Meet Adrian Szelmenczi

For more than 15 years Adrian Szelmenczi has been active in promoting minorities rights in Romania, with a particular focus on the Hungarian minority. Apart from his NGO activity, Adrian has devoted himself to academic research as well. Currently he is conducting a research on Romania’s compliance to Framework Convention for the protection of national minorities.

The revelatory moment

Adrian grew in a mixt family formed by his Romanian mother and his Hungarian father and being bilingual has been a natural state in his early childhood. But as he enrolled in the school system, he started to feel different mainly because the environment was dominated by stereotypes and prejudices about the Hungarians in Romania. All the sudden he started to listen carefully and to understand that xenophobic and discriminatory rhetoric were very common in Romanian society. For instance, as a 10-year-old he could not understand why one of his teachers was peremptory claiming that the Hungarians were one the biggest oppressors of the Romanians and she was portraying them as a threat to the national security. The more Adrian was exposed to this hateful atmosphere and to the label of “bozgor” (a Romanian demeaning term that is translated as “a man with no country”), the more he felt somehow ashamed by his identity and he voluntarily decided to speak only in Romanian even with his family members. Despite this intimidating atmosphere, Adrian says he was never afraid of being Hungarian, as opposed to other people that belong to the Hungarian community. Over the time he almost forgot Hungarian language, but he was to correct this self-imposed decision as soon as he realized that he must claim his identity and to step up for all oppressed minorities in Romania, including the Hungarians.

The first victory

Ten years ago, Adrian submitted a formal complaint against one national TV station that gave the floor to one of the most nationalistic and xenophobic politicians in Romania, that was ranting against the Hungarians. It was the first time when Adrian was testing Romanian regulatory bodies and antidiscrimination legislation. At that time, the TV station was fined by the National Audiovisual Council for promoting xenophobic messages. And it was the beginning of a long journey, as Adrian became more prompt in reporting these cases to specialized authorities.

The bumps in the road

Sometimes Adrian struggles to keep the balance between the emotional and the rational dimensions of his work. And he admits that sometimes he might get carried away by emotions, especially when some hateful and discriminatory messages are too intense. In these moments he would like to be more rational and divert the negative emotions into bullet proof official complaints that would definitely have consequences against the perpetrators.

Extremism explained to a 5-year-old

If asked to explain discrimination to a child Adrian would argue that no one should be treated differently or as an inferior individual just for some characteristics he or she was born with.

Extremism explained to family and friends

Adrian has an extensive list of situations when he had to explain to his friends that Romania is not “their country” and it was not their call to decide how and where the Hungarians should live. This nationalistic narrative is consolidating extremist views and it’s against basic principles of democratic cohabitation.

Confessions of a restless activist

Adrian considers he has a moral duty to step up for national minorities in Romania as a part of his personal process of reaffirming his identity. Also, he is fully committed to his activist work so that in the future no one would feel ashamed or targeted just because they are perceived as “the others” or “the strangers”.

Some thoughts for undecided activists

Anyone who thinks that he or she has no chance of becoming a victim of extremism or radicalization might be in error, Adrian says. Each and every one of us, at any point in our lives, may wake up in a minority group, at any moment we can become victims of discrimination or targets of hate speech. The best way to avoid such situations is to fight against this phenomenon in its current developments but also to prevent further ones.

Adequate responses in uncomfortable situations

Adrian is rather relaxed when asked about potential fireback from extremist or radical individuals. In his opinion, if one of his actions has triggered some feedback from the radicals it means that he has done his job properly.

Challenge your inner activist

If you naturally get irritated when you witness a wrongdoing against others, activist work might be suitable for you. And if you’re a member of a minority or even a target, it is most advisable to step up and actively defend your rights and your identity. According to Adrian, there are many forms of engagement that are highly needed and appreciated in the NGO sector, starting with volunteering or acting like a concerned citizen that demands from national authorities to do their job in fighting and limiting discrimination. Also, it is very important to ask for help and mentoring from civil society organizations. They are out there and they are willing to help.