On Tuesday, 13 June, after two postponed votes, the Hungarian Parliament adopted the Law on the Transparency of Foreign Funded Organisations. The community of civil society organisations united in the Civilizáció campaign continue to believe that the law is unnecessary, stigmatising and harmful. Unnecessary, because Hungarian civil society organisations are already transparent in their operations, provide accurate information about their donors and finances in annual reports and carry out their activities before the public. Stigmatising, because the law implies that organisations which work for the benefit of Hungarian society by receiving foreign grants for their work pose a threat to the country. Harmful, because it undermines mutual trust in society and questions the right to freedom of expression.
We, as civil society organisations, are diverse. However, we are united in our protest against being stigmatised and the efforts to stop us from carrying out our mission. We help millions of people each year by serving homeless persons, giving free legal advice or welfare services, educating or supporting disadvantaged children or senior citizens, or by protecting our environment. We work on genuine and pressing social issues that receive less attention than needed and often do the job of state authorities.
There is reason to fear that the newly adopted law will not stop the several years old governmental campaign to denounce Hungarian civil society organisations. On the contrary, this is a new step in a longer process that aims at fully discrediting civil society organisations. However, there can be no real democracy and civil liberties without independent and critical thinking and a strong civil society.
We, civil society organisations, cherish our diversity but stand united in our goal to make Hungary a better, more liveable place. All organisations affected by the law will keep this in their mind when they make their respective decisions on implementing the law on “foreign funded organisations”. We are convinced that the new law is in breach of Hungary’s Basic Law and many other international treaties ratified by Hungary because it unjustifiably restricts the right to freedom of association and freedom of expression. Hence, by using all opportunities afforded by law, we will continue to protest against the ‘foreign funded NGO’ law before all available domestic and international fora. We are here to stay and to continue our common work as we must not abandon Hungarian society and the people who need and count on our support.
In April, 2017 we held a training on grassroots organizing at the Central European University, which is currently under attack by the Hungarian government, so the topic was very relevant to our everyday realities. The student who initiated the training reports back about her experiences.
I contacted The School of Public Life for a grassroots organizing workshop because I saw a gap in my formal education on human rights and wanted a practical approach to social change. A few months before, I had started a student group hoping to find like-minded activists. However, few of us had experience with social movements. We were passionate but lacked a framework for how to accomplish the change we wanted to see in the world.
The workshop gave us useful insights into how momentum and organizations interrelate and the differences between community development and community organizing, strategies and tactics, and activism and organizing. One of the key takeaways for me was to have a conscious methodology, a strategy for reaching a goal. After being provided with clear examples, the workshop participants collaborated on plans for achieving various kinds of social change.
When the workshop ended, we were not only more knowledgeable about grassroots organizing, but energized by people from diverse backgrounds who were able to work together on important social projects. Even those who have had a lot of prior experience with activism had a lot to learn and think about. The 8-hour workshop gave my classmates and I a taste of grassroots organizing, and we hope to dive deeper into it thanks to the very inspiring workshop led by Tessza and Mariann.
Lot of people ask the question worldwide how to assert their interest as a group when they are supressed, they suffer encroacments on their rights or similar problems. We learnt a lot about these in Budapest in the past 2 months in Közélet Iskolája through films – by discussing and interpreting the films as well as reading related literature to the subject.
How to start with it - what is the recipe?
We need a smart group of people. One of them should be a leader who can speak for the group and who is able to communicate coherently. We need a plan, and a strategy. If we document our work there is more chance to be successful. It is advisable to ask for lawyer’s help in order to support our fight for a legal act, arbitrament or modifying paragraphs. There is always a possibility to get intarnational help and it is worth quoting international norms. And people will support us as they realise we are fighting with all our hearts for a good case,or trying to solve a problem, which could affect all of them.
What kind of films did we see?
