Within the past few days, after a call from the vegan activist group of Dreamdancers and in collaboration with animal welfare organizations and other activist groups, mobilizations took place on the island of Santorini and at the port of Piraeus. The mobilizations had to do with the assault of the donkeys used by residents of Santorini island as well as tourists for the transportation of their own and their cargoes. Apart from informing tourists arriving on the island, part of the acts was also a meeting with the Mayor of Thera, members of the Organizations and representatives of those who use the donkeys by renting them for transporting people and cargoes to the island. Right after these meetings, and after an update by the Municipality of Thera, we found out the results of these efforts: “It has been agreed by everyone, a direct cooperation -with continuous meetings – aiming at immediate changes and improvement of the conditions progressively and steadily regarding the welfare of these animals. In particular, it has been decided to extend and improve special shelters protected from direct sunlight in order to keep the animals safe from the heat and to improve the water supply at the waiting places. (…) Representatives of those using donkeys have also agreed to a limited working time of the animals as well as a load weight according to the weight of the animal, so they will not be overworked.”

A day before the above announcement, from the website of the Municipality of Thera and on the occasion of videos and photos released by activists, who had been on the island for the same reason, showcasing the attack by men who make money by using the donkeys (and obviously were alarmed by the publicity the matter has taken), we read at lifo.gr the statement of Ms. Roussos on behalf of the Pan-Hellenic Equine Protection Society IPPOTHESIS, who, among other things, mentions: “The acts organised by animal welfare organisations and activist groups are peaceful and happen for the animals and their treatment. They are not against the owners, as long as they provide proper living conditions and treatment for the animals they use.” This statement follows the announcement by the Hellenic Society for the Equine Welfare (ESPI), which is entitled as “Working animals” referring to the donkeys, horses and mules used for carriage of cargoes – a title that reasonably raises the question of what makes the exploitation of an animal a “job” and how does it distinguish it from slavery when the latter is defined as “the degradation of a person to an object of property and use”?

The above incidents and the statements made by the organizations and the Municipality are probably the best way to finally start a dialogue that has been avoided by many for years and which is known to those involved in ethical animal philosophy, but also to activists more widely, as
the conflict between “Welfarism” and “Abolitionism”: a controversy between the idea that we can exploit the animals at our own will as long as we offer them the so called best living conditions and the idea that we must try to completely abolish their exploitation.

The arguments on both sides are many and interesting, fans of welfarism are satisfied with the slightest change of decisions concerning the way animals live in livestock units and experimental laboratories, since, by identifying themselves with animals, they assume that they would feel relief with a little more shade, more pure water, or even an injection of anaesthesia before having their heads chopped off. While this thought can not be considered as absurd, what we should never forget is our ultimate goal and the pursuit for these animals, but also what can, unintentionally, be the result of our actions aimed at the claim of “better conditions” of exploitation and not the complete abolition of the slavery that animals suffer in any case.

A very good example of what is happening when the problem of organizations is to claim better living conditions and not the complete abolition of exploitation is the fur industry, an industry that despite the fact that there has been a target of organizations, groups and activists perhaps more than anybody else, it continues to bloom and lead to millions of profits (with Greece starring in it and hosting some of the biggest international events in the business). But how can that be explained? The answer is given by Dr. Dagalidis through a study he conducted for the fur industry sponsored by Piraeus Bank in 2012. As he points out in chapter 5 (Market Conditions – Factors Affecting Demand): The most important factors influencing global demand for fur are fashion trends, weather conditions, price changes and the intensity of anti-fur action activists. Over the past decades, due to the campaigns of the anti-fur movement, there has been a significant reduction of demand in western countries, but in recent years there has been anexculpation of both consumers and fashion designers who are now importing more and more fur clothing in their collections.” What could have led to the “exculpation” mentioned in the Piraeus Bank report, if not the adoption of welfare laws for fur animals, which, as every time, it occurred after the demand of activists and organisations who protested for the poor living and slaughtering conditions? How can it be better explained that there is a feeling of relief by the consumers and designers that “since the animals now live in better conditions, it is not unethical to support the business which exploits them”? Finally, what would happen if the activists for animals would keep their energy and strength and fight for the first time all together for the complete abolishment of the use of animals, by informing people who are concerned about the importance of understanding the fact that, like every human being, equally every single animal has an intrinsic value and an inalienable right not to be a slave of anybody, and therefore not to be degraded to an object of property and use?

Following these events, and after what has been going on in recent days through press releases, articles and comments on social networks, the Ethos & empathy team asks people and groups fighting for animals to finally think seriously about what they want to achieve with their actions and where it makes sense to put their energy.

We can always recognize that animal organizations have the best of intentions, and that it is never bad to see and publicize the abuse of animals if it leads to the sensitization of the world, but we can not fail to point out that if encouraging the welfarism we also encourage the enslavement of donkeys and any other animal used by humans, then perhaps many of the actions of the last few days are completely pointless.

Elli Stourna

We would like to thank Avgi Iatrou for the translation.