Spanish Region Bans Bullfighting

This week, lawmakers in the Spanish region of Catalonia banned the centuries-old tradition of bullfighting. Michele Norris talks to Time Magazine reporter Lisa Abend about the ban.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

In Spain, they call bullfighting la fiesta, the festival, the celebration, but the party is over now in the region of Catalonia. The local parliament voted yesterday to ban bullfighting, and we're joined by Time magazine's correspondent in Spain, Lisa Abend, to find out exactly why. Welcome to the program.

Ms. LISA ABEND (Reporter, Time Magazine): Hello, thank you.

NORRIS: When you think of Spain, you automatically think of bullfighting. This is curious. Why and how did this happen?

Ms. ABEND: It is curious if you have a very stereotypical image of Spain as a country given over to bulls and Flamenco, but it's also a country with very distinct regional heritages and regional traditions. And Catalonia has one of the strongest. They speak their own language. They consider themselves a separate nation.

And for that region, which is also, I should add, a little more politically progressive historically than the rest of Spain, they at this point don't necessarily see bullfighting as theirs.

NORRIS: And is it a matter of taste and culture, or is something else at work?

Ms. ABEND: It's complicated. There's - certainly in the last few decades throughout Spain, there's been a decline, especially among younger people, in the sort of attraction and passion for the bullfight. There has been a growing awareness of animal rights, especially in Catalonia, which has passed all kinds of progressive animal rights legislation in the past.

So that's part of it. Part of it also I think is that under the Franco dictatorship, a lot of the Catalan identity was suppressed, and Franco was a very big promoter of bullfighting because he saw it as the symbol of a unified Spain. And so once he died, and the dictatorship came to an end and the sense of Catalan identity re-flourished, there was a sense of wanting to reject this thing that had been pushed on them as typically Spanish.

NORRIS: So you're in Madrid. The ban is in, as we've been saying, Catalonia, where the capital is Barcelona. If they don't want to be associated with bullfighting, what perhaps do they want to be associated with instead?

Ms. ABEND: Well, Catalans will tell you they have a very rich cultural history. Instead of Flamenco, they dance Sardanas, and they have their own writers. They have their own poets. They had the first democratic government in Spain, back in the Middle Ages.

So they say that they have just exactly what they need. They also have (unintelligible), the football team, which contributed seven players to the World Cup team. So they're pretty content with the culture they have.

NORRIS: So what happens to the matadors that were working in Catalonia? Were there bullfights there?

Ms. ABEND: There was. I mean, one of the things that complicates this is that throughout the 20th century, Barcelona was always one of the big bullfighting cities. At one point, there were three bull rings in Barcelona. And even this year, there are still bullfights going on.

But matadors, they're like rock stars. They travel from ring to ring, and so you're not necessarily based in a single place. You're going to fight in the season, you'll be fighting all over Spain. So this will mean that there'll be one region in which they won't be appearing, but there are still close to 3,000 rings left in Spain.

NORRIS: I guess good news for the bulls of Catalonia.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ABEND: Yes, I would say that, probably less good news for the bull farmers of Catalonia but good news for the bulls themselves.

NORRIS: Thank you, Lisa.

Ms. ABEND: My pleasure.

NORRIS: That's Lisa Abend. She's a correspondent for Time magazine, based in Spain.

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