The independence-minded region of Catalonia on Wednesday became the first on the Spanish mainland to outlaw bullfighting, a move some say is as much about nationalist politics as animal rights.
Lawmakers in Catalonia's regional parliament approved the controversial ban, 68-55, with nine abstentions, after emotional speeches that mixed expressions of support for preserving tradition with denunciations of bullfighting as institutionalized cruelty. The ban will take effect in the region, of which Barcelona is the capital, in 2012.
The vote culminated a public initiative to bar bullfighting that began more than 1 1/2 years ago and has drawn international attention. Backers erupted in cheers in the parliament chamber's gallery and celebrated the legislative seal of approval as a moral victory.
"It's a historical day today and will be remembered in years to come," declared Manel Macia Gallemi of the organization Prou, which led the campaign for a ban. "The numbers were tight. We knew that the pro-bullfighting people were doing an incredible job to convince [members of parliament] these last months. In the end … the truth has come alive."
But critics have assailed the ban as a pretext for more nakedly political ends rather than being purely about animal welfare. They suspect that the true motive is a desire to poke a stick in the eye of the rest of Spain, an assertion of Catalan identity as distinct, different and maybe a bit superior.