European Vegetarian Union

written/translated by: Carla Van de Velde / Georgia Blackwell

Interview with Dr. Janez Drnovsek, President of Slovenia

In the entire history of mankind there have only been a handful of notable statesmen who were vegetarians and seriously took a stand for animal rights. Even today there are very few. Slovenia is one of the few bright lights in the world of politics today. By giving this interview, the president Dr. Janez Drnovsek has for the first time expressed the message to the general public that they should start thinking about the unimaginable brutality that man is inflicting upon animals.

Why did you become a vegetarian and what changes did you notice as a result?
Because I feel vegetarian food is better, and of higher quality. We eat meat because that is the way we are brought up. I have been a vegetarian for a few years and recently I became vegan, which means I don’t eat milk, dairy products or eggs. There is still plenty of choice of varied vegetable-based foods that are sufficient for our needs. I took this step following my inner feeling. Some people believe that vegan food is very limited and boring, which is not true. It can be very diverse.

Was your serious illness a few years back the main reason for changing your diet?
That’s when I gradually started to change. The first step was omitting red meat, then poultry, then fish and so on.

Do you feel better, healthier than before?
I feel great – people even say I have too much energy.

On World Protection of Animals Day (October 4th) you invited members of The Society for Liberation of Animals and their Rights for discussions. What was discussed?
I invited them mainly in order to try and convey a message to a broader public on this day. We do not always realise how we treat animals, how we manage them. They are living creatures too. As I mentioned already, people have a set idea of behaviour towards animals, and as result very rarely question what we actually cause. If we think for a moment how man manages animals and what impact he has on the animal world, we would actually have to say that he is not human at all. Just think of all the slaughter houses and the production of beef or poultry, where conditions for animals are impossible. Animals are often transported in lorries without any food or water, which is an extremely cruel way of behaving towards them. It is not that the people who do this are bad, they just do not think about it. When the final product is in front of them on a plate, they do not think about what was it before and how it got so far.

So ethical reasons also played a part in your decision to become vegetarian?
Of course ethical motives were present; and also the fact that humans do not need meat at all. It is simply our ingrained thinking patterns and habits. It is probably very hard to change this overnight, but it can be done gradually. That is how I did it myself.

You have spoken out in the media against subsidising mass livestock farming. What was your reason for this?
I believe it is foolish that the European Union’s main priority is the one hundred percent subsidy of farming, in particular meat products. The fact that the EU subsidises the mass farming of meat and poultry is the most questionable from an ethical and nutritional point of view. Nature itself reminds us of this: through mad cow disease, more recently swine fever or bird flu. It is obvious that something is not as it should be, something is disturbing the balance of nature, and that should be a warning to us all.

Vegetarian products in shops are more expensive than meat products, which does not encourage people to buy healthier food. Do you think that more people would stop eating meat if vegetarian options were cheaper?
That is probably a factor as well, although I believe the main reason is awareness. Above all it is a question of making people aware of what is happening and what they are a part of. I think that is the key. That in turn leads to changes in politics i.e. agricultural policy, farming subsidies and future aims. Why shouldn’t we channel large sums of money into organic farming of diverse produce such as cereals, pulses, fruit and all the products that originate from these, instead of into mass meat production? This would certainly be kinder to nature, as organic production means that no chemical fertilizers or additives are used. It would mean no pollution to the environment and no chemical additives in our food. At the moment we consume harmful and unhealthy chemicals in our food every day. Behind this are the interests of big manufacturers, lobbyists with huge profits who are behind the prevailing conglomeration of the food industry. Nonetheless, I believe that people’s awareness continues to increase, both within our country and elsewhere in the EU. People are searching harder for natural products and I think they are turning more to nature and becoming more sensitive as far as animals and animal products are concerned.

On the basis of your own experiences, would you recommend people to become vegetarian?
If I practise it myself, I cannot see a reason why I wouldn’t recommend it to others. I have no complaints, as I have already said: I have more energy than I need. If nothing else, I am living proof that you can survive without meat and meat products.

How do you view the fact that we all have to pay the same national insurance contributions? It is well known that vegetarians are a lot healthier and therefore do not use the health service as frequently.
This is a wider problem; the whole concept could be different. I do not think that is the key point, as there must be some solidarity within health system, where healthy people help those who are unwell. It is true however, that everyone is responsible for their own health. If we consumed less harmful and unhealthy food, we would considerably lessen the financial burden on our health service. Of course it is not in everybody’s interest for that to happen. What would happen to the pharmaceutical industry, the huge multinational companies that make billions from sick people?

What is your view on hunting?
Hunting in the sense of killing animals and as a sport is certainly not an ethical matter. If you are referring to the part of the hunting activity that looks after the conservation of nature, the environment and wild animals, for example helping with feeding in the winter – this part is very useful. Hunting that simply serves its own purpose as a form of physical activity and the desire to kill, appears to me to be completely unethical.

