March 2004 - Last updated October 2008
Poison and Prejudice around the Parthenon.
3 - Backgrounds of Greece and other countries cited as cruel to
Part 1 of this 3 part report ...)
takes a pragmatic journey around Greece and other countries cited
for animal cruelty to examine how they are viewed through the international
media and from inside their own borders. Also, how history and "cultural
logic" determine the different relationships that nations of opposites
have towards their animals.
The UK, America
and parts of Western Europe often provide accounts on countries
traditionally portrayed as uncompassionate towards animals, both
through the media and more recently through the web. But do such
negative preconceptions towards proud nations cause cultural backfire
and resentment from inside the accused country? If so "cause and
effect" is something to consider - not only in surveying a society
by its mistreatment of animals but understanding how such treatment
is inherently imprinted into the roots of its culture.
Ghandi once said, "You can see the grandeur and the moral progress
of a nation by the way it treats its animals''. But cultural imprinting
is just one view that needs to be addressed more carefully when
trying to improve states of welfare in foreign places.
In fact, animal welfare parallels many aspects of how different
societies can evolve a debased view of each other - through lack
of patience and understanding.
What historically carves such different cultural paths around the
world is a complex and delicate issue - and how the global community
thinks it should alter these paths can cause a great deal of contention.
Even if the purpose to instigate change is for the good of animals
and people, many countries simply don't want to feel patronised
by the directives of the outside world. Such blatant interference
can lead to a backfire from the old school elements of societies
who cherish even their more distasteful traditions. And so it may
still take many generations of education to turn the world into
a unified way of compassionate thinking.
In the meantime, xenophobia and pride are emotions that barely lie
beneath the surface of most nations throughout the world. Political
diplomacy might well shield such feelings to a point, but it's no
more than a psychological concealment of intolerance, mistrust and
arrogance - and a very fragile one too.
Governments are very good at dressing up xenophobia under the banner
of "international relations" and some can play the diplomatic hand
very confidently. Others however may express intolerance openly
For example, recent events between strident American led forces
and religiously complex Islamic countries show how national pride
and misunderstood cultural approaches can cause nations to become
totally dismissive of common-sense solutions. Failure to absolve
social differences can cloud any constructive dialogue between countries,
and this in turn affects the confidence of both controlling and
domestic authorities … and squabbling citizens. Deception and irrational
finger-pointing can take over, and a situation deteriorates worse
injustice is a subject that tends to be contained within a political
arena more than animal welfare issues. It's seen as a matter of
diplomatic based argument and so the general public feels less emotionally
attached to the issue when we are informed by the media about war
and atrocities in far away places. After all, it's a subject dealing
with turmoil between the same species (humans), and so we instinctively
gauge our emotions on how it affects our personal space between
one human and another. In fact, this is where it's easy to detect
an element of jingoism bubbling underneath a veil of polite sympathy
- and that's why prejudice in every society - and from one culture
to another - is never far away.
So how does
animal welfare come into all this?
is something every society can recognise as a universal emotion.
It has no relation to inter-human reaction. In other words, it's
nonlinear to people-over people power.
However, we instantly recognise that an animal's suffering is caused
by the humans it shares its space with. We feel an emotion towards
animals in distress - particularly companion animals like cats and
dogs - regardless of how far away the suffering may be. It affects
us on a more personal level because we tend to empathise with the
suffering of all companion animals equally, wherever they are in
the world - i.e. … either seeing a dog being bludgeoned to death
on TV or stroking our own sick cat sitting on our lap. When we see
that a country is mistreating these kinds of animals we can quickly
feel impartial towards its entire people. In effect, we are accusing
an entire culture and this reflects a short-sighted judgement, revealing
a common layer of prejudice.
But in some cases, animal treatment through traditions that we consider
blatantly cruel, is often part of religion-based lifestyles. Those
lifestyles will often resist criticism from the outside and therefore
rarely consider change.
So how is international
intolerance felt and viewed from inside the accused country?
What causes a country's mistreatment towards the treatment of domestic
This is how we begin this journey; to determine the different relationships
that nations of opposites have towards their animals.
strays ran for their lives ... and lost.
From a western
tourist's point of view, the countries and islands of the Mediterranean
are always a good place to start; traditionally notorious for the
mistreatment of domestic animals.
