Politicians who Feel Compassion toward Animals Should be Louder and More Determined!
Interview with Damir Hrsak, politician and activist
Damir Hrsak, a European Parliamentary candidate, talks about his longtime animal rights activism, and the connection between the human and animal rights struggle: "I do not believe in particular struggles, I believe in the united front, in which all those who wish for a world in which cooperation would prevail over competitiveness, society over market, solidarity over egoism, stand shoulder to shoulder." He also reveals his intention to translate his many years of idealistic activism into determined political action for the well-being of humans, animals and the environment.
You are a politician, university professor and human rights activist, but it is little known that you are also a member of the Animal Friends, and that you have been actively supportive of the animal rights struggle for years. Why is animal advocacy important to you?
Because animals, just like people, feel pleasure and pain; all of us are living beings. I advocate the freedom of conscience, and respect and understanding in difference. Every person who loves animals - loves life. Furthermore, the civilizational progress of a society can be measured by the society's willingness to help those who cannot help themselves, and that makes the rights of animals - living beings who share our living space - extremely important.
You have participated in numerous actions with Animal Friends, such as those for Croatia without Fur, against hunting, against seal slaughter, against animal slaughter by the veterinary inspection, against animal testing... You clearly have gotten involved with activism because of your personal ethical beliefs, and not as a means to win political points. What message do you wish to send by participating in these activist actions for animal rights?
If my students see that shouting "fur hurts" in the street and carrying signs with messages against animal abuse presents no problem to their professor, they also might get inspired. Actions are the best lesson. We have to be visible, we have to state our demands clearly, and make use of the possibilities that democracy offers. Good people around the world have unfortunately been confronted by threats of arrest and torture for openly taking their ethical stance or advocating human or animal rights. Sometimes I am deeply saddened by the denigration of the advantages of democratic society and disregard for the mechanisms for exerting influence. Today, we should at least confront those who kill with the fact that we can publically label them killers. That is the social process of the development of consciousness, and it is the precondition for positive change. We want to influence the legislative framework to put an end to pain and suffering legally.
You have been a vegetarian for over 15 years. How did you become a vegetarian and what does not consuming animals mean to you?
I became a vegetarian when I grasped the essence and beauty of real Christianity, and finally freed myself from the obedience to pagan traditions and human dogmas. The love for people is inseparable from the love for animals. Freedom, justice, brotherhood, equality and unity are the basis of Christian human relations. I advocate those beliefs in politics also. "Thou shalt not kill" pertains to animals as well.
More than 160 thousand vegetarians and vegans that are living in Croatia are denied the basic right to a meal in public institutions. What changes are necessary in order for them to stop being treated as second-class citizens?
It is necessary to change the laws, and that can be achieved exclusively through political means. That is one of the reasons I got into politics in the first place. I want to be a subject in decision making; I want to positively influence social development toward a society that is more humane, united and inclusive than the one we have today.
Vegetarianism is an important decision, but we can help animals, the environment and our own health even more by switching to a vegan diet. Is veganism your next step?
Veganism is the aim, vegetarianism is a transition period.
The United Nations and important global health organizations caution that diets which include animal products are unsustainable because of their devastating ecological consequences and world hunger. Do you think that politicians and legislators failed by disregarding the interconnectedness of animal rights, human rights and the survival of life on Earth when drafting legal provisions?
They failed brutally! But I am especially angry with my colleague scientists who are well aware that diets containing meat lead to a cataclysm. That is as obvious as that the Earth is round! But to some politicians that is not clear enough. Selfishness of the "only me and only now" kind is a crime toward the future of humanity. However, selfishness and greed are essential to capitalism, and those who are least protected suffer the most.
Do you support the initiative for prohibition of plastic bags, and which environmental problems do you think are critical to solve?
The prohibition of free plastic bags is only logical. It is a matter of the good will of people in power. Environmental problems are numerous and every one of them is critical, but personally I consider effective and responsible water management to be the crucial issue in Croatia.
You are the editor-in-chief of the interdisciplinary scientific journal The Holistic Approach to Environment (www.cpo.hr). How do you use it to promote animal rights and environmental issues?
The holistic approach to environment is by definition the exploration of possibilities and developing the model of benevolent coexistence with creatures on Earth. The key word of the journal is benevolence. The coexistence with creatures on Earth clearly includes animals, which means that scientific papers from the field of animal rights are more than welcome. Every submitted paper is naturally peer reviewed.
During the recent amendment of the Animal Protection Act, the Ministry of Agriculture refused to prohibit bull fights in Croatia, appealing to tradition. Can tradition justify animal exploitation?
Tradition has been a common "excuse" for the violation of human rights and unthinkable crimes throughout history, so it is natural that it is readily applied to animal rights violation as well. As the saying goes, "better that the village should perish, than the customs" – for me, that way of thinking is truly evil! Pagan traditions give me the shivers. True Christianity, as well as true humanism, questions everything through the prism of love, freedom, truth and justice. Everything that fits in with those values it accepts; what does not, it rejects. Slavery, feudal relationships and the discrimination of women were also traditions once!
Is the misappropriation of science to justify cruelty toward animals used in research justifiable in the 21st century? Should animal testing be made illegal?
Animal testing is not only morally disgusting, it is also scientifically inefficient. It should be completely illegal.
Why do you think it is important for you as an activist to become a Member of the European Parliament?
We should always respond to violations and use the power of media. Besides, politicians who are compassionate toward animals should be louder and more determined. That I see as my role in the European Parliament, should the citizens elect me by preferential vote, of course. I am on the Croatian Labor Party list, and have realistic chances to become a Member of the European Parliament, because apart from the Social Democratic Party of Croatia and the Croatian Democratic Union lists, the Labor Party list will be the only one to win elective offices. I can win elective office primarily by preferential votes of academia and human and animal rights activists. Twenty-odd years of idealistic activism in those three fields can now be translated into considerable political influence, which I by all means mean to employ for the welfare of humans, animals and the environment.
Should the killing of animals in animal shelters be made illegal?
Of course it should, every killing is evil. Why should animals pay with their lives for human mistakes and irresponsibility? Animals should not be subject to trade, and the shelters most definitely must not be places of murder, but a temporary accommodation until animals are placed with suitable adopters.
Sexism, racism and homophobia will be hard to wipe out as long as there is speciesism, discrimination based on species. Taking into account that in other countries animal advocacy parties are being established and elected into parliament, what do you consider to be your role in the political struggle for animal rights?
I absolutely agree with the thesis that as long as there is speciesism, there will be sexism, racism, homophobia, nationalism... With freedom, justice and understanding - it is all or nothing! As long as a single being suffers and is being abused, the world is a torture ground. We have to put an end to evil in every segment. I do not believe in particular struggles, I believe in the united front, in which all those who wish for a world in which cooperation would prevail over competitiveness, society over market, solidarity over egoism, stand shoulder to shoulder. Those who claim that a just, nonviolent and developed society is a utopia are crooks and barbarians who prosper from being oppressors. I want to make a maximum contribution to the struggle for a better world as a professor, activist and politician.
Interviewer: Snjezana Klopotan, April 5, 2013