France's animal rights movement has succeeded this week in planting a
couple of sharp spears in the flanks of the once seemingly untouchable
French bullfighting industry.
Fierce public controversy has finally broken out on an issue which has
traditionally attracted only marginal interest in France.
A television advertisement calling for a ban on bullfighting has been
declared unacceptable - because it shows violent scenes at bullfights.
The decision by France's advertising watchdog has drawn attention to
the bizarre - and critics say hypocritical - legal status in France of
"la corrida", the Spanish style of bullfighting to the death (of the
bull). Bullfighting is banned in France but legally tolerated in those
areas which can claim an unbroken local "tradition". In practice,
French courts have allowed bullfighting to spread to towns in the
south where no such tradition exists.
If the practice of stabbing and slaughtering bulls in public is too
violent for family viewing on prime-time television, critics ask, why
are children allowed to attend bullfights in France?
On one side of the ring are several celebrities, including the Belgian
actor Jean-Claude Van Damme, the animal rights activists and retired
actress Brigitte Bardot, the Franco-American ice-skater Surya Bonaly
and Renaud, a lugubrious, ageing "protest" singer and France's answer
to Bob Dylan.
On the other side of the ring are bullfighting fans, including the
prime minister and several ministers, and the substantial bullfighting
economic interests of the deep south of France.