End bull burning festivals in Spain.

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Background: The torture of bulls with fire is an entirely legal and widely enjoyed practice in several regions of eastern Spain, including Catalonia. It is enshrined in law, highly codified and in some places, specifically protected as "cultural heritage". In reality, it is a grotesque, sickening spectacle and quite possibly the most sadistic abuse of animals for entertainment to persist in the modern world. Its frequency has greatly increased over recent years as the number of traditional, lethal bullfights has strongly declined (60% in 10 years) due to the falling attendance, the post-2008 financial crisis and the ending in 2015 of EU annual subsidies for Spanish bullfighting - which reached their outrageous peak in the financial year 2010-11 of 130m euros ($149m; £114m - you did read that correctly: subsidies for bullfighting, not for the 40-45% of Spanish under-30s without work at the time..).  

I have heard foreign Hispanophiles twist themselves into contorted verbal knots, trying to defend these practices, denying they exist, or asserting they don't really matter. These people are hypocrites of the first degree. Spanish society is slowly becoming aware of the damage this abuse does to its image and reputation, and some positive changes have taken place. The festivals in which goats were hanged or thrown from bell towers; bulls were turned into pin cushions by having metal darts inserted all over their bodies through blowpipes; and in which the heads were ripped off live birds hanging from ropes, have been banned over the past 15 years. Unfortunately, the bullfights, calf mutilations, fire bulls, bull drownings and donkey crushing, continue, and they all involve extreme, deliberate cruelty for entertainment. 

I launched this petition as I believe that there must be some way, in the modern world, of stopping the abuse of living creatures for entertainment in the horrific way you see below.


The Petition: We call on His Holiness to resolutely, unequivocally and absolutely condemn, the obscenity of the use of fire to torture and terrorise animals in the course of religious or historical celebrations, or as a means of growing popular entertainment, by means of reiterating the Papal Bull (Edict) of Pius V, which was addressed specifically to Spain, and ordered the excommunication of Spanish Catholics engaging in torturing bulls and other animals in what they mistakenly believed were ceremonies of religious glorification (this justification is used to this very day).  

There is a parallel Spanish petition on the same subject, which has been running for quite a while now and has almost a quarter of a million signatures. It is run by one of the Spanish activist groups and is addressed to the Spanish government. If you wish, it too can be signed: https://goo.gl/MVx1k4

Approach: My petition is a "long read" and contains a lot of background information on the sources of the cruelty and the enjoyment of torturing animals. To stop something, we have to understand it. We also have to see it: there are numerous links to footage recorded by both participants in these events and animal activists in Spain. It is very distressing, particularly the scenes of burning animals and young animals being mutilated. It is up to the reader whether to watch it or not, but it should be kept in mind that what you see is still considered to be "entertainment" by many millions of people in Spain.

For fairness, it should be stated that the majority of Spaniards do not participate in animal torture events, but they do, in the main, tolerate and accept them as part of their shared cultural inheritance. There have in recent years been some large demonstrations (40-50,000 people) against bullfighting, but those are in themselves smaller than the number of people who gather for a single bullfight in Madrid, Valencia, Seville or Malaga. There has never been a demonstration of any notable size against the use of fire to torture bulls, only a handful of demonstrators at some of the more egregious events. They are usually attacked by both the organisers and the Police alike. 

I have realised during the petition that for many thousands of people, it has been the first time they have become aware of these practices and their scale in Spain. There have been upwards of 10,000 comments in addition to the signatures of support, many containing specific questions. I do my best to keep up with the comments and reply to as many of the questions as I can. Please do not hesitate to repeat them in the body of the petition if I miss something. Fortunately, the vast majority of the comments have been framed in civilised language. The petition has not been without its trolls, but thankfully they have been very few and far between, and they have had nothing of substance to say apart from accusations of anti-Spanish activity. Perhaps fortunately, not one single comment has questioned the factual accuracy of this petition - I am proud of that, and wish to see it continue.

While I respect it as a matter of individual conscience, I would sincerely ask people who enjoy holidays in Spain, buy Spanish produce or holiday homes etc., to think for a moment - and to question their own consciences - about what they are helping to support. The majority of the animal torture events now rely on state/local authority subsidies, which are raised through direct and indirect taxation, including the tourist tax. These subsidies have grown to nearly a billion euros a year. No amount of guaranteed sun, cheap hotels, food and drink, excuses this obscene cruelty. There are many other places, in Europe and further afield, where your money will not go towards torturing animals, so please, think.  

