Face of the Month - Bálint Vojtonovszki

Posted by (econ) on 16.07.2014
News >> Main

Photo by: Agnes Fecher
Photo by: Agnes Fecher

Name and surname:

Bálint Vojtonovszki

What do you do? (position)

I am a Community Organizer at the Hungarian Anti Poverty Network (HAPN) working in Budapest with workfare workers – this is Közmunkás Mozgalom a Jövőért (Workfare Movement for the Future).

What is your connection to ECON?

HAPN became a member of ECON in 2012 and since then I am the national coordinator of ECON in Hungary.

Photo by: Hajnal Fekete
Photo by: Hajnal Fekete

Why did you choose community organizing (CO)?

My answer to this question is two-folded.

Firstly, I do not believe in thorough and sustainable democratic social change that misses the grass roots part. No matter how mighty and organized a movement is, if it does not (or at least does not try to) involve the largest part of excluded people in its struggles, things will not change. I believe applying community organizing in a customized way to our special Eastern European context is a key element in building democratic organizations, coalitions and movements that are able to achieve these goals.

And when I say “our special context”, I mean that now civil society in Eastern Europe drifted away from people. This comes from the goals these organizations set up for themselves (mainly service provision instead of the government), which through institutional interests (mostly meaning money) undermines the ability of being an equal partner of the government, and I’m not even talking about criticism… The other thing is the non-democratic management models that most of the NGOs are using. These issues could be tackled by using community organizing, I believe.

How would you explain what is CO to a child?

There are people who have a lot of things and therefore everyone listens to their opinion. Things are decided in their favor. But there are a lot more people who barely have anything and nobody listens to them. They feel excluded and decisions are usually not helping them. Community organizing is giving voice to these people so they could have a say in things that affect them.

How did you start organizing?

I am an activist since my university years. When I started to become more conscious about the social processes that shape the life of people who lose their homes, I got frustrated that I wasn’t looking in the eyes of people lying on the ground in downtown Budapest. So we protested and did direct actions, press releases, etc. But it took my friends and me some years to start involving homeless people in the work we were doing. This is how my activism from a typical middle-class need changed into community organizing. Hence the organization A Város Mindenkié (The City Is For All) started. This change gave a lot of joy and extra work, but taught me valuable lessons as well. So I did not choose community organizing, I somehow organically found it. (Everlasting thanks to everyone who participated and supported me!)

Photo by: Andrea Krizsai
Photo by: Andrea Krizsai

What motivates you?

I like to work with people who are very different comparing to me, to think together and build up things we would never have thought we would be able to.

What is the victory you are proud of the most?

There are many things connected to each other behind a victory. But nevertheless, I feel pride when I think about I was part of building up 2 groups that already had victories: changing local decisions (non-homeless zones; evictions; everlate dates of payments; ban on picking out garbage; etc.) and pushing against national level madness (illegality of rough sleeping just to name one). For me, building up something is always more valuable than successes which by their nature, may fade with time.

What makes a good organizer?

It might seem to be fake modesty, but I still am learning how to be a good organizer. What I found out so far is that even though you have to chew on some of dilemmas you are facing every day, you should not be afraid to act. Even if acting sometimes means shutting up and letting people talk and do what they feel right.

What would be your advice to a young organizer?

Stay young as long and far as you can!

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