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EVANA interviewed Felix Hnat, President of the Vegan Society Austria

' … Each crisis can become a chance! … '

On 21 May 2008, Felix Hnat and nine other persons were arrested in a more than doubtful raid and kept in prison without any concrete charges until 2 September.

In Austria proper (as well as in many Austrian Embassies where staff seemed embarrassed about the situation!) and in many parts of the world the indignation about this legal scandal grew and has not subsided even after the liberation of all ten activists.

We asked Felix about his experience.



12 September 2008

EVANA: Many still have not digested the fact that in Austria of all places, early morning raids took place during which, just as in darker days, doors were kicked in, people dragged out of bed and threatened with firearms. How did your arrest take place?

FELIX: On 21 May I am woken up at 6 o'clock. I hear shouting: “Police, open up immediately”. I have no idea what is happening and think there must be a misunderstanding or an incident in the neighbourhood. Not quite awake, I go to the door and ask what is going on. “Police, open up immediately”. I say “Yes” and walk with the keys towards the door when I hear a bang and see broken glass and half a door flying towards me. Masked and armed WEGA officials storm the flat. I am completely surprised and baffled. Then I am being told that I am arrested. Slowly I am waking up….


EVANA: Did you ever expect such a brutal assault in Austria?

FELIX: I have seen such scenes in action films. Up to now I thought that something like that could only happen to dangerous armed gangsters but in the last months my confidence in the law has disappeared.


EVANA: Many tourists, who loved and regularly visited Austria, will now stay away because they consider the threat to civil liberties as too great. Would you like to comment?

FELIX: I can understand that! However, there are also frightening conditions in other countries. Human rights are hardly respected world-wide. Those with power use it; those with the money, have the influence. Moreover there is disproportionate repression against animal rights activists. In the USA six activists have been imprisoned for 3-7 years because of running a website (www.shac7.com). In England, the USA and other European countries a growing number of anti-animal right activism laws are being passed.


EVANA: How was your life in prison? Did you have personal contact to any of the other nine? How did your fellow prisoners behave towards you? Did you get reasonably good food? Did you receive a lot of mail?

FELIX: I did not have any contact whatsoever with the others. Sometimes I saw Elmar, who was also imprisoned in Eisenstadt, passing in the corridor: “Separation of accomplices”. My lawyer kept me informed how the others were doing; I often inquired about Martin’s health.

I had only good contact to fellow prisoners; no problems whatsoever. Many of them had already had bad experiences with the legal system. Most of them knew who I was and why I was in prison. They often asked me if there was any change in my situation.

I was very satisfied with the food, which even improved over time. The only supplements I took were B12 tablets. Each day I got the vegan version of the normal meal and fruit, sometimes even soya-meat. Some of my cell comrades even envied me. However, I have been lucky in Eisenstadt, some others of the ‘Austrian 10’ were less fortunate.

I got a lot of mail, even from countries such as Singapore, Japan and from well-known people like Peter Singer and Ingrid Newkirk, ...... the solidarity is enormous. I am genuinely touched. The simple fact that we (the animal rights and vegetarian/vegan community) did not become intimidated and are now more active than ever before encourages me even more.


EVANA: Have you been able to continue your work for the Vegan Society, even if only on a very limited level?

FELIX: Honestly, no. Because of communication problems with the outside world and because of the isolation it has not been possible for me to contribute in a constructive manner. I did not have the necessary input for making decisions.

The work of the Vegan Society still is severely impaired even now. Computers, databases, all documents including the bookkeeping were “seized”. That fact has much more serious consequences than my absence did.

However, the beauty is that during my absence the work continued and even my own jobs were taken care of. The other members and new and old activists jumped into the breach and went out of their way to help. I am really reassured that such capable, intelligent and motivated people got involved in such an impressive way.


EVANA: We have been told that you were informed about the increasing sympathy in so many countries. In the same way that the amazement (to use a careful expression) grew about the Austrian juridical system, so too did the admiration for you TEN. Today many people already consider you as heroes! Were you aware of that?

FELIX: It is amazing. I actually get letters from people telling me that we are heroes for them. Some also consider us as martyrs. Yes, it is true that in Austria we have reached a new situation, a hitherto inconceivable dimension of repression against animal rights activists. We are indeed in a historical situation and the conclusion of this “affaire” will be relevant for the safeguarding of fundamental rights and a functioning civil society in the future.

Nevertheless, I am absolutely no hero. I did not do anything that hundreds of thousands of others in the world don’t also do. They are all sacrificing their time and energy in order to make this world a better place, they are members of veg* or animal rights groups, want to analyze the animal-human relationship or intend to build up something constructive. If I am a hero, then all those who consider themselves part of this movement are heroes as well. The only difference is that I became a victim of police arbitrariness but even in this context I am only one of many.