We came to learn several cases, like homeless ,disabled persons from Hungary, Africa, and from the United States, victims of police agression, factory squatters, enviroment protectors, victims of countries at the edge of financial bankruptcy. The lecturers helped us to focus on the relevant issues and put us in the picture regarding the actual situations. The historical study handouts were of a great help for us and made us able to become helpers ourselves to people struggling with similar problems.
We decided to keep in touch as a group, which was made up by a lot of different people: students and long-time activists like refugee helpers, environment protectors, as well as disabled , unemployed and homeless persons.
We met members of the Movement of Public Workers, and the activists of The City is for All as well as organisations participating in a program of Védegylet.
You will probably hear from us soon!
Photo: István Várady
The moderator training held by the School of Public Life was attended by a very colorful group of people. We were trained both theoretically and practically on various issues, like how to moderate a discussion, how to lead a group. Time management and conscious planning were on the agenda. Some of the questions we addressed were: How to handle conflicts? How to handle spontaneous guests in a creative manner and how to manage a series of coordinating sessions? How to master its technical background, how to delegate tasks and responsibilities? How to control all this?
We were looking for answers to the above issues together with the Budapest and Pécs group of The City is for All as well as the representatives of advocacy groups representing migrants and refugees, public workers and mothers. We spent the two days in a very good mood by exchanging professional experiences and building our social network.
We were discussing human rights, trends in the use of power, the hierarchy of a group and the efficiency of leadership principles.
Everybody had a great time. The members of the participating organizations made a summary of what they learnt and how they will put it to use. We agreed to continue this work in a joint workshop and also established a mailing list.
Thank you to the School of Public Life!
dr. Gyöngyi Kerékgyártó, the delegate of the Movement of Public Workers for the Future
Photo: István Várady
We held the training „I will be famous on the internet” in May for organisations focusing on advocacy so they could ake full advantage of communication opportunities inherent in Facebook and blogs. The training was held by two trainers –Marietta Le and Rita Zágoni - who worked with us for the first time. The reports of participants leave us in no doubt that it was not the last time for us to work together.
The room for the training, the computers and all the technical devices as well as lunch and soft drinks were offered by LogMeIn. Let us say a great Thank You again to them and to Balázs Dósa for organising this event.
There were many useful elements of the training such as the statistics of keywords search, Google Trends, RSS, hashtags, photo editing and word cloud etc. All of them were easy to learn and easy to apply. I was able to integrate some of them immediately in my daily routine. I applied the word cloud first, which was an inevitable success among our team and target group. I also started to use Inoreader for collecting news and I’m planning to use the other useful things as well.
During the day many interesting topics came up, about which I’m eager to know more about, so hopefully this programm will continue soon. Thanks and I wish you all a lot of success!
Marianna Varbai, Közösségi Alapítvány, Gödöllő and surrounds
The training was very valuable for me. I learnt how to create and design a webpage. I found the course very useful and I had a great time. I hope to have the opportunity to take part in other similar trainings. This was the first time for me and I profited from it so much. It was a great honour for me to participate in this training.
Photo by István Várady
In December 2016 we held a training on “Gender Inequalities in the Protection of Interest”. Two of the participants wrote an account of the event, which we are happy to share with you here:
“I strongly believe that social equality is a common cause for both women and men. This training reassured me in this belief, and I was very happy to see that men also participated in the training. It is very important to be self-aware of the fact that we live in a patriarchal society, and that it produces a lot of negative things on a systemic level. Among others we discussed topics such as sexism in institutions, the importance of women’s representation, of their public role and their opinion, as well as the situation of homeless women. Moreover, we talked about the situation dominating in residential institutions, and as a student studying social work it was very difficult to hear that so many of the social workers end up burning out, becoming apathetic and start treating the residents badly. The shortcomings of the service provisional system are also present in this area.
