France Drops Bullfighting from Cultural Heritage List

© Virginie Clavieres/ABACA. 34399-3. Palavas Les flots-France. 01/05/2002.

The court of appeals in Paris removed the controversial corrida from the list of intangible cultural heritage, in a move welcomed by animal rights activists, but — predictably — not by bullfighting devotees.

The list of patrimoine culturel immaterial (PCI) in France is a catalogue of practices, expressions or representations that  particular communities recognize to be part of their heritage. The achievement of such a status can be a precursor to protection as a UNESCO World Heritage. The corrida was added to the PCI list in 2011, among entries such as male Corsican chanting, Aubusson tapestry and Brittany’s Fest-noz.

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Bullfighting or tauromachy has been practiced in southern France for over a hundred years in some 50 towns and villages, including Nimes, Arles, Dax, and Bayonne. It sparks impassioned fervor on both sides. After seeing his first bullfight, a young Hemingway wrote in a column for the Toronto Star: “I am not going to apologize for bullfighting… But it does need some explanation. Bullfighting is not a sport. It was never supposed to be. It is a tragedy. A very great tragedy… played in three definite acts.”

France doesn’t seem ready to yield to pressure to scrap bullfighting altogether. It was only in January  that  a law upgraded the status of animals to that of sentient beings rather than furniture. In earlier amendments to the bill, proposals to ban bullfighting were rejected. In a televised interview last Sunday, animal rights activist Brigitte Bardot accused French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, of Spanish descent, of being a ‘tauromaniac’ for his avowed penchant for bullfighting.

Ever since the corrida made the PCI list, opponents have battled to have it removed. European anti-bullfighting CRAC, and 200 associations and NGO’s grouped under Patrimoine Corrida consider the June 4 ruling a clear victory given that it states that “the decision to register bullfighting to the inventory of the immaterial cultural heritage of France must be considered as having been abrogated.”

Bullfighting proponents ONCT are contesting the decision and released a statement saying: “far from a disappearing tradition, three new arenas have been built in the last two years, evidence that tauromachy is expanding.”