MADRID - Lawmakers in Catalonia might ban bullfighting in a razor-close vote this week, rejecting a pillar of traditional Spain in a region with its own language and culture and an acute sense of being a country within a country.
If a proposed ban is approved in Wednesday's local legislature vote, the wealthy northeast coastal region centered around Barcelona would become the first in mainland Spain to outlaw the deadly ballet of sword-wielding matador and charging half-ton beast.
The practical effect of such a move would be limited: Catalonia has only one functioning bullring, in Barcelona - another unused one is being turned into a shopping mall - and it stages 15 fights a year that are rarely sold out, out of a nationwide total of roughly 1,000 bouts per season.
Still, bullfighting buffs and Spanish conservatives are taking the drama very seriously. They see a stinging anti-Spanish rebuke in a grassroots, anti-bullfighting drive that started last year and will culminate in the vote in the 135-seat Catalan Parliament.
The final result will depend on the region's two dominant parties - a center-right Catalan nationalist coalition called Convergence and Union, and the local branch of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Socialists.
Both are allowing their members to vote as they please rather than force them to toe the party line, a break with tradition showing how sensitive the issue is.
Bullfighting may have been popular in Catalonia decades ago - Barcelona once boasted three bullrings - but tastes have changed and for most Catalans today, Rull said, "the suffering and death of a living being cannot be turned into a public spectacle."
Josefina Elias, president of a Barcelona-based polling firm called Instituto Opina, said Catalan nationalism plays at least a part in the campaign to ban bullfighting, but predicted that the 'fiesta nacional' will ultimately survive the vote for economic reasons.