‘The animal entertainment industry will be a thing of the past first’

Dinara Ageyeva on animal advocacy in Russia

“Maintenance of animals in cages is practised in all the industries of exploitation. Forced immobilisation is torture for any living creature. Imagine yourself instead of this animal in the cage. You can recall your state when you got stuck in the lift for at least two hours. A person already starts rushing, he or she starts to feel bad, while animals spend their whole life this way,” notes animal rights activist, Chairwoman of Votes for Animals public organisation Dinara Ageyeva. In an interview with Realnoe Vremya, she talked about the stereotype of perception of fauna as a resource, treatment of animals in the circus, children who cause an animal suffering and said what else apart from bans could stop the exploitation of animals.

“Organisation of this kind of bloody entertainment is quite a lucrative deal

The adoption of a law on canned hunt has recently been discussed a lot. What will you say about it?

It is regression. Society, moral compass are changing in general, consequently, the attitude to animals is becoming more ethical, animal protection legislation is improving under the pressure of public opinion. It is progress, while the law on canned hunt is a step back.

And a great hobby becomes the cause of such a law: interests of hunters clothed in authorities and businesses because the organisation of this kind of bloody entertainment is quite a lucrative deal. But the animal rights movement in Russia grows, the conscious and active part of society won’t get on with barbarian laws, won’t keep silent, the authorities will have to cancel this act sooner or later. Moreover, we have more supporters among representatives of power too.

How did this happen? Did public opinion influence it?

We don’t have a strong lobby in power, but there is some support. And politicians will support us for different reasons.

Firstly, it can be populism when a politician understands that society’s mood is on the side of animals and he or she will take advantage of it to earn political points. Secondly, we should consider that deputies are people too, they can love animals and sympathise with them and, consequently, protect them. It can be economic interests when the development of an ethical business is more profitable than obsolete models of the industry of animal exploitation. It is an aspiration to solve environmental problems, for instance, the negative impact of animal husbandry and animal farming on the environment. And it is a matter of the state’s prestige because cruelty to animals is considered unacceptable in modern civilised society. A smart politician should consider all these factors.

Photo: ohotniki.ru
Society, moral compass are changing in general, consequently, the attitude to animals is becoming more ethical, animal protection legislation is improving under the pressure of public opinion. It is progress, while the law on canned hunt is a step back

Who are all these politicians in Russia who actively help the environmental movement and animal advocates?

I wouldn’t say that some politicians support our movement a hundred per cent. But some support us for other reasons. For instance, Vladimir Burmatov, chairman of the Russian State Duma’s Committee for Ecology and Environment, who made a significant contribution to the adoption of the federal law On Responsible Treatment of Animals. It is State Duma deputy Oleg Lebedev from the CPSD and Oleg Shein from Fair Russia. It is regional deputies of Leningrad Oblast who are against using animals in the entertainment industry: Aleksey Igonin, Valeria Kovalenko, and others.

“People have been cruelly using animals for millennia, and it won’t change quickly”

Is tolerance to animal advocates in society gradually grows? What’s the share on your side now?

Everything depends on the problem. For instance, people are mostly concerned about cruelty to their animal fellows (cats and dogs), which isn’t a surprise — they are friends, family members for many. The sympathy for them is the biggest. The interest in the problem of the use of animals especially in the circus, dolphinariums grows too.

Speaking about the attitude to all animals without exception, here the realisation is gradual. People have been cruelly using animals and considering them as a resource for millennia. Such a perception is deeply rooted, and this is why it won’t change quickly. Some individuals supported the protection of animals throughout the formation of human civilisation (only famous humanists’ words got to us), but the movement for the rights of other creatures has become mass since the past century, and a big breakthrough was made. Technological progress, which gives a good alternative to all ways of exploitation of animals, played its role too.

I joined the movement over 10 years ago and can compare the situation then and now, evaluate all occurring changes. What I see now differs a lot from the early 2010s. For instance, the media space (mass media, social media) — there are more posts and comments protecting animals, even in political communities.

During the discussion of amendments to the Russian Constitution, it was offered to explain the necessity of responsible treatment of animals. Do you think it is a necessary and sufficient measure?

This can be a foundation for further development of animal protection legislation. But in general the recognition of animal rights fixed in the Constitution must be a ban on all ways of their exploitation.

Not all is fine with human rights yet. But one does not exclude the other, the protection of both human and animal rights can be simultaneous. Ultimately, animals aren’t guilty because Homo sapiens fail to speak the same language and constantly violate each others’ rights. In any case, I think this amendment on animals will be for the good.