What is your opinion on live animal testing?
This is a well known dilemma which has recently been in the forefront of politics in Europe as well, in Great Britain. We have to ask ourselves whether we would like it if we were the subjects of such testing. During the Second World War my father was an inmate in the concentration camp in Dachau, where he was subjected to such medical experiments by the Germans, together with thousands of other people. He did not like it one bit. Although some people maintain that animal testing is necessary for the progress of science, I am sure that in most cases alternative methods can be used without the need for animal testing.

Where do you think the brutal treatment of animals originates?
It comes from the low level of people’s awareness.

And looking at it historically?
It is difficult to pinpoint the exact time in history. Fundamentally, it is a question of respecting life in general. Animals are living creatures with feelings. Everyone who has a pet knows that animals have feelings. Religions often speak about respecting life, but they only mean human life and sometimes not even that. Looking back, for a long time in the Middle Ages Catholics proclaimed that native Red Indians, enslaved by the Spanish and Portuguese, did not have souls. This meant that they did not need to be treated as living creatures with feelings. At a certain point they changed their minds and proclaimed that black people did not have souls. Centuries of black slavery followed. All this happened with the blessing of the Church. Today, nobody accepts this anymore. We can see how people’s awareness changes throughout history, despite the opposing views from certain institutions or norms during certain eras.

It is nearly Christmas. For millions of people this is time of happiness, love and peace. For millions of animals, however, it is a time of terrible cruelty at their slaughter so that our tables can be laden with carcases. And all this to celebrate the birth of a man who loved animals, protected them and did not kill them. What is your view on this?
Jesus would probably be turning in his grave if he knew that a mass slaughter of animals is carried out every year in his name. His message was based on absolute respect of life and it is very difficult to imagine that he would accept millions of living creatures being killed in his honour.

Are you aware that all vegetarians (including you) are cursed by the Church and are condemned to eternal hell?
It is fortunate that the people who say this do not decide who goes to hell and who doesn’t.

All of the world leaders constantly emphasise their endeavours for world peace. Do you think peace is connected to our relationship with animals and the nourishment of people without the need for killing and bloodshed? Or is it as Tolstoy stated: “As long as there are slaughter houses there will be wars”.
If a person’s awareness is highly developed they will not kill or be cruel to animals. It is also less likely that such a person would go to war and kill people to gain an advantage. People who do not kill and eat animals have a greater chance of finding a way to live in peace and harmony. Everything is interconnected in one’s conscience. If the level of awareness is high enough, one leads to another. Making people more aware is the key.

How do the world’s politicians view this?
The world’s politicians are no more or less aware of this than most people. I have noticed that in many cases ordinary people are ahead of politicians. If we take non-governmental organisations in Europe as an example – they are championing causes that are not yet priorities for politicians, be it our treatment of animals, the protection of the environment or climate change. This push for change is coming from ordinary members of society. When a critical mass of people accepts an idea, when the majority of people expect and demand change, only then will the politics respond. Sadly, politicians are often not the ones to encourage others, but instead follow the public opinion of the moment. Only when they see that they are unlikely to be re-elected do they reassess their priorities towards those of importance for their citizens.

Tolstoy is just one of many “great minds” of mankind who publicly spoke for vegetarianism. Let me name a few: Pythagoras, Leonardo da Vinci, Nikola Tesla, Albert Einstein, and Mahatma Ghandi….These people are recognised for their great works and achievements, they are often quoted in recognition of their genius. Why do you think that mankind is deaf towards the thoughts of these great people regarding animals and vegetarianism? An example of this is the opinion of Albert Einstein “Nothing will increase our chances of survival on Earth as significantly as will switching to vegetarian food.” How would you comment on this quote from the genius physicist?
Certainly the chances of long-term survival of mankind would increase. Everything is connected. Better quality food is connected with a higher level of awareness in a certain way. It is a parallel process: if we can do one, we can do the other. However, it is unreasonable to expect people with lower levels of awareness, who are cruel to animals, to end wars, to stop exploiting others, to help eradicate world poverty. In short: as long as the level of consciousness is low, all the disagreements in the world today will remain and possibly increase to the point of annihilation of humans.

Are the people who say they love animals, but eat meat, real animal lovers?
I think that these people do love animals, their pets, but somehow they automatically eat other animals. If someone led a cow into their kitchen and told them that it would be killed so that they could have a steak, they would probably think twice. Meat products are so altered in appearance by the meat industry that people do not associate them with real animals.

Some ladies wear fur in winter. What is your view on this part of the fashion industry?
Again it is a question of people’s awareness. People often automatically accept certain behavioural patterns without questioning them. Only when you question something, can you change your point of view and become more aware of what you are buying.

Where do people get the right to slaughter, incarcerate and torture animals and at the same time demand peace and rights for themselves? Is this sanctioned in the constitution?
It is not sanctioned as such, but of course the lawyers and legislators will tell you that it is not forbidden and therefore it is indeed assumed it is legitimate.

I’ve heard from an unofficial source that even your dog Brodi is vegetarian. Is this true?
You are well informed. You’d better ask him personally. I’m not authorised to answer in his name. (laughing)


© European Vegetarian Union - Contact form