EVANA: Because of this shocking legal aberration all concerned organizations, including the Vegan Society as well as the VGT, have become well know internationally, if not even downright famous. People are listening to you. You have now considerable influence. What would you like to say to all those who have taken such an impressive interest in your fate?

FELIX: I think that is important to stress that this case in Austria is not an isolated one (although probably also some unfortunate factors were combined here). We are confronted with an international trend, one which has already developed much further in England and the USA. Here and in other countries things are developing in that direction. Soon there will also be laws like the “Animal Enterprise Protection Act” outside the USA. Normal legal activities such as demos or the distribution of flyers will then be threatened by imprisonment as soon as any company exploiting animals suffers financial losses. The impact of force is shifting continuously in favour of the industry, at the expense of the NGO community. In a still larger context and under the pretext of the “fight against terror” worldwide efforts are underway to strangle fundamental rights and political activities. With the help of the political systems the industry generally tries to get rid of certain problems, like annoying animal rights activists. Just like wars are being fought because of oil and strategic political influence.


EVANA: The media reported in a most positive way about the International Vegetarian Congress in Dresden, during which your situation has been one of the most important topics. Even journalists, who in the past enjoyed ridiculing vegetarianism, wrote respectful articles about the congress and our way of life. Do you think that the public is becoming more vegetarian-friendly after all the difficulties brought about by meat, such as health problems, epizootics, climatic threats and the uncovering of cruelty?

FELIX: I think that we are in the middle of a paradigm shift, which is gripping a growing part of our society. Animal rights and veg*ism are becoming socially acceptable. All of us working for these goals can see in a growing number of reports from politics, science and media that something is changing. The World Congress also demonstrated this trend. That’s why I am optimistic.


EVANA: How is the situation in Austria? How many vegetarians/vegans are living in your country at the moment? Is the supply of veg* food sufficient? Is the European V-label already well established?

FELIX: Austria is a very veg*-friendly country. According to the EU barometer 2003 there are 3% vegetarians. The selection of veg* food products is getting better all the time. The choice is growing, the prices are falling. There are some products carrying the V-label, e.g. in the supermarket Merkur. However, there is always room for improvement. I think that the successive identification of veg* products is an important trend and I plan to remain involved in this development in the future.


EVANA: The desire to help you is enormous. Did this remarkable international solidarity assist you in coping somewhat more easily with your everyday life during the terrible last months?

FELIX: The solidarity, the sympathy and the public interest can be very reassuring. Also the vegan food improved because of the support by outside groups. We even received newspapers etc. However, the most important thing for me was the fact that the work was continuing. It is inconceivable that we lose our motivation or be intimidated. We carry on! I even think that we’ll be more united and determined than ever before. And maybe even the public can become sensitized to resist pressures against the civil society.


EVANA: Just one more question: Unfortunately your case proves that legal arbitrariness is not a problem of the past, but that everyone can become a victim tomorrow. What do you recommend people who, like you, become the victims of long imprisonments without any concrete charges?

FELIX: In my opinion everyone ought to know that police and the law act in the interest of the economy. On the other hand animal protection laws are not, or at best, only rarely enforced. During our trial the police intentionally misrepresented statements and distorted their meanings. Translations were not correct. Whoever has to endure a similar fate should not cooperate with the police but only talk to their lawyers in order to prevent misuse of power. Do not get discouraged. In prison it helps to talk to others, do some exercise and read. It can be very hard to be separated from loved ones but love and solidarity are stronger than walls. Each crisis can become a chance.


EVANA: Felix, we wish you and the others will quickly find your way back to normality after this nightmare and that you can get back to work. As an example for all the good wishes we want to quote an e-mail which EVANA received for you when you were still in prison: “Dozens of us are lined up to tell you we love you, respect you, care about what is happening, think of you every day and view you as one of our ten HEROES.”

FELIX: Thanks! Your involvement encourages me. I am more motivated than ever before (even though I am not a hero ;-).


Source: Vegan Society Austria
Author: Herma Caelen spoke to Felix Hnat on behalf of EVANA

Link: Vegetarisch/Vegane Gastronomie (Veg* restaurants)
Link: Wieviele Vegetarier_innen gibt es? (How many vegetarians?)

Date: 2008-09-22

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EVANA interview: Felix Hnat, président de la Vegan Society en Autriche (fr)

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Ein EVANA Interview mit Felix Hnat, Obmann Vegane Gesellschaft Österreich (de)

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