In the case of international impartiality towards Greece and its
animal welfare record - a country passionately driven by national
pride and tradition - there has been a gloomy scenario, which still
leaves its stray dog and cat population fighting for its life...
and with no easy way of escape.
In 2004, world attention turned towards Greece as Olympic hosts.
This triggered the usual flurry of UK and international press reports
on the treatment of the huge stray animal problem found on the streets
of Athens and other towns across the country and its islands. Infamous
for this topic that never seems to go away, there was concern amongst
some Greeks that its entire people might be tarred with the same
brush by the international community.
In fact, there were and still are numerous native Greek animal rescue
groups who are working tirelessly to stamp out animal cruelty in
their country for good. But because poisoning and neglect is still
widespread - particularly prior to that August, as thousands had
been poisoned around the Olympic venues - the groups continued their
battle with their own obstructive authorities as they attempted
to fly out those they have rescued to loving homes abroad.
And while these good Samaritans dedicate themselves to a great cause,
Greek reactionaries scoff at such deeds of compassion; Superstition,
ingrained tradition and pride dictates to them that being seen as
instigators of animal cruelty reveals flaws and failings within
their cultural make-up. This jingoistic attitude goes as far as
attempting to smear the country's own do-gooders with false accusations.
Such mentality caused turmoil amongst Greek animal welfare groups,
the country's media and an easily misinformed population … who will
initially prefer to side with the notion - however false - that
doesn't show its culture to be synonymously tied with animal cruelty.
It's on this basis that an innocent Greek rescue worker along with
three foreigners had been falsely accused of trafficking animals
for fur and vivisection and receiving payments from international
part one) By believing this accusation, the Greek public
showed that they would rather go with a story that fits in better
with the desire to drive an optimistic merry-go-round of patriotism
rather than get to the truth. The truth being that the accused in
question, along with many of their own rescue groups were desperately
trying to transport neglected Greek animals to countries who would
give them a caring home - again a truth which any highly patriotic
country might not feel so comfortable at accepting.
the Mediterranean bask in climates that provide ideal conditions
for dogs and cats to live outside and breed throughout the year.
Initially, this is why so many animals gather around populated areas,
where scraps of food or the occasional hand-out might be found.
This gives more reason why authorities should exercise humane, no-kill
methods to control their numbers, and at the same time provide proper
education to its citizens about compassionate responsibility and
care towards their animals.
versus the Medusa
myths, superstition and religions of opposite world cultures have
undoubtedly carved the differences, which either favour or disregard
certain animal species. But it's only when you explore a country's
history that you discover inherent links that reveal the source
of its current social behaviour towards animals. With cultural contrasts
in mind, there's no finer example than Greece when compared to a
country like Japan.
The writings of ancient Greek scholars offer a wealth of animal
related stories, and one creature most favoured amongst its peoples
was the dolphin. In mythology, Odysseus worshiped them, Poseidon
loved them and Amphitrite was the "mother" of them. There are also
stories of wondrous deeds done by dolphins (believed to be nearly
or equally as "intelligent" as man), that saved the lives of Greek
villagers and mariners. Today these mammals are the subject of conservation
programmes all around the Greek islands of the Agean sea. In Japan
however, dolphins have never received such affection, and along
with endangered whales, around 20,000 are slaughtered each year
off the Japanese coasts. In stark irony, the Japanese are mad on
dogs and there's a roaring trade in expensive pooches, particularly
the miniature variety because of their apparent Pokemon-style cuteness
- cute being a favourite Japanese passion.
Japan is also quick to point out that dog is not on their culinary
menu - although dolphin is … it's sold as pet food to feed their
But while dolphins
have been protected in Greece, its history illustrates a mixed relationship
with dogs, ultimately describing them as no more than a commodity
for religious sacrifice. Some Greek legends portray dogs with intuition
and healing powers, and Homer's writings indicate that he acknowledged
canines with a fair share of empathy. There are in fact two aspects
of how Greeks viewed dogs. Based on Homer's Odyssey, Greeks were
highly encouraged to cherish their dogs.
But more overwhelmingly, dogs were an important part of Greek religion
and considered sacrificial. Because of this they were allowed to
breed freely, then harvested and killed for sacrifice. This became
increasingly common, because dogs were cheap and very easy to come
by, and so they were regarded as a commodity or a house guard rather
than a four legged companion.