Photo: Oleg Tikhonov
People are mostly concerned about cruelty to their animal fellows (cats and dogs), which isn’t a surprise — they are friends, family members for many. The sympathy for them is the biggest

We suppose the animal entertainment industry will be a thing of the past first”

What does the complete ban on the exploitation of animals mean?

I would say more precisely — it isn’t a ban but the end of exploitation for the sake of food, clothes, test, entertainment because a ban (at legislative level) is just one of the ways to stop the exploitation. Besides it, there is a market, ethics, consciousness, human health, the environment. For instance, it is assumed that the biggest industry violating animals, which is animal husbandry, will collapse not because of sympathy for animals but due to environmental and economic factors. We consider this all in our work and use any ways of solving the problem except, of course, the ways that are abusive and violate the law.

The truth about the contemporary attitude to animals is quite tough. We can not shoot horror films but simply make thousands of hours of documentaries with real shooting from slaughterhouses, medical labs, the circus and so on every day. Could you tell us some facts that make us think about what we eat, where and why we go, what we pay for?

To start with, I would like to ask a question: “Why do we consider unacceptable and immoral to torture and kill people?” Probably because we know that representatives of our biological species can suffer. But representatives of other species if they have a brain and the central nervous system can also feel and sympathise both physically and psychologically. They also can fear, they also aspire for freedom. Is this why we have the moral right to hurt them?

I am not speaking about the cases of self-protection when some animals attack a person. Here extreme measures are clearly acceptable. Now we are talking about what isn’t vital. And the exploitation of animals isn’t vital in the modern world.

Now we can tell you what suffering animals are subjected to make food, clothes, do experiments and for entertainment. Information about the downside of the animal entertainment industry (the circus, dolphinariums, zoos) becomes more available. We suppose this industry will be a thing of the past first. Some already consider inappropriate to go to the circus with animals, zoos, dolphinariums.

Photo: abnews.ru
Information about the downside of the animal entertainment industry (the circus, dolphinariums, zoos) becomes more available. We suppose this industry will be a thing of the past first

Animal training methods are based on violence, it is interaction with hunger and pain. We consider research we did in Circus on the Fontanka in Saint Petersburg a few years ago and further publication of facts as the beginning of the end of the animal circus in our country. Our activist (at that moment we were a part of Vita Centre for Animal Rights Protection) began working as a cleaner in this circus and shot what was happening backstage on hidden camera, including how animals were beaten during training.

Forced immobilisation, a stay in a tiny closed space in a case is no less scary for animals. Generally speaking this maintenance of animals in cages is practised in all the industries of exploitation. Forced immobilisation for any living creature is torture. Imagine yourself instead of this animal in the cage. You can recall your state when you got stuck in the lift for at least two hours. A person already starts rushing, he or she starts to feel bad, while animals spend their whole life this way.

Moreover, some animals can’t even move, for instance, hens in industrial farms. The birds are kept in so tiny cages that can’t even spread their wings. Every bird is on an area the size of less than a sheet of paper. Pigs are bred in pens where they can’t even stand up. This is done to make them accumulate more fat. Dairy cows are chained. We went to such farms in Leningrad Oblast where a cow stands in one place through its life. It can’t even turn on its axis. All it can do is to lie, stand up and stamp its feet a bit.

Animals are divested of the sunlight, the sky, the fresh air, the possibility of meeting their natural needs forever. 70 billion animals are killed for food every year around the world. A milk commercial shows us happy cows that pasture on meadows, but a handful lives in such conditions. It is mainly private households. All other cows are in fact slaves that are divested of everything why any living creature should live for.

As I said, humans, first of all, sympathise animal fellows — cats and dogs, wild animals but they have less sympathy towards other creatures they got used to consider as a resource, meat, clothes from childhood. At the same time, people understand that in general a cow, hen or pig have a small difference from a cat or dog and even a human. If somebody starts to torture a sheep or piglet in front of our eyes, this will cause a protest from any normal person who has a bit of ability to sympathise. But at the same time, a person ups and goes and buys pieces of the body of this animal in the shop. Established principles of perception of animals work here.

We think that people participate in the violence of animals as clients not because they are cruel and indifferent, they are just little informed. As the task of our organisation is education, delivering information about the real existence of the industry of animal exploitation and how one can live without causing others great suffering.

By Matvey Antropov