TOUCHING AN ANIMAL: An interview with Michal Kolesár

News from the WOODS:
Netted hens. We live in a net and hens in the WOODS as well. They were rescued for the second time yesterday. A year ago, Michal Kolesár saved them from a non-life in a factory farm and yesterday we saved them from a predator attack. They lost some feathers that their bare bodies grew back over the winter. They did not leave the chicken coop yesterday, but today they have gathered their courage and are cheerfully digging in the net!

We also bring you an interview with Michal Kolesár on the topic of open rescue of livestock.

An interview with Michal Kolesár

The interview was made as part of the Factory Farming series and has not yet been published.

For a number of years you have been carrying out open rescues. Can you explain what these are?

I go to buildings where animals are legally crippled and liquidated and illegally take them away to better times and safer homes. Hens, ducks, pigs, rabbits, lambs, foxes. I do this without concealing my identity, because I reject the idea that I’m doing something wrong. Instead of “open rescue” I’ve now started to use the term “rescue action”. There are two basic reasons for this: I want to place greater emphasis on the rescue, and we have a mixed team. Lukáš Krása, Petra Musilová, and I show our faces, while the rest remain behind a mask.

How did you start doing rescues, and what kinds of struggle for animal rights and improved living conditions preceded them?

Once, during an investigation in a shed full of so-called broiler chickens, I looked at the chicks, who couldn’t even breathe properly with adult musculature on their child bodies. They toddled around with difficulty, fell on their side, tried to move using their wings. I realized that I was not at all interested in their right to life or freedom or anything else. That I was not interested in my obligation to help them or my obligation to have sympathy or any other obligation. That neither rights nor obligations had anything to do with the fact that I didn’t want to cause harm where I didn’t have to. They are neither my resource nor my means. It’s not my concept. I’m not fighting for the rights of animals, including humans. I am simply providing help where I have the opportunity and the power. That’s all.

I’m not interested in industrial activism. I am not an animal rights activist. I don’t sign petitions or participate in any other begging of infernal, mundane, or celestial powers. I don’t care about legislation and I don’t send out messages to elected or unelected representatives. I don’t use the term carnism, which is as beloved as it is superficial. I don’t take humans to be the origin nor the cause of all evil; this strikes me as narcissistic, though I understand that finding an enemy simplifies one’s view of the world and one’s orientation, in that it rids one of questions and gives one a feeling that the puzzles have been solved. And if I see a Vegan label on the products of Nestlé, Unilever, or other such nonsense, then I consider the Vegan label to be informative as regards composition and, at the same time, an unethical piece of shit.

My public origins are connected with the organization pfa-protectors of farm animals [ohz-ochránci hospodářských zvířat]. I was on the research team, I served as spokesman and president. When I left, I founded the project,, which included open rescues. When I left, I founded the website, and since then I have worked under my own name. Now, together with those close to me, sometimes I’m figuring out what next. Whether I, and we, will make a change, what it will be, whether I am inclined to do so, and what the point would be.

When did you first carry out an open rescue, and how did it go? What is most important for a successful open rescue, and what are the greatest risks?

The first open rescue took place in August 2006. We took 11 hens and gave them a new home. A record of the action can be found on our website for anyone who would like to take a look.
Courage is important, because if you don’t have it, you won’t do anything. Preparation, because it allows you to know the terrain and helps you to choose the appropriate means. Touching an animal, because otherwise you will not understand what it’s like. The ability to adapt, because everything can be different than what you plan. I could continue, but I will leave that as a foundation.

The greatest risk is that it won’t work and the animals will stay where they are.

With someone who is deciding whether to start taking part in rescue actions, I usually tell them the possible risks. Problems in school or at work, problems in the family, loss of friends, potential arrest or imprisonment if the empire decides that that’s enough, life with a criminal record, when they apply for a job somewhere and they’re asked what they did before, they’ll say that they served time for ecoterrorism.

I also tell them that the only things that I personally regret are that I haven’t been able to rescue more animals and how much time I wasted on nonsense, which activism is full of because people must be entertained to keep them from acting out. Creating a safe show where you can have your cake and eat it too. I tell them that there are people with whom I would no longer speak and organizations with which I would not work, because it’s not enough to work on the same topic, and that this doesn’t mean that you want and are fighting for the same, or similar, things.

You have on multiple occasions run the instructional lecture/workshop Take the Hen and Run [Ber slepici a běž], which contains information based on your experiences from open rescues, points out the risks, etc. What reactions have you gotten to these workshops – have they expanded the circle of those who attempt to carry out rescues like yours? Is it spreading?

The information from the workshop can be used not just for rescues, but also for investigations or sabotage. And not just in Czechoslovakia. It’s also not just a matter of expanding the circle. In Spain people who carry out actions came to thank me for making them realize that they were making a number of mistakes, which they now knew how to fix.

Many people take part in just a couple of rescues and then stop. Usually when they realize that it’s disrupting their everyday life more than they are willing to allow. I state this as a fact, not as a judgement. Nobody has an obligation to help others.