These two roles of dogs in early Greek culture may explain the paradox
in modern Greece. Many modern Greeks are animal lovers, but usually
there's a degree of age-old superstition attached. This may also
explain why many Greek pet owners refuse to have their animals neutered
because they believe they should enjoy a sex life. In fact, animal
euthanasia is technically illegal in Greece, which sounds fine until
you begin to discover the secret culling of street animals in their
This shows there is no doubt that the legacy of twisted customs
and superstitions rooted into Greek folklore is widely evident on
the streets to this day, a cultural stain which some Greeks, who
appear to belong to an unknown administration, were determined to
make invisible around the Olympic arenas, through systematic poisoning
of its strays.
the historical link between religion, culture and its "plentiful"
dog population, it's worth considering how important the Olympic
Games are to Greece's heritage.
Chronologically, Ancient Greece ran on a four year cycle, so each
fourth year heralded the "Olympiad" and a huge festival was held
to mark the occasion. Only native, free-born Greeks were allowed
to qualify for its festival games, which was principally a religious
event to celebrate the god Zeus. In fact, religious sacrifices took
place on the first day of the Olympic proceedings, and dogs in all
probability were used for this purpose. The games were held solely
in Greece for perhaps as long as sixteen hundred years, and were
so important that regional wars were stopped so everyone could attend.
In 394 AD the games came to an end.
It wouldn't be until fifteen hundred years later that the British
first rekindled the idea of the Olympic Games. They weren't to be
fully restored until the last decade of the 19th century, firstly
through the foundation of the National Olympian Society in Britain,
then followed by the efforts of an enthusiastic Frenchman called
Baron Pierre Coubertin. It was through Coubertin that the International
Olympic Committee (IOC) was finally born. Eventually, Coubertin
and the IOC approached Greece to host the first modern Olympics,
but strangely, the Greek government resisted the idea to begin with,
until Georgios Averoff of Alexandria donated almost a million gold
drachmas to build a stadium in Athens. And so in 1896 the first
modern Olympic Games were opened by the King of Greece himself.
In August 2004 the games of the XXVIII Olympiad came home to Greece
for the first time after 108 years absence.
took unprecedented measures to make sure that their 2004 games would
be the ultimate spectacle of world focus. The government put up
strong resistance to any speculation that terrorism might jeopardise
the games, and played down the bombing of an Athens police station
exactly 100 days before the games opening. However, the IOC had
for the first time insured against full or partial cancellation
of the games for 93 million dollars. At the same time the Greeks
spent an unprecedented one billion euros on Olympic security - around
four times more than Australia spent for the 2000 games.
The Greeks were entirely focused on presenting a glossy cultural
image to its international visitors - and with clearly no role for
its stray dog and cat population. The result was that Athens pulled
out all the stops as "unknown" parties "cleansed" the streets using
poison. This was carried out with the minimum of fuss so not to
draw the attention of the international community.
Animal protection groups claim that more than 3,000 stray animals
were slaughtered in Athens during August 2003 while the city took
its annual vacation. On New Years Day 2003, sixty dogs and cats
- victims of balls of meat laced with strychnine - were found dead
in the famous Athens National Gardens. With around 15,000 street
animals in the capital alone, rescue groups were understandably
nervous about how the remainder would be "managed" as the games
In fact, Greek authorities wil always strongly deny responsibility
for any culling, whether during a major event or not - as does its
tourist information, which no doubt realises the importance of playing
down the animal issue.
In 2003, the Mayors Office of Athens announced plans to address
the street animal crisis involving a sterilization and adoption
program. It was also reported that the Mayor herself had adopted
two strays. As part of the Pre-Olympic propaganda these announcements
seemed like hollow gestures and promises rather than urgent action
and protection of their animals. Instead, all signs indicated that
a British style animal welfare tactic of "out of sight, out of mind"
was being exercised on the streets around Olympic venues before
it was more commonly realised how the stray animal problem was being
Some animal lovers took matters into their own hands, and while
the rest of Greece polished up its appearance before the games,
there were stories of both Greeks and foreigners trying to smuggle
strays out of the country by any means possible to save them from
a slow, painful death.
During the last days before the Olympic opening ceremony Greek animal
rescuers were saying"... as far as Olympic visitors are concerned
everything looks perfect. Nice streets, corners, stadiums
... but in fact there is poison all over the place and Athens is
eerily void of stray animals". Continued
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