Janez Drnovsek, the Slovenian president who led his country to independence in 1991, died this weekend at the age of 57. Mr. Drnovsek’s prodigious accomplishments included building a stable democracy in Slovenia and preparing the way for his country to join the European Union in 2004. He was also passionate about animal rights: An ethical vegan, Drnovsek urged Slovenians to be kind to animals with the same keen awareness of the suffering of others that gained him a reputation as a champion for oppressed people and a progressive leader who refused to stay silent in the face of injustice. Drnovsek became vegetarian after he was diagnosed with cancer in 1999, and he credited his diet with prolonging his life as he battled the disease over the next nine years. In a 2005 interview, he discussed the philosophy behind his decision to adopt a vegan diet:
“If we think for a moment how man manages animals and what impact he has on animal world, we could say he was not human at all. Just think of all slaughterhouses and production of beef or poultry where conditions for animals are impossible. … It is not that people are bad—they just don’t think about it. When the final product is in front of them on the plate, they don’t think what was has been before and how it got to this stage.”
Drnovsek was a man of principle, courage, and most of all, compassion, and his example inspired countless people to look with fresh eyes on the world around them and live their lives in a way that showed kindness to all beings. He will be greatly missed.