There was a talk about the history of feminism, which helped me grasp the causal connections between the past events and the current situation. I have learned a lot of useful and potentially utilizable things during the training. We have also received ideas for possible solutions, and what was even more important, we ourselves could produce solutions while working in small groups. I got to know the School of Public as an open and tolerant organization that is knocking down taboos.”
“I arrived to the training with a little unease, but a great and accepting group was set up, so I could get relaxed very quickly. Even as a man I did not experience even the smallest sign of rejection or exclusion. Móni Szabó and Mariann Dósa led the training during these two days with great professionalism, and they approached every participant with endless patience and helpfulness. We discussed very interesting and varied topics (feminist movements, the situation of homeless women, the situation in women shelters) and I got to know very interesting people. I strongly hope that I will have more opportunities in the future to participate in the trainings of the School of Public.”
The participants took home the following from the training: Inspiration, reassurance, good feeling and lots of things to further look into or read after; Ideas, techniques to use in order to let your voice be heard and step up for yourself as a woman; They will be able to talk more easily in front of others; Companions who think the same way; They won’t be ashamed of their expertise anymore; Bigger sense of responsibility; Possible solutions for the identified problems; New viewpoints and new aspects; The thought that we “could look out from the box”; Knowledge and how to relate to things; The life history of other women; View that is even more critical about the system; The decision that “Always everywhere my baby(ies) will be hanging on me”; The thought that “what is personal is also political”.
And they threw the following to the dustbin the following things: Impatience; Deference to unfairness; Fear from being left alone with criticism and bad feelings; Insecurity about standing up for causes; Fears to speak up in the topic; Prejudices; Hopeless atmosphere.
Photo: István Várady
Last weekend we participated in a three-day long training organized by the School of Public. We had been looking forward to the three-day long event with great enthusiasm, because even though we were a very mixed group from all over the country, we shared something. Everyone wants to enhance or change certain areas of our society. We came to the training to learn new methods that can be utilized for this and to learn how to use them. And I think we did get these.
We have learned that it is not worthwhile to separate our goals and internal spiritual and mental state from one another, that it is important to be aware of our motivations, because these can help a lot in crises situations. Inevitably there will be such situations, but if we conceive them as a possibility to learn something, then we can come out of them with gains. I also gained a lot from the approach that one should always start from the goal and not from the present situation, it is better to strip things back from the goal. It is important for us to have an image of the ideal world, where the goal that we work for (often on voluntary basis) for many years, is fulfilled. It is very good if we can summarize this in 2-3 sentences. Primarily to ourselves, if things don’t got so well, this can help us to get through difficult periods more easily and help us to continue the road towards our goal, but formulating a clear goal can also help to facilitate the involvement of others. It can furthermore help us to see more clearly what we are doing and why.
The use of images, inner images, that can mobilize and inspire us and also others, can be very useful. Since I mentioned goals, a good strategy can help us tremendously in reaching them. It is like a map that leads to the destination. It can help us to rationalize and find the efficient tools, and to utilize them in our activities. It takes a lot of time to develop such a thing, and it is good if we can involve as many of our colleagues as possible in the process, because then everyone will consider the goal their own and they will put more efforts into reaching it. It is important that it is not a dead document, but it should be rather a guidance that actively influences and facilitate the functioning of the organization, it should not be set in stone, what is more, it is important to go back to it time to time and revise it. It is good to link such a control to a 3-4 day long so-to-say retreat, when we give time to ourselves and to each other to think through what we are doing and why, and whether these actions are really leading us towards that goal. Such an occasion can mean a real push in the life of the organization.
I am almost certain that the knowledge that we obtained here will be very useful for all of us when we will be working on our own or on our community’s social ideal. On the whole we had a really good time. The tiredness caused by the large amount of new and useful information was alleviated by the instructive games, through which we also learned a lot. About ourselves and about our society’s functioning.
I am very much looking forward to utilize the knowledge that I received in the training in my work.
