Defenders and critics of bullfighting took to the streets of a southwestern city of France on Saturday, days ahead of a vote in parliament on whether to ban the practice, on the grounds that it’s cruel to animals.
On Thursday, French members of parliament will vote on banning bullfighting. They will approve or reject a bill that will make bullfighting shows, a popular event in much of France’s southwest, illegal.
Member of Parliament Aymeric Caron from the political party La France Insoumise proposed the bullfighting ban. He condemned the “barbarism” of the tradition and “the hypocritical ceremony in which an animal that is supposedly honoured is massacred with a precision and refinement that is borderline sadism.”
Caron has proposed altering an existing law that punishes cruelty to animals by removing exemptions for bullfights when they’re “local traditions.”
These animal cruelty exemptions are granted in towns such as Bayonne, Mont-de-Marsan, Arles, Beziers and Nimes.
In Bayonne, near the French-Spanish border, pro-bullfighting demonstrators on Saturday wore bullfighter capes and pushed bull-shaped carts to defend the “tradition.”
“We’re bullfighting enthusiasts. We’ve been enthusiasts since we were little. It (bullfighting) is a family tradition. And it’s also a significant local economy, it’s part of our quality of life, and so we’re defending this ideology,” Georges Lecloux, president of the Cote Basque Bullfighting Association, said.
“We know and accept the fact that at the end of life, there’s always death. Instead of hiding it, we make it a ritual, and a man equipped with a cape puts his life at risk to celebrate the sacrificial act,” bull ranch owner Olivier Martin told news agency Reuters.
“The MP Caron, in a very moralizing 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 news agency AFP.
Elsewhere in the city, anti-bullfighting protesters were chanting and holding up signs pushing to end the cruel shows.
“We encourage them to do so (approve bullfighting ban), since if they (the Members of Parliament) really are supposed to represent the population, the people, if we believe the polls, 60% to 85% of them favour this ban. So, do your job, lawmakers,” anti-bullfighting protestor Nicolas said.
According to the latest French Institute of Public Opinion (IFOP) survey performed in February 2022, 77% of French people are in favour of a bullfighting ban.
“This is a societal debate that goes beyond individual choices. A large majority of our fellow citizens oppose bullfighting,” Tiphanie Senmartin-Laurent, a member of the French political party Parti Animaliste, said.
“Torture is not a show. It’s so sad to see that some elected officials hang on to what they call a tradition, one that’s not ours and which should be forbidden in France as a serious mistreatment of animals, punishable with five years in prison and 75,000 euros in fines,” she added.
The issue has divided the ruling coalition of President Emmanuel Macron and the main opposition party, the National Rally, led by Marine Le Pen.
When she ran for president earlier this year, Le Pen made animal welfare a crucial part of her campaign, pledging to give animals a constitutional status and emphasizing that unwanted “mistreatment of animals was intolerable in our society.” She has proposed limiting bullfighting to audiences over 18 years old.
Despite broad public support, most experts predict the bid to fail as most Members of Parliament (MPs) fear a backlash in farming areas and bullfighting heartlands.
Macron’s government has advised ruling party MPs to vote against the law on Thursday, fearing it will deepen the rural-urban gap and anti-Paris sentiment in many provincial areas.
Legal attempts to ban bullfighting have frequently failed in France, with courts routinely rejecting lawsuits filed by animal rights activists, most recently in Nimes in July 2021.
If the bullfighting ban is approved in the lower house, the draft legislation would still be difficult to pass in the conservative-dominated Senate.
The debate in France that pitches animal rights defenders against traditionalists is also seen in other countries where bullfighting is still allowed, like Spain, Portugal, Venezuela, Mexico and Colombia.
A judge in Mexico City in June ordered an indefinite halt of bullfighting in the capital’s historic bullring, Plaza de Toros, the largest in the world.
The proposed French law would also ban cock-fighting which is allowed in some areas in northern France.