Conference on civil resistance in Eastern Europe
We are wrapping up the special conference we held yesterday, feeling proud and inspired. Together with the New Israel Fund and Shatil, we hosted our incredible partners from Zazim’s sister organizations in Eastern Europe, who came here to Israel to show solidarity for our fight for democracy, and to share their stories and experience from their own struggles against dictatorial regimes and for societies based on values of equality, freedom, and human rights.
Meeting at the Abraham Hostel in Tel Aviv, hundreds of participants from all over the country had the opportunity to hear how, in Eastern European countries who had struggled for years with dictatorships and authoritarian regimes, our sister organizations waged creative, intelligent, and highly optimistic campaigns - and managed to inspire hope in the hearts of the citizens and mobilize societal change.
Raluca Ganea, Zazim - Community Action’s executive director, thanked the conference participants, saying: “These past ten weeks have proved the critical importance of the determined power of civil society. This is the power that we at Zazim work tirelessly to build up, it is the power of everyday people who stand up to demonstrate, write articles, sign petitions, donate, strike, get detained, and refuse to participate in authoritarian regime change. This incredible power, which is growing every day, will determine the outcome of this fight.”
Mickey Gitzin, CEO of the New Israel Fund, said: “What do those who shout ‘there is no democracy without equality’ mean? What does it mean when it comes to Palestinians? To women? To the LGBTQ community? These questions need to be unpacked one by one. If we finish this fight only to end up in the same place we were in November 2022 (after the last elections which brought the extremist right to power), then we’ll be in trouble.”
Marina Pavlić, founder and executive director of Kreni-Promeni in Serbia, shared: “I was seven years old when dictator Slobodan Milošević became president. He rose to power and started a war. It seemed ‘normal’ for me to see refugees arrive in my classroom from Bosnia every day. The only time I saw my parents not frustrated was when they returned from street protests. And after ten years, we truly succeeded in bringing revolution to Serba. I remember that day, there were thousands of cops and people - exactly like there were here in Tel Aviv yesterday .There was of course tear gas everywhere, and at one point I stood outside the National Assembly building, and I saw the masses of people rushing in. I was 16, and I thought to myself, ‘Yes! We finally won! That’s it, freedom for everyone!’ But then, I saw those same people running out of the building, stealing art and furniture. I felt terrible. The revolution succeeded - yet this sight depressed me. I decided to never be involved in public action, until one day I met regular people working to organize their community, and to build a new vision for Serbia. And since then, day by day, year by year, campaign by campaign, we’re leading one of the largest civil society movements in the country.”
Karolina Skowron, executive director of Akcja Demokracja in Poland, shared: “Activism helped me overcome the despair I felt from seeing all the cruelty around me, towards human beings and also animals. It gave me hope, and I decided to dedicate my life to activism. After years of separate struggles, I began to realize that all these fights are part of one shared struggle. One of the main parts of my activism is to connect between different movements and help them understand that we all have a shared goal: dignity for all. That’s why it’s so important to work together, to connect between the movements, and that has been my work the past few years. This is what led me to my work in the Akcja Demokracja: a place that can bring together all the different struggles. It’s a great honor to be involved in this work, and to take part in similar work to the other organizations here.”
Tudor Bradatan, co-founder and executive director of Declic in Romania, said: “I was born under a communist regime, and when I was seven, the dictator was removed and the process of democratization began. I saw how slowly but surely things that used to be impossible in the past, all of a sudden became possible. Yet despite this, this was an illusion of democracy - the same people who ran the old regime were now part of the new one, and they wanted to keep ‘business as usual’ on the backs of us, the people. We didn’t have heating in the winter - and the winter in Romania is not like it is here in Tel Aviv, it’s very cold! We stood in long lines for basic goods before the revolution, and again after it. During this time I began to develop and activist spirit, and wanted to make sure things will get better. It was only years later when I was a university student when I heard of a village in Transylvania that was threatened by a mining corporation which wanted to blow up the mountain and mine the gold. The village put up fierce resistance, and called for anyone who could to join. I skipped my classes and went to help, and for the next decade we went there nearly every weekend, we organized a festival, and managed to convince the majority of Romanian society that we should oppose this gold mine which is poisoning our environment and communities. Today this place is part of our heritage, it became a World Heritage site, this small village which was built in Roman times. We saw that with enough people and enough sustained resistance, we can succeed in creating life even in a young democracy like Romania which is still struggling with shaking off the leaders of its past.”
Máté Varga, executive director of aHang in Hungary, shared: “My parents were activist, and in 1989 after the regime change, they founded the first civil society organization, whose goal was to connect all the organizations in Hungary. So I was born into this world, and followed in my parents’ footsteps. For 20 years I was active in local community work, supporting initiatives, grassroots actions, and community organizing groups. We worked on connecting the different groups, but in 2010 we again had a regime change, and this brought us back to the dark times before the Second World War. Everything we built was destroyed - or at least they tried. We needed to step up a level and deal with a new kind of enemy, to fight much larger fights, and to build much broader coalitions. That’s what we’ve been doing for the past 10 years: trying to build a movement that can moderate the government’s power. We had incredible and massive political projects in Hungary, and what we are working on now - after the election loss (where Victor Orban won re-election with a supermajority) - is to build a new movement in Hungary with a flexible organizational structure that can bring together political activists from across the entire country.”
Thank you to all who participated!
We will continue fighting and working together, until we win!
Photo credit: Gilad Kavalerchik