Interview with the AFC president: As we behave towards nature, so will she towards us

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We have come a long way since the three of us stood in the street and with three banners draw others' attention to the suffering of animals. Legal changes for animals in Croatia come very slowly and they are the result of our association's many years of exhaustive engagement. We are pleased that our proposal to ban firecrackers has received such tremendous support from citizens, associations, government bodies, and institutions.

If everything works out as it seems, our pets will no longer have to fear firecrackers. That's a good reason to talk to Luka Oman, the leading man of the Animal Friends Association.

Thanks to you and the association's efforts, it seems that we are about to ban the use of firecrackers. You submitted the petition to Minister Božinović, it's been signed by more than 60,000 citizens, and the amendment to the Law on Explosive Substances as well as a complete ban on firecrackers throughout the year has been supported by nine ministries, including the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Can we consider that a big victory and how much will animals benefit from this law?

- We are pleased that our proposal to ban firecrackers has received such a tremendous support from citizens, associations, government bodies, and institutions. It's a great success and we expect the ban to take effect as soon as possible.

The ban on firecrackers is also completely logical if we remember that firecrackers have been completely and justifiably banned before. Therefore, this compromise is an important first step towards banning other noisy and dangerous pyrotechnics that disturb animals and humans, endanger their safety, and cause animal death and air pollution.

Years of struggle

The Animal Friends Association launched a petition against firecrackers as early as January 2018. Am I wrong to say that two years is a long time for the changes to start, or is it actually faster than usual for this type of action? In other words, is the state too slow when it comes to animal rights?

- All the legal bans we have won so far have taken years and years of struggle, great effort, and hard work. As for firecrackers, it's been six years since we launched our first petition to ban firecrackers and other category F2 and F3 pyrotechnics, until the MIA's proposal to ban all firecrackers year-round.

We hope that such a ban will pass. Legal changes for animals in Croatia come very slowly and they are the result of our association's many years of exhaustive engagement.

For example, on the website www.prijatelji-zivotinja.hr there is still an active petition to vaccinate dogs against rabies for the period specified by the instructions of the vaccine manufacturer, and not for just one year since most rabies vaccines last two, even three years, as well as a petition to introduce vegan meals to public institutions.

Both initiatives are logical, current and in the wake of what is already common in some other countries. The steps made in animal welfare legislation show that, although progress is slow, we must constantly seek change and not give up.

Can we say that changes to the law are also due to altered citizens' awareness when it comes to animal rights? The impression is that we have moved forward in this field, at least by baby steps? How much of that can be credited to the associations like yours, and how much is, perhaps, due to some world trends?

- 19 years ago, when the Animal Friends Association was founded, there were no other animal rights organizations in Croatia, so we were facing a lot of work. We were few, but we had the will and perseverance to create change for animals in a country where neither dogs nor cats were protected, let alone other animals.

Our work, numerous public actions well-covered by media, petitions, countless letters to authorized institutions, communication with citizens who recognized and supported us as honest spokespersons for animals, have all contributed to raising citizens' awareness of many areas of animal protection and rights. We are proud of not only keeping up with animal welfare in Europe and beyond but also leading in some areas of animal welfare.

For example, we often see the news that some state has banned circuses with wild animals, and our association's work led to this ban in late 2006. But we still need a lot of support because there is too much left to be done in protecting animals in Croatia.

A trio with banners

You have been at the helm of the association for 17 years. That's a mandate a few of us have. How did you earn the trust? Do you remember what it was like at the beginning of your activity and can you compare that beginning with today? When was the most difficult time, and when was the time you felt most comfortable being the leader of Animal Friends? Do you remember any special event, positive or negative, and what, if anything, you might have done differently today?

- I believe that I have earned the trust with a sincere commitment to the protection and rights of animals, and people recognize that. I didn't really think about it because I was just trying to do as much as possible, not gain confidence - that came spontaneously.

I deeply care about Animal Friends making significant changes for animals in Croatia, and making it easier for generations to come to continue fighting for animals, as well as for the availability of vegan products. At the beginning of the Association's work, the three of us would stand in the street and with three banners try to draw attention to the suffering of animals, taking a few hours a day off from our jobs to volunteer. Later we worked for 12 hours a day. We were persistent and loud, and so are we now. We have a lot of difficult moments because every day we face horrific examples of abusing and killing animals, not only dogs and cats but also nearly 100 billion pigs, cows, chickens and other animals that are killed for human consumption. Despite this - or for that reason precisely - neither I nor my colleagues ever think of quitting. All of us can help animals that at all times suffer inconceivably in the hell of breeding, slaughtering, testing and all other areas where they are exploited and killed.

