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In Spain, Money for Bulls But Cuts for Citizens

In February, the government of the People's Party (PP) agreed to debate a citizen initiative presented before Congress to deem bullfighting a “Cultural Interest Good” in all of Spain, with the PP's vote being the deciding factor considering its absolute legislative majority. It is calculated that in Spain, more than 500 million euros are invested in bullfighting each year in the midst of severe welfare cuts.

In Spain, a Popular Legislative Initiative is one of the mechanisms that allows for citizen participation in formal politics. According to Organic Law 3/1984, the entire initiative should proceed if it comes backed by a minimum of 500,000 signatures. The reality is that in Spain, only eight popular initiatives have reached the House of Congress and only one has been approved [es] in 30 years, which, according to the opinion of many, gives a hint to the true role that citizens play in the political system.

Graphic representation of the ILP (Popular Legislative Initiative)

Graphic representation of the ILP (Popular Legislative Initiative)

The hand of the PP at the time of validating these petitions (or not) was clear on February 12 when they were met with two initiatives: the ILP (Popular Legislative Initiative) favoring bullfighting and another that, despite having more citizen support, was not received equally. It was an ILP against evictions, presented by the Platform of People Affected by Mortgages (PAH) [es], whose goal is to avoid situations like a family continuing to pay for an apartment from which they have already been evicted. Despite having nearly a million and a half signatures, this ILP was approved only because of great public pressure. On the other hand, the initiative to name bullfighting a “Cultural Interest Good” brought together 590,000 signatures and, despite having only been counted in Congress with the support of the PP, UPyD [Union of Progress and Democracy] and the UPN (Union of the Town of Navarro), it was passed with 180 votes in favor, 40 against, and 107 abstentions.

An anti-bullfighting concentration in Las Ventas, 2012. Image from Diana Moreno for Demotix.

An anti-bullfighting concentration in Las Ventas, 2012. Image from Diana Moreno for Demotix.

The PP, a bullfighting party

The People's Party has always been known, among other things, for its support of bullfighting. Not only with the immediate passing of the ILP, which will bring about the return of bulls to Catalonia (where they were prohibited in the end of July 2010), and, according to the Community of Madrid, will impede that there be “places with prohibited cultural demonstrations.” The record is long.

Since their election campaign, the PP has promised to defend the practice of bullfighting, probably the only promise they has been kept. Its members generally do not hide a passion that frequently translates into the very legislation that they pass. As such, Esperanza Aguirre, former president of the Community of Madrid (one that has invested 2,197,407 euros for Bullfighting Issues in the General Budget for 2012, according to PACMA [es]), has been accused of having spent 350,000 euros [es] in 2012 on promoting bulls instead of applying that money towards active employment policies. Ignacio González, her successor, has considered bullfighting as “Spain's most important national holiday.”

In order to make the bulls an “intangible piece of heritage,” Minister of Culture José Ignacio Wert has created a commission to protect [es] the holiday. Furthermore, since the government took over public television, the running of the bulls, whose broadcast was banned in 2006 to protect children, is now back on schedule. According to a study attributed to the Altarribia foundation [es], 564 million euros of public money is invested per year to finance the running of the bulls… all that despite citizen criticism with respect to generous spending on bullfighting in times of health and education cuts: in Madrid, for example, 67% of people reject these grants [es].

Cartoon by Ferrán Martín. Used with permission. (From top to bottom: "EXPEL THEM! EXPEL THEM! / Who? Those who say that neither the bulls nor any other animals have the right to liberty and life or those that are shouting demands for a change to the mortgage law? / What do you think, sir? / Ah, no...! I asked you first..."

Cartoon by Ferrán Martín. Used with permission. (From top to bottom: “EXPEL THEM! EXPEL THEM! / Who? Those who say that neither the bulls nor any other animals have the right to liberty and life or those that are shouting demands for a change to the mortgage law? / What do you think, sir? / Ah, no…! I asked you first…”


Although the ILP against evictions created a social mobilization that overshadowed the bullfighting issue, the rejection of deeming bulls a “National Interest Good” equally sparked many protests. This initiative, which if enacted will further allow for even more subsidies for the holiday, has already generated movements against it, like the petition on [es] (which has almost 17,000 signatures already), a demonstration on February 28 [es] or the many opinions on Twitter:

 @_issacrosa: Más cornás da el banco: PP se da prisa para que haya toros en Cataluña este verano. Los desahuciados pueden esperar.

@_issacrosaMore goring from the bank: The PP is rushing to have bulls in Catalonia this summer. The evicted can wait.

@bassileo: Receta PP para salir de la crisis: Más Toros, más Vaticano, menos Educación y Investigación Científica… Resultado: Un país en decadencia.

@bassileo: The PP's recipe to pull out of the crisis: More Bulls, more Vatican, less Education and Scientific Research… The Result: A country in decline.

@jordi_fdez00: La gente del PP se pone como una moto por la subvención al cine español pero ven perfecta la enorme subvención a los toros…

@jordi_fdez00The people of the PP go crazy over subsidies for the Spanish film industry but they see the enormous subsidy for bulls perfectly…

Of course, there are opinions on Twitter users in favor of bullfighting:

@JóvenesTaurinos: Hoy es un día Histórico. Puerta Grande para la Tauromaquia. La unión hace la fuerza. Enhorabuena a todos!!

@JóvenesTaurinosToday is a historical day. A Triumph for Bullfighting. Unity is strength. Congratulations to everyone!!

@6TOROS6: Cientos de aficionados y profesionales en el Congreso #ILPTAURINASÍ toreros, novilleros, banderilleros, ganaderos, apoderados, prensa

@6TOROS6: Hundreds of amateurs and professionals in the Congress #ILPTAURINASÍ matadors, bullfighters, banderilleros, ranchers, attorneys, the press

@pabmontes: Prohibir es de leninistas como los son muchos en la izquierda radical “antitaurina”. Viva la libertad y vivan los toros #ILPesDemocracia

@pabmontesTo prohibit is Leninist as are many in the radical “anti bullfighting” left.” Long live freed and the bulls #ILPesDemocracia (#ILPisDemocracy)

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