For their resolute defence of Hungary's Roma minority and effective efforts to aid their self-development.
András Bíró is a Hungarian journalist and activist, who played an important role in the re-emergence of Hungarian civil society in the 1990s and the empowerment of minorities. In 1990, he established the Hungarian Foundation for Self-Reliance (Autonómia Alapítvány in Hungarian).
The foundation has helped to reinforce the overall process of democratisation in Hungary after the Communist era by supporting activities concerned with the environment, minority rights, poverty alleviation, and the promotion of civil society and democratic processes at a grassroots level.
The Hungarian Foundation for Self-Reliance has since become a leader regarding the empowerment of Roma within the East European region. It has also given about 400 grants to grassroots organisations thus reinvigorating Hungarian civil society.
András Bíró and the Hungarian Foundation for Self-Reliance have played an important role in the re-emergence of Hungarian civil society and the empowerment of minorities after the end of the communist era. They helped reinforce the overall process of democratisation by supporting environmental protection, minority rights and grassroots organisations.
Rebuilding civil society after the communist era
Hungary's ethnic minorities, particularly the Roma community, was largely neglected during the communist era. When the country returned to democracy, the empowerment of all segments of society became a key goal for Hungarian civil society to ensure that no one would be left behind in the new era.
András Bíró was born in Bulgaria to Hungarian-Serbian parents in 1925. He later lived in Budapest until the uprising of 1956, after which he went to Paris and worked at 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. Bíró returned to Budapest in 1985 and continued this work until the collapse of Communism gave him the opportunity to found the Hungarian Foundation for Self-Reliance (Autonómia Alapítvány in Hungarian, HFSR for short) in 1990.
The foundation 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.
The Hungarian Foundation for Self-Reliance 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.
Bringing minorities to the fore
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.
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 that was determined by rapidly growing unemployment among the Roma. In the past, any assistance to Roma communities was limited to cultural/folk programmes and educational or social assistance. HFSR 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.
Biró retired from the directorship of HFSR in 1996 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. He also did consultancy and advisory work as well as evaluation tasks for international NGOs in the field of Roma projects in the region and in the Ex-Soviet Union.