When I first visited Spain and even worked there one summer in the late 1960s during the Franco dictatorship, animal cruelty was de rigueur. Since the death of Franco, the introduction of democracy, and Spain’s joining the European Union, the Spanish attitude toward animals has changed drastically and is now as enlightened as that of any other modern country with one exception: Bullfighting is still tolerated. Across Spain, about 2,000 bullfights are performed a year in which bulls are slowly tortured to death to the delight of demented spectators.
Bullfighting is subsidized by the Spanish national government as well as by many regions and municipalities. This does not meet with the approval of most Spaniards. According to a national poll, 73 percent of Spaniards oppose the use of public funds to subsidize the “sport.” Without the subsidies, bullfighting in Spain would likely collapse, as attendance at bullfights is at an all-time low.
While the national government continues to subsidize this shameful form of animal torture, many local authorities have taken steps to eradicate it, sometimes only to be have those steps reversed by national authorities. The mayor of Madrid cancelled an annual municipal subsidy of the equivalent of $67,000 for the city’s bullfighting school, and the provinces of Catalonia and the Canary Islands as well as the Balearic Islands and several municipalities have banned bullfighting, only to have their bans challenged in court.
Spain’s constitutional court has overruled Catalonia’s bullfighting ban stating that such a decision can only be taken by the central government. This has angered many in Catalonia, a region that already chafes under central government control and is engaged in a political fight for independence from Spain. This ban can only strengthen Catalonia’s determination to free itself from the restrictions placed on the region by the national government in Madrid.
Most Spaniards believe that bullfighting should remain legal, even though the percentage of Spaniards who still attend them is far less than 10 percent. The attitude towards bullfighting differs according to age and educational attainment with most younger and better-educated Spaniards opposing it. Those who see this blood sport as an important part of Spanish tradition tend to be older and less educated.
I believe the European Union should step in. The European Union has standards for the ethical slaughter of animals used for food. Why, then, does it tolerate torturing animals to death as a spectator sport?
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