András Biró / Hungarian Foundation for Self-Reliance
( 1995 , Hongrie )

... pour leur défense résolue de la minorité rom de Hongrie et leurs efforts aboutis en faveur de leur émancipation.

It seems that our naive trust in and human respect for our partners, has not been a bad investment.


The Hungarian Foundation for Self-Reliance (HFSR) is the English name of Autonómia Alapitvány (literally, the Autonomy Foundation). It was founded in 1990 by András Biró, who had returned home to Budapest five years earlier after an international career as a journalist and UN consultant.

Contact

András Biró
Hungarian Foundation for Self-Reliance
Logodi u. 9
1012 Budapest
HUNGARY

http://www.autonomia.hu/

Biography

HFSR initially set itself the goal of reinforcing the overall process of democratisation in Hungary by supporting activities concerned with (i) the environment (and sustainable development), (ii) minority rights and the alleviation of poverty, focusing particularly on the Roma community, and (iii) the promotion of civil society and democratic processes at grassroots level. These were seen as key areas of need in the aftermath of 40 years of totalitarian government.

HFSR can best be described as an intermediary NGO and an agent of change. It has so far given about 400 grants to grassroots organisations. It has been instrumental in the establishment of two separate organisations: an environmental NGO called the Partnership Program, supported by a consortium of US foundations, which has now largely taken over HFSR’s environmental work; and the Legal Defence Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities, of which Biró is also the president. The latter aims to provide legal representation for gypsies who have increasingly become the object of racist attacks or whose rights have been infringed in other ways. In its first year, the Legal Defence Bureau handled over 100 cases.

The Foundation has now taken a leadership role with regard to the Roma within the East European region, and has received visits from delegations of Roma leaders from Bulgaria, Romania and the Slovak Republic. HFSR is now being funded to co-ordinate a four-country programme for the Roma. In e …

HFSR initially set itself the goal of reinforcing the overall process of democratisation in Hungary by supporting activities concerned with (i) the environment (and sustainable development), (ii) minority rights and the alleviation of poverty, focusing particularly on the Roma community, and (iii) the promotion of civil society and democratic processes at grassroots level. These were seen as key areas of need in the aftermath of 40 years of totalitarian government.

HFSR can best be described as an intermediary NGO and an agent of change. It has so far given about 400 grants to grassroots organisations. It has been instrumental in the establishment of two separate organisations: an environmental NGO called the Partnership Program, supported by a consortium of US foundations, which has now largely taken over HFSR’s environmental work; and the Legal Defence Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities, of which Biró is also the president. The latter aims to provide legal representation for gypsies who have increasingly become the object of racist attacks or whose rights have been infringed in other ways. In its first year, the Legal Defence Bureau handled over 100 cases.

The Foundation has now taken a leadership role with regard to the Roma within the East European region, and has received visits from delegations of Roma leaders from Bulgaria, Romania and the Slovak Republic. HFSR is now being funded to co-ordinate a four-country programme for the Roma. In each country this will provide for a Roma radio station, social leadership training and a legal defence system on the lines of that already operating in Hungary. HFSR will identify local partners for this programme. For example, the Association of Romanian Lawyers for Human Rights has agreed to create a special bureau for the Roma, who comprise about 15 per cent of Romania’s population, compared with 5 per cent in Hungary.

What is unique about HFSR’s work with the Roma is both its methodology and its choice of income generation as its main focus, an orientation which was determined by rapidly growing unemployment among the Roma. In the past, any assistance to Roma communities has been limited to cultural/folk programmes and educational or social assistance. SR has pioneered the idea of helping them develop their entrepreneurial skills so that some, at least, can acquire know-how, self-reliance and resources which will help their communities as a whole. The Foundation has provided grants or interest-free loans to more than 200 Roma projects. Also, around 100 Roma leaders have participated in an intensive ‘Entrepreneurs Training Project’ to acquire managerial skills either for non-profit or private enterprises.

Another initiative of HFSR has been ‘The Tolerance Prize’, awarded each year since 1992 to the representative of the Hungarian information media judged to have made the best contribution to ethnic harmony and the interests of minorities.

András Biró was born in Bulgaria of Hungarian-Serbian parents in 1925. He later lived in Budapest until the uprising of 1956, after which he went to Paris and worked on a business journal before becoming the founding editor of the FAO magazine Ceres  (1967-75). After that, he was the founding editor of the environment journal Mazingira. In 1978 he moved to Mexico, where he did consultancy work for UN agencies and with Mexican NGOs. Biró returned to Budapest in 1985 and continued this work until the collapse of Communism gave him the opportunity to found HFSR in 1990.

In 1996, András Biró retired from the directorship of HFSR and took up the chairmanship in the board of NEKI- MASSAG ALAPITVANY, a legal defence bureau acting in defence of the human rights of the Roma Community in Hungary. Recently he has taken up consultancy and advisory as well as evaluation tasks for international NGOs in the field of Roma projects in the region and in the Ex-Soviet Union.

 
 

FAQ about András Biró

Questions asked in 2005

What is the biggest misunderstanding about Romas?

  1. That their divergent culture is inferior. Main components: no work ethics; ignoring private property; lacking capacity to integrate in the majority society; that no change in behaviour can occur; etc.
  2. Denial by the majority of its racialist attitude vis à vis the Roma.
  3. Not having a historical/dynamic view on the reason for their social exclusion

What are the most urgent minority problems in Hungary?

  1. In Hungary, the only real minority problem is the social exclusion and discrimination of the Roma.
  2. They represent 6 % of the global population; their demographic growth resembles that of the 3rd World. As the majority numbers decline, in 20 years, in 50 % of the primary school classes the Romas will be a majority.
  3. Income, schooling (The only important progress during the last five years to notice is their inclusion in the educational system), equal opportunities.

How does HFSR’s work differ from other NGOs?

  1. As a foundation the tool of intervention is loans (money),
  2. respect and trust in the local Romas’ NGOs (no collateral for loans),
  3. systematic monitoring/dialogue during the project time,
  4. promoting empowerment by provoking constant decision making by our partners  – at all moments and levels,
  5. accountability training and requirement,
  6. contractual relationship – as formal expression of partnership.

Why do you deal with this topic, when you personally are not part of it?

Because the exclusion of a part of the Hungarian society, the Roma, is

  1. maintaining a tension inside society,
  2. ignoring the problem doesn’t eliminate it.
  3. If you have much poverty and exclusion this minders the development of the whole society,
  4. because equal opportunities are the basis of a democratic development of the Hungarian society.

Isn’t your effort superfluous, as no change can occur with these people?

  1. The fact that 75 % of the loans have been reimbursed shows that Romas – provided they are treated with respect and trust  – as any other human group, react positively to an adequate approach.
  2. Radical changes do not occur rapidly. It is important to deal with the most burning social and discriminatory problem of the country.

What effect has the RLA had on your work?

The notoriety the RLA gave to the organisation made it possible to inform the Hungarian public, not only about the work of the HFSR, but to have the Roma Topic treated publicly and broadly and to show concretely that solutions can be found.

Publications

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