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Spanish Bullfights May Face Uncertain Future

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Spanish Bullfights May Face Uncertain Future

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Spanish Bullfights May Face Uncertain Future

Spanish Bullfights May Face Uncertain Future

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Spanish bullfighting fans are upset at the nation's environmental minister, who says her government is thinking of banning the killing of bulls in the bullring. But despite Spain's traditional passion for bullfighting, polls show that fans are shrinking in number.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

In "Death in the Afternoon," Hemingway wrote that bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death. Of course, in Spain, the home of bullfighting, the bull is even more in danger of death. But these days Spaniards are increasingly uneasy about killing bulls, as Jerome Socolovsky reports from Madrid.

JEROME SOCOLOVSKY: What would Spain be without bullfighting?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SOCOLOVSKY: Would there be no more bullfighting fiestas? No more running of the bulls in Pamplona? But wait. No one said bullfighting should be banned altogether. All Environment Minister Cristina Narbona suggested is that maybe the bulls should leave the ring alive. After all, that's how they do it in countries like Portugal and France.

Still, judging by the reactions, you'd think she proposed to end bullfighting entirely. One columnist accused the minister of betraying her own father, Paco Narbona, a celebrated writer on bullfighting. A leading leftist lawmaker accused her of importing Anglo-Saxon prejudices. The bullfighters themselves are even more upset.

During the winter, aspiring young matadors train inside a gymnasium at the heavily subsidized Madrid Bullfighting School. The teachers, or maestros as they're called, are veterans of the ring. One has a wooden leg. Another, Joaquin Dartando(ph), says he was gored 24 times during his 30-year career.

JOAQUIN DARTANDO: (Through translator) When the bull dies in the bull ring at the hands of the torero, like me, it's after I've offered my own life to the toro. I can kill the bull. But the bull could just as easily kill me. It's not what many people say, that the bull is a murderer. No señor, the bull is killed by right.

SOCOLOVSKY: Bullfighting's opponents say that even before the kill, the bull is taunted and stabbed with spears and other weapons until he's weak from loss of blood. But bullfighting's aficionados argue that at least while they are alive bulls are treated much better than the animals we eat. They insist that a bull's death is almost painless at the hands of an expert matador.

In the corner of the gym, a 19-year-old girl wearing a pink cap and matching bandana tries out her technique on a training bull. A pair of bull's horns mounted on a bicycle wheel. To Carla Rico(ph), the proposal to end the killing of bulls is cultural imperialism.

CARLA RICO: (Through translator) I think it was very bad when we Spaniards went to South America and forced the people there to give up their tradition, so it's not right to bring alien cultures here and force us to give up everything that's ours.

SOCOLOVSKY: In the Madrid suburb of Colmenar Viejo, locals do their shopping at a farmers' market. Like most towns in Spain, Colmenar Viejo has its own bullring. One of the people shopping at the market, Yvan Incio(ph), says any tradition in which an animal is hurt is barbaric.

YVAN INCIO: (Through translator) We're in a country where we're a gang of savages. It's just abnormal to kill a bull and make it suffer and have that be a national tradition.

SOCOLOVSKY: If anyone thought Spaniards were passionate about bullfighting, consider this: A Gallup poll last October found that a record 72 percent of people showed no interest at all in the national tradition. Among 15 to 24-year-olds, it was above 80 percent. The matadors may be right; they do have reason to be afraid.

For NPR News, I'm Jerome Socolovsky in Madrid.

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