Background: I believe that the use of fire, deliberately to inflict terror, pain and immense suffering, for the single reason of providing human entertainment, is an abomination and an affront to our common humanity. It is a little known practice outside Spain, since Spain is the only country where people torture animals with fire for entertainment. These events take place amid various settings, but most often to mark Saints' Days (the burning bull is portrayed as the "bringer of light"). Unfortunately, the number and frequency of these events, unlike traditional bullfights, is stable and in some places, increasing. In August 2018, the Valencian government announced that it was introducing more "animalista" (=animal friendly!!) fire bulls. In reality, this meant the legalisation of practices that had previously been illegal, particularly the igniting of groups of confined animals. 

I am referring to events such as these:






Thousands of fire bull events take place across eastern Spain (Valencia region, Catalonia, Castellon, Aragon, and occasionally other regions) each year. Some are big "set piece", macabre spectacles ending in the animal's death (or slaughter, if it has been blinded and is therefore worthless). In others, the animal is taken away and may be used again, despite its injuries and suffering. The events take place wherever they can be arranged - on sports grounds, makeshift stadiums, and often, simply in the street. 

The process is more or less the same across all the spectacles and is strikingly reminiscent of lynching. A clearly terrified animal is dragged to a stake, where it is tied up. In the "rope bull" events, the animal may have endured hours, or a day, of being dragged around on a rope, enduring physical abuse, before it is brought to the stake. There is footage of animals so exhausted they can no longer stand, being dragged to the stake by a huge mob. Frantic struggling takes place during the application of the flames and immediately afterwards. The noise the animal makes as it is brutalised and as the flames are brought to its horns is nauseating. This is often drowned out with music. Fireworks may be attached to the bull or thrown at it, or fires lit around it that it runs through. On other occasions, in a practice that was illegal until August 2018, flames are applied to bulls crammed together in cages and lorries; they crash around, stamp, panic, fall over and burn each other as the fire develops. They then stampede, to the delight of the audience.

All mammals fear fire; they flee it. The bull cannot do this. All mammals experience extreme pain when burned. The reports from Spanish veterinary associations on the practice make for grim reading. The animal suffers multiple injuries: burns to the head, eyes and back; blinding by heat and burning pitch falling into its eyes; cervical injuries to the neck and spine from being roped or from the frantic thrashing as it tries to rid itself of the fire; extreme physical and emotional stress sufficient to kill it from a heart attack. There are very distressing videos on the internet of flaming bulls smashing against walls to try to put the flames out, bloody horns hanging off with flames still attached, or dying on the spot from head injuries. In some of these recordings, participants run and kick the dying bull to try to get it back on its legs. They know they are engaging in acts of exceptional sadism, but enjoy them.  

Ironically, General Franco banned this "celebration" and it was illegal in Spain between 1963 and 1977. However, a dramatic upsurge in torture festivals came after Franco's death, and fire bulls have become one of the predominant forms of bovine torture in the Spanish regions named above. They are part of a much wider picture of continuing abuse, torture and killing of animals for entertainment, often in the context of religious festivals. There are an estimated 18-19,000 events in Spain, each year, in which people celebrate historical or religious events with the torture and killing of animals. These events mainly involve bulls and calves, and include stabbing, mutilation, amputation of tails and ears, burning and drowning. Lamentably, in some regions, children and young people participate.


The number of these events is not declining, despite the bans on the lethal bullfight (but not other forms of animal torture) implemented in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands. Yet Spain strongly rejects foreign criticism of its treatment of animals, hence why this petition seeks an intervention from The Pope and is not addressed to the Spanish Government (it would simply ignore it). The Spanish government has - quite incredibly - applied for UNESCO recognition of some of the fire bull events as meriting world heritage status. 

Desired Outcome: the Catholic Church in Spain remains a significant influence and its official view of bullfighting, dating back to the 16th century, is that it is "the work of the Devil". I believe that a Papal Interdiction specifically condemning and rejecting the use of fire to torture animals in the name of national celebration, historical tradition or religious ceremony, would be heard. Pope Francis is on record as condemning animal cruelty; it can only be hoped that he will speak out against one of the most egregious forms of it still to exist, and reiterate the Church's long-standing view on the torture of bulls for entertainment.

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