Meet András Nyirati
András’s values and his determination to do good comes from his family. Due to his family background, he never faced financial difficulties or limitations, and this gave him a sense of social responsibility. However, he struggled to find his path in life. He studied a number of different subjects and disciplines, but he could never quite commit to them fully. When he became an activist for Amnesty International, that was the moment when he knew ‘this is it’, this is where his values and interests are met. He started attending trainings on topics related to human rights and found that human rights education was his passion. He then founded his own organisation, called the Power of Humanity Foundation, which carries out human rights education activities and awareness raising. He says his job is essentially to tell people about the sort of world he believes in and wants to live in.
The revelatory moment
His first memory of standing up against a racist attack was when, at the age of 6, he defended a Roma classmate of his, when he was accused to have stolen a golden pen from another classmate. As soon as the pen was found to be missing, the entire class turned on the Roma child and shortly after, András found himself being the only one who stood by his friend. However, to the questioning of the teacher, his friend admitted to have stolen the pen. András felt conflicted, frustrated and angry. He then later understood the different realities and the difficulties his friend may have had. He described it as an eye-opening experience he still often thinks back on, as that was the moment he realized how complicated these issues are, how important it is to meet people with understanding and empathy regardless of their past mistakes and to give them a second chance.
On the other hand, András has emphasised that he has never been discriminated against. This is one of his struggles in this line of work, as it translates to the question of credibility and authenticity.
The first victory
A decisive experience, although not his first victory, was when as a human rights educator, he was giving a workshop to young, high school students. Some of them were going through a phase of sympathising with far-right, nationalist, racist views and they were quite openly advocating for their beliefs as András was carrying out his workshop. Instead of being cynical, he chose to have a different approach: he asked the class, and especially these young men what makes them proud to be a Hungrarian. The young men could not come up with anything specific, which András believes that was a good learning experience for them.
Another important experience for him was when he was driving the car with a family member and his two daughters. They drove by a woman in a hijab, possibly an international student at the local university, to which the family member said: “I am not racist, but what these Muslims are doing to women…” András thought about not getting involved in this conversation, but realized his children were listening. So in a calm and reserved manner, he told them a personal story of his – of meeting a Hungarian Muslim woman, who told him about her experiences within the religion. He knew he did not convince the family member, but the conversation came to an end with a different point of view by showing an alternative, personal story of his.
The bumps in the road
András detailed a number of defeats he experiences, some concrete examples and some general considerations.
One of his first instances, where he felt the need to reflect on his own biases was when he was an activist for Amnesty International. He and his activist friends were at a festival with Amnesty and in the evening, they went to a very crowded party. He looked at the group of people that were pushing him, and realized that they are a group of gay men. He became very frustrated not only because of being pushed, but also because they were gay. Afterwards, he had to reflect on his own prejudices and biases, as he realized that as a human rights activist, such a reaction was unfair. Often people think they do not have prejudices, but it is important to realize we all do. The question is what we do with them, whether we work and reflect on them constantly. It is also important to meet people with different life experiences and different backgrounds, as such meetings can foster the eradication of prejudices.
Another defeat of his was when he took part in a panel discussion on the refugee crisis. It was him on the panel and someone who was from the far-right, so the discussion turned quite heated. It was the time when Germany retracted from opening their borders, and András felt betrayed in his beliefs at the time because of it, as he believed that is the part of the world that holds up the values of solidarity. At the panel discussion, there was a question from the audience from a girl, who said she was afraid of being sexually assaulted by refugees and migrants. To this, András responded that statistically speaking, she should be more afraid of her close entourage in this regard. He experienced this as a big defeat, as he wanted to stand up for what is right, but instead he was aggressive and he did not change her mind at all about the issue at hand.
He also detailed when a friend of his was abusive to his girlfriend. András brought it up to him, when he saw such an instance, but he feels like he did not help her enough, he did not do all he could have done. He knew it was not only that one instance, yet, he did not help the woman enough.
In terms of defeats in general, he finds it difficult sometimes to know when to interfere. For example, when someone tells a joke, that is oppressive or demeaning to a certain social group, there is always the fear of not being the person who can’t take a joke. On the other hand, it is problematic when such things are being said out loud, without any reaction, without explaining to people why this is problematic. He finds that sometimes, in retrospect, he should have said something. He feels like he made a mistake in these occasions, when he chooses not to speak up. Generally, he thinks he is often not brave enough to stand up for what he believes in. At the same time, it is important to know when to let it go, for your own sanity as well.
Extremism explained to a 5-year-old
András says he is as radical as anyone on the far-right. But instead of hatred, he advocates for acceptance and tolerance. The question of freedom of expression and freedom of speech comes up often in these debates in his opinion. He believes, however, that what one says or does should never threaten or hurt anyone. “My space for movement stops where the other’s begins”. He believes this is how right to freedom works. He thrives for a society that is livable for everyone. The starting point for extremism is when someone defines themselves in opposition to others – this can lead to hatred and escalate to violence. He tells his two young daughters that he wants everyone in their diversity (no matter who they are) to be happy and satisfied. He also advises them to get to know people they do not know, otherwise, they may miss out on interesting people and views.
Extremism explained to family and friends
He does not talk about these issues with his family, as they have very different points of views politically. His close friends, on the other hand, are people who think similarly to him, as those friends who have very different views are no longer close to him. He says he needs this bubble sometimes, as his job is to get out of his bubble. He needs the calm that comes with not having to argue all the time. This is also the reason why he no longer talks about these issues with his family.
Confessions of a restless activist
He believes this is his calling and that he is an idealist. One should have a basic moral motivation, to treat others as they would like to be treated. Everyone is born equal and has the right to dignity. Even if the goal of everyone having the same opportunities and being treated equally may not be achievable, we need to strive to achieve this anyway. Everyone needs to take part in this.
Some thoughts for undecided activists
1. It is important that your actions are in line with your words. It is a question of credibility.
2. To start on this path, you need bravery. It does get much easier after the first successful action.
3. He believes in non-violent action. Violence should never be the means to achieve your goals, even if in principle they are good.
4. Don’t use your emotions when arguing, talk instead about your own personal stories and experiences. These can be very powerful and they can never be taken away from you or turned against you.
5. Find ways to meet new people, to learn from them, to learn of new perspectives and new points of view.
Adequate responses in uncomfortable situations
1. You need to step out of the situation, when you feel seriously threatened. It is important to have a self-protecting mechanism. Under certain circumstances (of which one has to be mindful of) it is okay to let go and not to take on the situation.
2. Prepare yourself for such situations in advance.
3. Do not cause undue conflict, do not raise the likelihood of violence, focus on raising awareness and on communication instead.
4. Acknowledge the experiences of the other, even if you do not agree with the conclusions they came up with afterwards. Do not disregard their feelings!
Challenge your inner activist
Find your allies! Lone heroes become martyrs, which is not a constructive behaviour. It is impossible to do this alone, so find people who think the same way as you and form a community. Then it will also become easier for others to join in.