We are grateful for the support of citizens, as several of us could not do so much good for the animals if we didn't have wonderful and dedicated volunteers and supporters. We have done a lot as an association and it is difficult to single out one development. The ZeGeVege Festival we are organizing this year for the 13th time in a row, the Animal March, legal bans on breeding animals for fur, on circuses with wild animals, on killing dogs and cats in shelters ... are just some of our successes and victories.

You inevitably had to cooperate with different politicians, officials of all kinds. How much understanding did and do they have for these issues? Can it be said that the left-wing is more sensitive than the right-wing, or is it the other way around? How do you see the stories like the one when the President adopted a dog named Kika?

- Adopting dogs and cats instead of buying animals is a powerful message to the public and we always support when such a noble act comes from a well-known person who has the power to influence others' attitudes about the importance of fostering.

In the world, it is common for individual political parties to represent exclusively animal rights. Political parties in the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Denmark, Sweden, Canada, Australia, the USA and elsewhere have been active in promoting animal rights for years.

The Dutch "Party for Animals" (Partij Voor de Dieren) has achieved, among other things, that the Dutch government declares a reduction in national consumption of meat. Politicians of all political options have the power to do much for animals by their decisions and example, so we believe that every party and every politician should, therefore, advocate the protection of animals.

The benefits of veganism

You are an animal welfare advisor at the Ministry of Agriculture. What can you influence? What actions do you intend to take? Does this function enable the actions to be more heard? Is it easier from this point of view to detect what are the current biggest problems with animal welfare in our country?

- Unfortunately, I have to say that as a special advisor to the Minister of Agriculture for the field of animal protection, I do not have the ability to significantly influence the decisions of the institutions related to the protection of animals.

It is positive that the relevant ministry sees us as an association that has concrete and logical proposals for the successful implementation of the Animal Protection Act, and outlines the field problems faced by individuals and numerous associations that do the work which is a legal obligation of local communities. We hope that this cooperation will be even better in order to improve animal protection in Croatia.

How close or far are we to European trends in animal welfare? Do we even have time, in the face of all the economic problems, to think about animals, the climate? Do we all need educating?

- Animal welfare is becoming more and more prevalent topic in Croatia, although we think that's still not nearly enough to consider ourselves a civilized country that rethinks everything we do to animals and the environment as linked to our future and survival. When we treat animals and nature with respect and compassion, we get it in return, but it's also true the other way around.

We constantly point out that we can all save the planet by switching to a vegan diet and rejecting plastic. Breeding animals for meat, dairy and egg industries is one of the main causes of climate change, also causing 50 percent of water pollution in Europe, and directly linked to world hunger. At www.veganopolis.net, through Vege Guide, Vege Challenge, Vegan Buddy, Nutrition Tips and the like, we offer an abundance of useful information about the necessity of changing our diet and all the benefits and advantages of veganism.

There are also those who criticize the work of the association, for example, they reproach you for talking about foster care and not adopting, others say that your approach is a little aggressive, still, others just don't like what you represent. Does your association have a monopoly or does it simply have results? In this regard, do we have space for the community of all animal care organizations?

- We believe that the work of animal associations is very important, and the greater the number of associations representing different areas of animal rights, the better the voice of animals is heard. Unfortunately, we do not get to deal with all the areas we would like because we are simply too few. Croatia is particularly lacking in associations dealing with animal experiments, which causes a huge number of animals to suffer and die.

This field requires extensive expertise, as is the case in other countries where organizations struggling to stop animal experiments are made up of doctors, scientists, and other professionals. We aim to encourage the establishment of new associations and initiatives that will address animal activism. On our web site www.prijatelji-zivotinja.hr we have a whole section dedicated to activism, we council other associations in Croatia and abroad, we are members of many international coalitions, and we also run the Animal Protection Network, which brings together more than 50 animal welfare associations in Croatia.

The culprit - the custom of slaughter

Little is known about you privately. For example, how did you decide to deal with animals and their rights? What was the turning point and what did your parents, your environment, say when choosing your career? What are your plans after all and can you be what you are now your whole life - Luka Oman, the fighter for animal rights!?

- In elementary school, I attended a traditional slaughtering custom and decided that I didn't want to participate in anything related to killing animals. In high school, I felt I wanted to do more, to take care of animals.

Not only did I not want to personally participate in their killing, but for them not to be killed at all, to bring their suffering closer to as many people as possible and provoke the compassion I experienced, to bring to them the great benefits of a vegan diet. That desire activated me. It's really not easy and I've had to make and still make a lot of sacrifices, but I honestly want to use the rest of my life to contribute as much as I can and in the way that I can to create a better world for humans and animals.

I wish as many people as possible would join me on this journey. There are many who want change and are willing to give themselves for the benefit to happen, they just need encouragement and support.

Source: Novi list, February 23, 2020.
Author: Sinisa Pavic

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