Thousands of bullfighting fans gather across the south of France for traditional summer festivals, and opponents of the practice revive their fight for an outright ban, confident that public opinion is finally on their side.
“I think the majority of French people share the view that bullfights are immoral, a spectacle that was staged in the 21st part of the far-left France Unbowed party.
For years, critics have sought a final legal blow to what they describe as a cruel and archaic ritual, but none of the proposed legislation has ever been accepted for debate by lawmakers in the National Assembly.
French courts have also routinely dismissed lawsuits from animal rights activists, most recently in July 2021 in Nimes, site of one of France’s most famous bullfighting events.
But Caron, who is based in Paris, told AFP the time was right for a new proposal amid growing animal welfare concerns, with a bill due to be presented this week.
“I really hope that this bill will be debated in Parliament in November … it would be a first,” he said.
The prospect seems all the more likely after France Unbowed won dozens of new seats in recent elections, helping to strip President Emmanuel Macron of his centrist majority in parliament.
The aim is to modify an animal protection law that allows exceptions for bullfights – like cockfights – if they can be shown to be “uninterrupted local traditions”.
Such exemptions are granted to towns such as Bayonne and the medieval jewel of Mont-de-Marsan in south-west France near Spain, where the practice originated, and along the Mediterranean coast, including Arles, Béziers and Nîmes.
– ‘Respect for the animal’ –
For Caron it is “not a French tradition, but a Spanish custom imported to France in the 19th century to please Napoleon III’s Andalusian wife, Countess Eugenie de Montijo.
That argument is unlikely to convince the throngs that packed the streets of Bayonne for the bullfighting feria that ended on Sunday, a sea of fans dressed all in white save for bright red bandanas or sashes.
“The people who want to ban it don’t understand it. Bullfighting is a drama that brings you closer to death… You’re scared, but that’s part of life,” said Jean-Luc Ambert, who came with friends from central Auvergne.
Like many other fans, his friend Francoise insisted that bullfighting is both an art and a sport in which “a man risks his life while respecting the animal.”
“We’re not trying to convert anyone – I just want the people who are against it to leave us alone,” she told AFP.
Guest star at the Bayonne Feria, Spanish matador Alejandro Talavante, indeed found an appreciative audience who demanded the Bull’s Ear for his performance.
It’s a conflict that reflects the growing rift in France between rural dwellers steeped in deep agricultural traditions and Parisians and other city dwellers who are accused of trampling on the country’s cultural heritage — often dubbed “the Taliban of Paristan.” ‘ mocked.
– Broad support? –
Andre Viard, president of the national bullfighting federation, fended off the threat with a ban.
“It comes up in every parliamentary session,” Viard told AFP of Caron’s efforts to find allies for the France Unbowed initiative.
“We say to the other parties: why do you want to get involved with a bill that attacks a constitutionally protected cultural freedom and territorial identity?”
The debate reflects similar opposition in other countries with a history of bullfighting, including Spain and Portugal, as well as Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela.
In June, a judge in Mexico City ordered an indefinite suspension of bullfighting at the capital’s historic bullring, the largest in the world.
Caron is counting on support from across the political spectrum, including top figures in Macron’s party like his parliamentary group leader Aurore Berge, who was among 36 MPs calling for a bullfighting ban last year.
An Ifop poll earlier this year found that 77 percent of respondents would support a ban, up from 50 percent in 2007.
“More and more people are concerned about animal suffering, including in bullfights,” Claire Starozinski of the Anti-Bullfighting Alliance told AFP, adding that many people are unaware that the bulls are actually killed.
“I know there are MPs from other parties who will support me, and that’s what they’ve said,” Caron said – although he admitted more mainstream lawmakers like Berge might be reluctant to join his left-wing campaign.
“Will she remain true to her convictions or make a political calculation that prevents her from supporting me? That is what the talks in the coming weeks and months will be about.”
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