Photo: István Várady
„Advocacy and base building” – this was the training that was most interesting to me when I was encouraged to apply to the School of Public Life. I had become interested in community organizing and many other things such as the operation and function of nonprofit organizations, the advocacy work of civil activists, the engagement of those who are open to support good causes, and many other things that I have been already doing, but I could not always explain in professional terms what I am actually doing. So it was time to find a place where I can get some help with this!
When I was approaching Gólya Presszó in the 8th district in the morning, the landscape did not seem like Rózsadomb, to say the least. The whole place appeared too alternative to me at first sight: building operations, noise and mud. Gólya was furnished with the junked stuff of underground pubs.
Then we started the course. We had two trainers: Tessza, who I had already heard to speak at a another event, and Gyula Balog. I am not sure if I have to say, but it was not something I was used to. After four universities and countless trainings, what am I going to learn from a homeless man? I was waiting curiously, and it was good that I did. I was worth it!
We immediately started with climbing the six steps of advocacy, and by the time we got to the top, my insight into the trainers, the other participants and the venue became totally different. The place, which had been dreary before, became homely and functional. The quality of a training does not depend on the venue, but on the people and what the people are doing and saying. This is true to such an extent that the place was also changed by these people, as I could experience it that weekend.
We closed the session on advocacy with a map of power analysis, and we addressed the different possibilities of communication with those in power. The trainers could actually tell me new things after so many other trainings on communication I had attended before, because the way they presented negotiations with those in power had some special features which are not taught at management schools. The sharing of concrete stories, examples and experiences seemed even more important than the theoretical background.
On the second day, I was welcomed by the homely and friendly Gólya where we had a very nice lunch again. Fruit, cookies and tea were provided during the whole day. As an introduction, we dealt with the different types of civil movements and the classical onion-model of grassroots organizations. The big AHA experience for me was the different ways in which nonprofit organizations are able to grow and increase their base. The concrete example of The City is for All served as a perfect model of networking and for the creation of satellite organizations.
Finally, we turned to the external and internal communications of our own organizations. We gave a radio interview and designed and presented a campaign. We did and could not stop and it was incredible that the two days were over, and the training came to an end.
I have already participated in many trainings, including a lot of good ones, and I can say that what has been created by Tessza, Gyula and the participants was of an exceptional quality. I would emphasize only one aspect, which describes the atmosphere and the working method really well: while in other trainings people usually feel a kind of pressure to do or not to do something, to say something or not to say something, here I never had such a feeling. Everyone participated in the things as much as they wanted, but everyone had an equal opportunity to take part and express his or her opinion. This was real democracy in practice.
Basically, if I recollect the training ”How to Organize a Group?” on June 17-18, 2016 I can say that quite a lot of things were centered around food – in spite of the title. To resolve the promiscuous tension straight away, our first task was to tell the group the name we preferred to be called by the others together with our favorite food. According to the rules of the game, everyone had to repeat all the previous information before adding their own introduction. The circle was started and also finished by our trainer Tessza Udvarhelyi, who repeated the full list. She was rehearsing the names and favorites of the group of nineteen people from layered potatoes to apricot, from potatoes sprinkled with fresh parsley through vegetable marrow with dill to Mushroom Paprikash. ”Hedda burek, Kata raspberry, Juli falafel, István Hungarian poppyseed bread&butter pudding”- I was also trying to whisper and memorize, but I got wrong Szarka’s bread roll with butter. It was not a problem as we were always helped out if we got stuck.
The second activity was an introductory one too, but it served also as a preparation for our topic. Bernadett Sebály, our other trainer put a large orange into the middle of the room. Our task was to divide it between two kids in the most possible number of ways. We did not deal with the orange anymore, but spent more time on our next – also eatable – demonstration tool, the onion.
