Official statistics released by MundoToro in Spain and Revue Toros in France show a steady decline of the bullfighting business. The number of bullfighting events in France went from 159 in 2003 to 121 in 2013, showing a 23.9% drop (during the same period, in Spain, the contraction was even steeper, dropping from 2047 bullfights to 903).
Leaders of the bullfighting business and their supporters openly blame the animal rights movement calling on government officials in Paris to “dissolve” the leading anti-bullfighting organization in France, CRAC Europe, calling it a “terrorist organization.”
The anti-bullfighting movement is gaining momentum in France and costing local governments a lot of money. Protests in and outside of bullfighting rings have become increasingly widespread and in some cases, becoming violent when bullfighting aficionados have beaten up peaceful demonstrators. Police SWAT teams have deployed tear gas and rubber bullets, injuring scores of activists.
Frustrated bullfighting enthusiasts, desperately clinging to their “traditions,” are using social media and their connections in small local newspapers to galvanize aficionados but the tactics of the anti-bullfighting movement to cripple the industry are working—pummeling them both economically and psychologically.
Despite a clear majority of French citizens, 70%, (or more, depending on the poll) being in favor of abolishing the blood sport, bullfight producers have hardened their position.
The bullfighting “aficionados,” emboldened by the political protection of the French minister of the interior, Manual Valls, a fan of the blood sport, refuse to give up what they claim to be an art and a cultural tradition. Bullfighting is illegal in 90% of French territory and is considered a violent crime against animals with penalties of up to two years in prison. It is only allowed under a special judicial exemption in a small area in southern France.
Economic warfare, legislative pressure, massive demonstrations and media blitzes
Animal protection advocates are more determined than ever to make the blood sport illegal in France with an effective strategy:
1. By engaging in economic warfare.
2. By mounting physical sieges of towns during bullfights.
3. By using social media to bombard voters and government officials with evidence of animals being tortured prior to the bullfight and stabbed to death in the ring.
4. By pressing legislators in France and the EU to take a stand commensurate with the will of the people.
Under siege by hundreds, or in some cases, thousands of animal rights protesters appearing at every bullfight on the calendar, it is becoming more difficult and expensive for organizers of bullfights and local governments to secure their events.
How the strategy of “get ‘em where it hurts” – in the wallet—works
When a protest is organized in France, it’s up to the local chief of police to decide which security protocols to deploy. In the case of anti-bullfighting protests, the police deployment is considerable because of the risks involved.
The cost in money and man-power has escalated, particularly since the extreme violence that occurred during the bullfight in the southern town of Rodilhan in 2011. At that protest, animal rights activists came down from the stands and entered the ring, staging a classic sit-in. They remained passive while bullfighting aficionados ran down from the stands and violently punched them, kicked them, hosed them and dragged them out of the ring. For the animal protection side, remaining passive and taking the blows turned out to be a winning strategy because over 60 criminal battery complaints were filed by animal rights activists who had been injured.
After the criminal complaints are heard, there will be civil lawsuits filed against the aficionados.
The hard costs for a bullfighting community to mobilize one police officer or SWAT cop for one day costs $130 over and above his regular salary. Added to that is the price of riot gear, transport, weapons, materials, communications equipment, cars and trucks. One hour of helicopter support can cost anywhere from $2000 to $13,000.
Legally, a police and SWAT team deployment must come from another state—different from the one in which the event takes place. The reason for this is to minimize the risk of contact between law enforcement personnel and people they might know in their personal lives. This ruling not only complicates the logistics of law enforcement deployment but it effects a politically troublesome budgetary situation—not all states want to pay for security far from home. For this reason, the security budgets are centralized in France and run by the minister of the interior—who happens to be Manuel Valls, that rabid bullfighting fan.
The cost of security can add up pretty fast and generally it’s the central government that pays the bill. However, a law was passed in 2012 which allows for the bill to be presented to the town where the protest took place. This is the case when the cost to maintain order is judged disproportionate to the event which was being protested. Take the example of the anti-bullfight protest in Rodilhan on October 27, 2013 (which both reporters of this article attended). Around 260 CRS (SWAT agents) and police officers were deployed in an anti-riot procedure. Helicopter support was added to the line-up.
According to a government insider, Monsieur P, who wishes to remain anonymous because he is not authorized to make these statements, the bill totaled over $65,000. The bullfight event that this deployment was to cover only had around 200 spectators (the stands fit 1000). If all the ticket buyers had paid $26 (we know they didn’t because the mayor had given many tickets away for free in order to fill the stands), the entire event would have brought in $5,200.
This is clearly a case which fits the legal criteria whereby the town is obliged to pay the bill because, obviously, local officials reacted disproportionately to maintain the order of an event attended by a handful of people. In such circumstances, it would have been less expensive for the town to simply annul the event. But the mayor, an avid bullfighting fan, preferred to have his constituents under a state of siege, behind 16 foot barricades.
So the residents of Rodilhan can now look forward to a significant increase in their local tax bill. The tax hike might cost the mayor, Serge Reder, his reelection.
Police chiefs in bullfighting territories are all very aware of the situation. During a protest in Rion-des-Landes on November 24, the local deputy police chief said he thought that all the bullfighting states need to “think about how this heavy-handed use of force could very well end up hurting the image of bullfighting culture and its festivals.”
It’s not the image of bullfighting culture that is in danger; it is the devastating effect on the economies of 65 bullfighting towns which are already struggling with a severe economic crisis.
These towns cannot afford to maintain spectacles of bull torture.
2014 will be a game changer
Bullfighting season is over for this year in France but next year’s schedule of bullfights is already circulating in the animal rights community. It’s no secret that next season, anti-bullfighting protests are going to escalate and intensify. Activists encouraged that their protests have caused the annulment of 3 consecutive bullfights just last week, have vowed to be at every bullfight in every town. Facebook event pages are mushrooming and there is no doubt that 2014 will be a game-changer.
I even got an anonymous tip from a member of the notorious Animal Liberation Front that they are talking with veterinarians in the animal rights movement about a plan to drug bulls before they are tortured in the ring in order to dull the pain and induce the bulls to just lie down.
As Jean-Pierre Garrigues, professor of economics and president of CRAC Europe, told me at a conference last week, “Activists plan to be everywhere at all times. These few remaining sadists won’t be able to continue torturing bulls—the cost will be too high.”
The real cost of bullfighting though, is immeasurable and paid by the bulls—in blood.
This article was written by Anna Galore and Carole Raphaelle Davis
Carole Raphaelle Davis is the author of “The Diary of Jinky, Dog of a Hollywood Wife,” the West Coast Director of the Companion Animal Protection Society and Director of Campaigns, Europe, for Friends of Animals.