Your decision to carry out open rescues does not seem to me to be a utopian action that doesn’t contribute to systemic change. On the contrary. I’m convinced that we need activities like this to draw attention to how extreme the situation is for farm animals and how desperately slowly things are changing, helping to improve their conditions. How do you see open rescues in the context of efforts to effect systemic change in the field of rights for farm animals?

In carrying out rescues, I am not trying to draw attention to anything, nor am I attempting to effect systemic change. I simply wish to rescue whatever animals I am able to. Period.

In our series for the Institute of Anxiety we addressed the topic of factory farming of animals, but also, metaphorically, other kinds of factory farms in society (in schools, maternity hospitals, etc.). In this, we were trying to show that the principle of factory farming is unacceptable in every case, even though we focused primarily on the conditions of farm animals. How would you describe the principle of factory farming, what is it founded on and what you find most unacceptable about it?

Factory farming is a euphemism for intensive, concentrated operation that sees life as an industrial commodity and is oriented towards profit. Toward this end, it does business with a life, cripples it, and liquidates it. It’s a very appealing system because it allows people to easily plan, automate, regulate, and lower costs. To do so, one must modify one’s products, as well as their environment, to be in as identical – or at least similar – a state as possible and rid it of all that interferes with potential profit.

Is that enough for understanding what about it I find unacceptable?

What do the sheds of factory farm sheds look like at night? Can you describe a nighttime “visit”?

We arrive, set up lookouts, check our communications, wait, go in, take the animals, go out, someone goes home, someone takes the animals to their new home.

What it looks like depends in many respects on who is looking, whether they have any expectations and what they are, whether they understand what they’re seeing. Some aren’t particularly moved by it because they aren’t really interested in the animals’ perspective, some are hit with the force of the universe, some leave in tears and some at least fake it, some turn around and escape and cover up everything they saw with a plastic bag or stones. People have different relationships towards other animals and assign different values to their lives. That also applies to those who do rescues. We don’t all fit the same template.

I can speak for myself. The more I know about it and the more I have seen of it, the harder everything is. The intensity and frequency of my heart murmurs is increasing. I have not come to terms with anything. As far as coming to terms with the fact that they are there, really, and that sometimes we leave with empty hands, I don’t try, nor do I want to. Who would I be if I were reconciled with it?

You mentioned that sometimes you go just to spend some time with the animals and pet them, just to be with them when you don’t have new homes for them. Did it take a long time to come to terms with this situation, to learn to leave with empty hands?

I haven’t done that in a long time. I guess I should. At least to pet or scratch them. I will go when we don’t have any more homes. Now we have about eight or nine unannounced rescues, so we have been doing either reconnaissance or rescues.

A number of organizations devoted to the conditions of farm animals, both here and abroad, promote a “positive” strategy: not to accuse offenders, show drastic footage, or share the actual situation, but to try to motivate the public in other ways, through positive examples and offering opportunities to make a change. How do you think people should be educated about the suffering of farm animals? What do you see as a meaningful, functional strategy? Or is this something that you intentionally refuse to think about?

Is there a more positive example than going and taking animals away to better lives?

The world has gone to shit because of power struggles and dealing and manipulating just about anything in the name of all sorts of things. Because of the effort to have everything always under control, overvaluing the significance and soul of humanity and the arrogance that stems from that. Because of obedience where there should be resistance.

I think that the best thing to do is to show what I see. To rid myself of the desire to manipulate things in either a positive or a negative light and to stop supporting and sustaining manipulators. Animal rights has a bumper crop of them. A lot of times even I can’t tell when they’re lying, when they’re telling the truth, and when they’re being strategic and making reference to pragmatism.

I once said that the animal rights movement has developed mainly in the spirit of: it’s okay if it’s shallow, as long as it’s broad. They want others to open their eyes while covering their own open eyes with patches. They are so protective towards those who harm animals, so much do they try to appeal to them, not to hurt their feelings, not to take them out of their comfort zone, that the animals themselves are sidelined. Add to that always the same strategies and chasing quotas. It’s an obsession already.

I respect those who promote veganism and helping animals through information stands, tastings, sports, handing out flyers at a circus or butcher. Also those who cut down tree stands, puncture tires at slaughterhouses, do investigations and rescues, feed stray cats, or work at shelters. But I am aware that, if they do all that and at the same time support, strengthen, and cultivate a system founded on the free market, instructive power, a system that does business and rules with a whip in hand, then life will still – for the majority of animals, including humans – be unlivable, or not happily so.

The first thing, the foundation of the animal liberation movement should be rescuing animals and caring for rescued animals. Everything else is support. Important support. I recognize this. I don’t want to devalue others or insult anyone, really, I don’t, but if someone has as a priority, say, speaking, showing movies, marching, or investigating, then let them call it the movement to better inform about the life of animals. Because what matters is the content.

Do you have a vision of a world that would not be founded on suffering or exploitation, but on some other kind of relationship and other values?

I don’t have any such idea or vision. What good would that do me?