We skinned it a lot, because we always brought it as an example when we studied the structure of a group. We also systematized the groups by considering if they are informal (e.g.: a group of friends who regularly meet) or formal ones. The formal groups can have a lot of different forms: e.g.: self-help, community building, study, charity or advocacy groups. Almost all the participants represented different kinds of groups. Some of them were already experienced leaders or team members, while others are about to establish a group right now. We discussed the difference between the labels ”leader” and ”responsible”. The example of the onion was also useful to discuss the relationship between the core, active member, sympathizer and the mass base within an organization. I also got to know what is called the structure and culture of the group.
All the members of our spontaneously gathered group were very active during the two days. This short period of time was not enough for everything, and as we closed the training, it turned out – just to continue with meals –, that we are still starving for a training on strategic planning. I hope this is also going to be on our table soon.
In 2016 we organized for the second time the training, Social inequalities in Hungary today, this time for the Heves County Penitentiary Institution’s female detainees in Eger. The training was based on the notion that knowledge about our society and its dominant economic and political processes is key to active social participation, while it is the most inaccessible to those whose chances of conscious civic engagement are already limited. We believe that by gaining knowledge about the causes and consequences of social inequalities, detainees can better grasp the social processes and socio-political circumstances around them, which will help them re-integrate into and live in this social environment after their release.
The training was again 12 weeks long and we processed altogether 9 topics, all related to the causes and structural reproduction of social inequality. Based participants’ feedback, the most important and interesting topics included the job market, gender inequality, school segregation and the criminalization of poverty. Besides these, we also discussed the theories of social stratification and discrimination; the topic of housing; spatial and geographic inequalities; ethnicity-based oppression; globalization; and cultural and symbolic inequalities.
Because our most important methodological principle was to enable participants to process and comprehend systemic social phenomena based on their own experiences, the conversations and the exercises always inquired into and built onto these experiences first. Besides, we also paid great attention to keeping the training inclusive, so that everyone could express their opinions and be an active participant. To this end, we applied a great variety of methods and practices. For instance we discussed the topic of ethnic inequalities using the method of “human bingo”; we used quizzes for understanding various statistical data; we performed some movement-based tasks; and we discussed the movie Suffragette (2015) to address the topic of gender inequality.
Several topics and subtopics were discussed in small groups or in pairs. It was an important pedagogical experience for us that these exercises were not popular among participants, and several of them told us that they would prefer working alone. Based on their feedback, we integrated more solo tasks into the second half of the training, but – in agreement with the participants – we kept some group work as well, because we consider cooperation an important and learnable skill that can be-developed by working in small groups if the appropriate pedagogical support is provided. Besides, one topic of the training was social solidarity (or the lack of it), which is closely related to cooperation skills, so we considered it important to work towards that during the training.
At the beginning we started the classes with of a playful warm-up exercise, but with time we learned that there are often personal tensions present in the classroom. After a while, we switched to beginning each class with a circle when everyone could tell the others how they were doing that day and what was on their minds. This made it possible for the participants to signal if they were not in a good mood, e.g.: if they had received bad news from their loved ones or that they were experiencing physical discomfort. This kind of introduction also helped us, the trainers, to handle to group better.
Each class had a few readings from the civic orientation textbook compiled by the School of Public Life, which contains Hungarian translations and summaries of classical social science texts. We discussed these readings and also applied them during the exercises. Based on the experiences gained during our previous similar training, we also spent some time talking about inspiring, successful projects that offer positive examples of challenging social inequality (e.g.: a successful municipal firewood campaign in Borsodbóta, the Prison Radio, The City is for All housing advocacy group). Participants showed great interest in these, and many of them declared that after their release they would gladly participate in the work of a civil organization.
Based on the participants’ feedbacks the training was successful: we piqued their interest in social issues, while their knowledge and awareness of social inequalities has also increased. The course helped them become of the structural reasons behind inequality and of their rights as citizens. Many of them said that they found the grassroots struggles we demonstrated very inspiring and that they are glad that they know where to turn for help.
We are currently negotiating a follow-up to the training and hope that in the fall we can start the training on civil rights with the same group.