It is a widely known fact in this town that the good burghers of the Republic of Dubrovnik were amongst the most enlightened of their time and banned slavery as early as 27 January 1416, which was a long time ahead of other European countries. It took one of the last countries, the United States of America, a further 450 years to ban slavery. Our former mayor, Andro Vlahusic, gave a speech in 2014 in that particular country boasting about this fact. Writing in the Huffington Post after the speech, journalist Regina Fraser said;
“I can’t help feeling that Dubrovnik showed us something — everyone should take a stand against slavery. Each of us needs to remember that there are people who stood for justice, equality and freedom despite pressure to do otherwise. Maybe we need to search for other countries and people like those from Dubrovnik, Croatia. “
Well here's the thing Andro and Regina, unfortunately slavery is alive and thriving in present day Dubrovnik.
I don't need to spend too much time discussing the abhorrent nature of slavery except to say in this day and age we all are evangelistic about our right to be free to do what we want when we want; including, unfortunately, driving whilst on the mobile phone in this town!
Of course slavery has at its core the profit motive. Its origins are lost in antiquity but some of its most successful proponents were the Vikings and the Romans. But none benefited more than the English who perfected the art of abusing less powerful people. From their small insignificant island they were able to build an empire which spanned the globe and were often heard to boast that “the sun never set” on it.
This heinous practice still finds a place in many countries and it has been suggested that the industry is worth some $35 billion today while the United Nations estimates that 30 million people are presently enslaved.
Most of us see slavery applying only to humans. But in my view, if you deprive the freedom of a wild animal then this too is slavery. Sure it is cruelty to animals but it also is tantamount to slavery particularly when it is done to ensure a financial gain for the slave master. Now if you take a walk down Stradun on any day during the season, you will witness the hideous sight of birds who have had their wings clipped and mutilated to ensure they can't escape. Indeed, some days it is more than a koala can bear! Imagine if you saw souls from your homeland harmed for the purpose of financial gain. I refer of course to the individuals who ask tourists to pay for photos with the birds they have disfigured.
The eastern Europeans seem to have a penchant for this kind of cruelty and I am sure you have all seen those terrible photos of bears who are chained and tortured so they will perform for the amusement of their cognitively challenged audiences. Thankfully there is widespread condemnation of this practice with numerous organisations and celebrities speaking out against this outrageous behaviour. When it comes to what occurs to the birds in Dubrovnik, the silence is deafening. Imagine what it would be like to have your leg cut short so you could not walk. Then try, if you can, to imagine what it would be like to be able to experience soaring through the sky and to have that taken away from you. In fact I have meet some locals that think abusing these birds is a good thing for the town.
What possible relevance can a bird from a country from a land which is on the other side of the world and was not discovered by white man until some 200 years ago have to a tourist’s experience in the Old City of Dubrovnik?
On the whole this is bad enough but when you realise that I grew up with one of the type of birds currently enslaved on Stradun, the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, flying free around my house. I am presently in the poor animal’s homeland: Australia, and I can hear its fellow comrades where they belong, outside in the garden chattering happily. These magnificent and highly intelligent birds can live to over one hundred years of age, often learning to say as many as 200 words and living for over 100 years. They exhibit some amazing behaviour in their natural habitat, including posting sentinels in a tree to warn off impending danger while the rest of the flock is vulnerable during feeding on the ground. In Australia our language has incorporated the word “cockatoo” to mean one who gives a warning.
Free as a bird
These birds form part of my cultural heritage and I take great offence at their treatment in Dubrovnik when I see their wings mutilated for people's amusement and one selfish person’s financial gain. They are often cruelly smuggled out of Australia and the law demands that these birds must not be taken out of the country except if they are owned and kept by an Australian citizen. Perhaps this Dubrovnik local should consider getting a more productive job instead of praying like a parasite on the suffering of these creatures. In the end, of course, karma ensures that every act of cruelty is ultimately accountable.
So, what can we do to end this blatant act of animal cruelty? Well it would help if you joined me in suggesting to the gathered tourists every time you walk past the spectacle, that they should not encourage this slave master by giving him money.
The Wizard of Oz