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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bullfights Belong in Portugal

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The contretemps surrounding the idea of bringing Portuguese-style bullfighting to Moscow as part of the Days of Portugal festival is nearly enough to leave us tongue-tied. But not quite.

Mayor Yury Luzhkov decided Monday to cancel the event — because it is "a demonstration of violence" — and sent its organizers into a frenzy of complaints that their rights are being infringed upon and that the proposed event violated no law. Inevitably, a lawsuit has been threatened, perhaps because the organizers of the bullfights don't know that the mayor seldom loses in court.

Lining up against bullfighting together with the mayor were animal-rights activists, the Russian Orthodox Church and the pro-Putin youth movement, Moving Together. An awesome array.

The interesting thing about the proposed event is that it was not really just an entertainment initiative, but part of a larger program to present Portuguese culture to Russia. Any reasonable person tasked with such an undertaking would naturally include bullfighting on the program.

Making it a bit more complicated is that the event would have included Lidia Artamonova, Russia's only female bullfighter. It would have been practically the only opportunity for locals to see her in action.

Anyone who has observed a bullfight in Spain or Portugal would surely have to acknowledge that it is an integral element of those cultures, far more significant than mere entertainment. It is a participatory, community-building ritual that is mystifying to outsiders. But when removed from that social context, the mystery falls away and the difficult-to-stomach spectacle of an animal being tormented starkly remains. Most people who have not been brought up within the culture of bullfighting have a hard time finding anything positive to say about it.

Setting up an arena in Moscow, shipping in bulls and inviting a skilled bullfighter to perform would not really be bringing this aspect of Portuguese culture to Russia.

Instead, what Russia would be doing is importing another violent Western vice, along the lines of dog fighting or the ever-popular boi bez pravil (a fight without rules). Those who sought to bring the bullfights to Moscow should admit that the stadium would not have been filled with lovers of Portuguese culture trying to come to grips with the poetry of Luis de Camoes.

While we are always wary of state-sponsored morality initiatives, we think that the mayor was right to say, "thanks, but no thanks." And if event organizers are right that the tormenting of animals for entertainment does not violate any existing laws, that is something the mayor should look into too.