south and rural-versus-Paris divide at the heart of the debate.

“Caron, in a very moralising tone, wants to explain to us, from Paris, what is good or bad in the south,” the mayor of Mont-de-Marsan, Charles Dayot, told AFP recently.

Other defenders of “la Corrida” in France view the focus on the sport as hypocritical when factory farms and industrial slaughter houses are overlooked.

“These animals die too and we don’t talk enough about it,” said Dalia Navarro, who formed the pro-bullfighting group Les Andalouses in southern Arles.

Modern society “has more and more difficulty in accepting seeing death. But la Corrida tackles death, which is often a taboo subject,” she told AFP.

Previous judicial attempts to outlaw bullfighting have repeatedly failed, with courts routinely rejecting lawsuits lodged by animal rights activists, most recently in July 2021 in Nîmes.

The debate in France about the ethics of killing animals for entertainment is echoed in other countries with bullfighting histories, including Spain and Portugal as well as Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela.

In June, a judge in Mexico City ordered an indefinite suspension of bullfighting in the capital’s historic bullring, the largest in the world.

The first bullfight took place in France in 1853 in Bayonne to honour Eugenie de Montijo, the Spanish wife of Napoleon III.

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