07/30/12 Demand for the Bull Games Ban

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Ministry of Agriculture
Mr. Tihomir Jakovina, minister
Ulica grada Vukovara 78
10000 Zagreb

July 30, 2012

Dear Mr. Jakovina,

We would like to take this opportunity to propose an amendment to the changes being made, by your Ministry, to the Animal Protection Act which exempts bull fighting from the ban on animal fighting.

While working on the Animal Welfare Act, which was implemented in 2007, the draft of the Act which was considered by the members of Parliament included a ban of all organized fights involving animals, clearly forbidding all actions by which animals were provoked into aggression. However, shortly before its enactment, bullfight was exempted from the Act by means of an amendment, with the explanation that bullfights were allegedly traditional in a few Croatian villages.

According to the Animal Protection Act, it is forbidden to "train animals to fight, organize animal fights, with the exception of traditional bull fighting, or participate in such fights, attend or advertise them and organize and participate in betting in relation to such fights" (Article 4, paragraph 2, item 5). The organizers of bullfights, the so called "bull games" in Dalmatia and the Dalmatian hinterland are already breaking the law without any sanctions. Bull fighting can be called neither competition nor tradition.

The "bull games" are organized as bull fights, where the animal's natural instincts are exploited and they are forced to pierce each other. A competition involves the participation of willing participants in a sporting event with clear rules that must be respected. The bulls which take part in these fights did not choose to do so at their own free will, but are compelled to do so by their owners. So, it's not about competition, but about the human manipulation of animals for entertainment and profit. Taking this into consideration, bull fights are actually already banned in the present Act, given the vagueness of its definition of the term "competition."

Another contradiction in this legal act consists in the fact that bullfights are not traditional in Croatia, including the regions of Dalmatia and the Dalmatian hinterland. Ethnographic sources and photographs never mention or attest to bullfights. In fact, the "bull games" are something entirely new in Dalmatia, which is confirmed by the fact that this year it was only the "19th Bull Games" that took place in the town of Radosic. This certainly cannot be considered a tradition, since bullfights were first organized in Croatia in the mid-1990s. It also suggests that the bull fighting in Croatia is already illegal because there is no tradition in its organization. The extremely backward exploitation of the animals' natural instincts where they are forced to fight each other for a primitive understanding of fun does not reflect traditional values but abuse.

It is at these very "bull games" that animal abuse occurs, which is punishable by the Animals Protection Act but the law, in this case, is not implemented because of the provisions which allow for "traditional bull fights." During the fight, the bull is led into a circle of hundreds of people who shout and scream, which causes the animal to panic, and additional stress and fear come with the attack of another powerful animal. During the fight, the animals hurt each other or even gore each other with their horns, thrusting into and trying to wound the other, which causes additional fear and pain. Often the injuries are serious. And that is what the spectators can see.

What they cannot see is the way in which the bulls are treated before the "bull games," at the stables or in the trucks. Their owners often starve them and give them less water on the day before the fight. Often they give them brandy or smear their muzzles with salt in order to make them more aggressive, and they also sharpen their horns in order to make them more deadly. After the fight, the animals remain distraught; they continue to tremble and salivate out of agitation and fear. This is a clear violation of the Animal Protection Act, one which veterinary inspectors do not react to.

Along the stress and fear that animals experience before and during the fight, the owners often transport the animals over long distances, which is a clear breach of the bylaw regarding animal transport, again without any control or measures taken by veterinary inspectors.

These events are a clear case of animal abuse. Animals suffer fear and injuries, which directly violates the Animal Protection Act, according to which it is forbidden to "increase aggressiveness of animals through selection or other methods," "incite animals against another animal or humans or train them to be aggressive," "give stimulants or other unauthorized substances to animals in order to improve their performance in sports competitions," "organize and participate in betting in relation to such fights," use animals in competitions "in which animals are forced to behave unnaturally, or are subject to pain, suffering, injury or fear," or "force animals into a behavior that causes them pain, suffering, injury or fear."

