Locals scuffled with animal rights activists Tuesday at a centuries-old Spanish festival held for the first time since the event was banned from spearing its half-tonne bull to death.
“Bastard politicians, respect traditions,” read a giant placard set up at the entrance to the central town of Tordesillas about 200 kilometres (120 miles) northwest of Madrid.
Every September, men on horseback and on foot have chased a bull on a plain near the town and speared it to death in front of thousands of onlookers as part of the annual Toro de la Vega festival held for nearly seven centuries.
But in May the conservative regional government of Castile and Leon bowed to Spain’s increasingly strong animal rights movement and banned the spearing to death of bulls.
This year a 670-kilo (1,500-pound) bull named Pelado — “Bare” in Spanish — was let loose in the plain and hundreds of people ran alongside it for about an hour, causing a huge cloud of dust to rise from the ground until a sudden downpour cleared the air.
But in keeping with the new rules the bull was not speared or killed at the end of the festival, renamed Toro de la Pena.
Just before the bull was released, some 200 animal rights activists from across Spain faced off against thousands of local residents.
A line of police on horseback separated the two camps, who shouted insults and chanted slogans at each other.
Ricardo Garcia, who was decked out in black, said he came from Madrid with a group of friends to “ensure the law is respected”.
Locals in the town of around 9,000 people held a protest in defence of the traditional bull-spearing festival.
They chanted: “Tordesillas does not give up!” and “Animal defenders are terrorists!”
‘Taken it really badly’
Scuffles between animal rights activists and locals have been a regular occurence at the festival in recent years, contributing to the pressure to ban bull spearing.
While the activists welcome the ban, they complain the bull still suffers stress as it is chased and it is destined to be killed in the slaughterhouse in the end.
But for many locals the bull-spearing festival was a source of intense pride.
Local resident Omar Lumar proudly displays the head of a bull named Vulcano, killed in the festival in 2003, on the wall of his home.
Residents accuse the activists of “distorting” the reality of the festival to portray them as “savages”.
“We have taken it really badly. These laws are a question of power, not of justice,” Gerardo Abril, president of the festival’s organising board, told AFP.
“It is incredible that in villages we have our traditions, and they take them away from us in cities,” he added in a reference to Valladolid, the capital of Castile and Leon which passed the ban.
Abril, a plumber who was gored seven times by a bull at the festival in 2011, said he has been vilified within the far-left United Left party to which he belongs because of his support for the festival.
A self-described feminist, he wore a red handkerchief with a small image of a bull and Marxist guerrilla leader Ernesto “Che” Guevara around his neck.
Feelings over the ban have spilled over to the ballot box.
In June’s general election, 13.2 percent of votes cast in Tordesillas were blank — the highest level in the country, comparing to a national average of just 0.94 percent.
Animal rights party PACMA, which spearheaded efforts to ban the festival, won a record number of votes in the polls — nearly 235,000, although this was not enough to enter parliament.
The bull-spearing festival was banned once before, between 1966 and 1969 during the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.