French parliament debates divisive ban on bullfighting

Sixteen-year-old Baptiste is training as a bullfighter in the southern French city of Arles and says lawmakers who want to ban it across the country simply don’t understand what he calls an art.

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“Corrida is a tradition, an art, a dance with the bull,” said Baptiste, one of a dozen students learning to wave the traditional red mulet in front of bulls at the Arles bullfighting school.

Corrida, in which the animal is usually killed by a sword thrust by a matador in a brilliant suit, is for supporters an ancient tradition that must be preserved, for critics a cruel ritual that has no place in modern society.

Almost 75% of French people back a ban on bullfighting, according to an Ifop poll in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper, and left-wing lawmaker Aymeric Caron has tabled a bill to do just that, which will be debated in parliament on Thursday.

This weekend, pro- and anti-ban demonstrators marched in several cities in southern France where corrida is still allowed.

“Corrida is not a fight, it is the execution of a tortured innocent,” read a banner carried by a protester.

For Caron, exemptions that allow bullfighting in certain parts of France and have less than a thousand bulls killed per year should be scrapped. “A tradition cannot morally justify a practice,” he told reporters.

The proposed bill is proving so divisive among most parties, even Caron’s left-wing Nupes alliance, that it is quite unlikely to pass, but it has reignited a passionate debate in France.

“It’s 2,000 years of history,” says Frederic Pastor, municipal councilor in charge of corridas in the city of Nimes. “We glorify the bull,” he said.

The 14 bullfighting shows organized in Nimes each year bring in around €60 million in revenue, the municipality says.

>> Bullfighting fans attend festival in southern France as opponents call for an outright ban

On the other side of the argument, protester Tiphanie Senmartin Laurent said: “A large majority of our citizens oppose bullfighting, which makes the killing of a bull a show. Torture is not a show.”

Bullfighting, which originated in Spain, is also hotly debated there. It was banned in Catalonia in 2010, but the Constitutional Court overturned the ban a few years later, calling bullfighting a cultural asset. A proposal for a bill on animal protection that is now being discussed there does not mention bullfighting.

“Since (bullfighting) has existed, there are people who have tried to ban it,” said Yves Lebas, president of the Arles bullfighting school. “But they never succeeded, because people said no.”


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