The "bull games" usually include betting and profit-making for the organizers, also prohibited by Article 4, paragraph 2, item 5 of the Animal Protection Act. This segment of breach of law is also without any control of veterinary inspectors, which allows for an enormous profit for the organizer of the "bull games" and the bull owners all at the expense of the suffering animals. According to data supplied by the media, the price of tickets to "bull games" is about 40 kuna, an bets go up to as much as thousands of Euro, while victory at the prominent "bull games" may yield a reward of up to two to three thousand Euro. There are also illegal bets placed on the outcome of the tournament. The prize fund of the "bull games" in Radosic, for example, is 70,000 kuna. In addition, DVDs with dog fighting can also be bought at the "bull games," which, although illegal, does not provoke a reaction from veterinary inspectors or the police.

Although the organizers of bullfights and bull owners justify the existence of the alleged tradition of such fighting in Croatia and their love for bulls, the reason for organizing and maintaining the "bull games" is strictly earnings which are exclusively made on the suffering of animals and the primitive proof of masculinity through the winning bull. Such an understanding of folk entertainment is detrimental to Croatia and the accountable institutions and undermines the promotion of Croatian tourism.

We would like to point out that in neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina, where such fights and could be called a tradition, bullfighting is punishable by law. Because of this, bulls from Bosnia and Herzegovina are regularly transported to Croatia to take part in the "bull games" by which Croatia legitimizes the abuse of animals from other countries. It should be noted that as of January 1, 2012 bullfighting in the Spanish province of Catalonia has been banned, where bullfighting was indeed a tradition which tourism almost exclusively relied upon. Bull fighting in Croatia is certainly not a tradition as it was in Catalonia, which has made the decision to ban bullfighting because of the intolerable cruelty involved and the repulsion it caused to its citizens and tourists. Banning bullfighting would not harm tradition as there are many popular ways of entertainment without any exploitation of animals, such as tug of war, the stone from the shoulder, the long jump, etc.

Even if there were a tradition of "bull games" In Croatia, violence against animals can never be ethically or culturally justified, and must therefore be excluded from all traditional events. Croatia has quite a number of traditional customs with which it can promote its valuable historical heritage for purposes of tourism. Blood and pain of animals for entertainment can never be a traditional value. Besides the direct violence that the animals are exposed to, organizing events where the spectators, including children, are entertained by acts of violence and aggression is ethically unacceptable. It sends the message that violence is OK if the other, an animal in this case, cannot defend himself or herself, and that the pain and agony of animals do not matter.

There is no logic or ethical justification for the Animal Protection Act to prohibit dog fighting or cockfighting, but not bull fighting, which is not fun, but a reflection of a pathological and violent mind-set. As an organization which deals with education on animal protection, we believe that that Croatian citizens are sensitive to the suffering of animals and do not want Croatia to have a bad image of a country which allows animal torture. The financial interests of individuals involved in organizing and participating in the "bull games" cannot justify that the law allow for animal abuse and other offenses linked to said abuse to take place.

The desire to mythologize history and to introduce newly composed traditions of rural festivals is justified if it involves equal participants, who willingly participate in it. Animals should not be an outlet or a means of profit under the pretext of carrying out the tradition of certain interest groups. The role of the legislating body is to protect animals and not an individual’s subjective views of fun and profit at the expense of animals.

We propose to amend Article 4, paragraph 2, item 5 of the Animal Protection Act, which reads: "It is forbidden to: train animals to fight, organize animal fights, with the exception of traditional bull fighting, or participate in such fights, attend or advertise them and organize and participate in betting in relation to such fights."

and that the said provision reads:

"It is forbidden to: train animals to fight, organize animal fights or participate in such fights, attend or advertise them and organize and participate in betting in relation to such fights."

This would regulate the existing contradiction of the provision which legalized animal abuse in the current law.

We expect that this corrected provision in the new Animal Protection Act will adequately protect the rights of animals to a life free of abuse and infliction of fear, suffering and injury which will bring Croatia closer to the human values and advanced animal protection legislation in other European countries.

Best regards,

Luka Oman

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