1995 Right Livelihood Laureate András Bíró passed away at the age of 98 on June 18, 2024.

András Bíró, known as the “patriarch of Hungarian civil society”, dies at 98

News 18.06.2024

Hungarian journalist and activist András Bíró, a key figure in rebuilding Hungary’s civil society after the fall of the Communist regime, has passed away. His work, particularly his focus on empowering Hungary’s Roma minority, has left a lasting impact. His efforts also extended to poverty alleviation, environmental protection and grassroots activism. He died on Tuesday, June 18, at the age of 98.

“András Bíró, often called the ‘patriarch of Hungarian civil society’, was a global citizen with a passion for empowering those around him. He understood the importance of the current historical moment and responded by fighting for democracy, the rights of minorities and environmental protection until the end of his life. The Right Livelihood network has lost a giant. We will miss András and will always fondly remember his wit and stories about his adventurous life,” said Ole von Uexkull, Right Livelihood’s Executive Director.

Bíró, born in Bulgaria in 1925, moved to Hungary as a child and lived there until the 1956 uprising. He then went to Paris, where he became the founding editor of the Food and Agriculture Organisation magazine Ceres and founded the environmental journal Mazingira. In 1978 he moved to Mexico, where he consulted for UN agencies and local NGOs.

Bíró returned to Budapest in 1985 and continued this work until the collapse of Communism enabled him to establish the Hungarian Foundation for Self-Reliance (Autonómia Alapítvány in Hungarian) in 1990.

The foundation, a testament to Bíró’s vision, has played a crucial role in reinforcing the overall democratisation process in Hungary. A leader in empowering Roma within the East European region, the Foundation has given hundreds of grants to grassroots organisations to reinvigorate Hungarian civil society.

In an interview with Right Livelihood in the summer of 2023, Bíró explained his thinking behind the foundation’s approach of giving loans to projects conceived and led by Roma people.

“It wasn’t about loving the Roma and helping them – rather about helping them so they can help themselves,” Bíró said.

“I am not a big fan of ‘kindness’. If someone is starving, you should give them a piece of bread. But to reproduce poverty by perpetuating it because I give them change is not the answer to the question. It absolves my little conscience but doesn’t solve the problem.”

Bíró and his foundation received the 1995 Right Livelihood Award “for their resolute defence of Hungary’s Roma minority and effective efforts to aid their self-development.”

“I was happy that an atypical initiative like that, which was initiated by me, was noticed, and that’s why I got the Award,” Bíró said.

 

Read our 2023 interview with Bíró, where he reflected on his life’s work and the importance of civil society in holding the powerful to account.

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