The European Civic Forum (ECF) has announced the winners of its 2023 Civic Pride Awards. Out of 123 applications, the Selection Committee selected three outstanding stories: TGEU, Gribu palīdzēt bēgļiem (“I want to help refugees”) from Latvia, and the Saami Council and the Indigenous Sámi rights movement from Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Russia. Additionally, a special commendation was given to the Hungarian protest movement of teachers, students, and parents fighting for public education.
This year’s ceremony will take place in Brussels on 18 September, hosted by European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova at Silversquare Louise.
The awards, presented annually, aim to recognise the inspiring work of civil society organisations and movements, raise their visibility at the European level, and share their commitment to EU values, civic freedoms, and democracy.
Civil society organisations are an essential element of democracy. They are often on the frontlines – mobilising, responding to social needs and defending fundamental rights and democratic frameworks. However, civil society is under pressure in Europe and beyond as we observe democratic backsliding, degradation of the rule of law, growing restrictions on freedoms, and shrinking civic space.
Despite these challenges, civil society organisations, movements, and activists continue to work to make the world a better place, by supporting and strengthening environmental and socio-economic rights, equality, intersectional justice, and civil liberties for all, and more. These awards recognise and support outstanding actors and organisations that work towards these goals.
Read the inspiring stories of the winners below:
In defiance of the anti-rights backlash, TGEU has established itself as a legitimate voice for trans communities, working to strengthen the rights and well-being of trans people, with over 500 organisation and individual members in 50 countries in Europe and Central Asia.
TGEU’s core objective is to develop intersectional and decolonised programmes to build a more resilient and connected trans movement. The organisation has helped to empower trans individuals and movements by equipping organisations and activists with tools and resources to organise their activism and through its policy and advocacy work. TGEU has successfully lobbied for policy changes that protect the rights of trans individuals and promote their inclusion in society. Moreover, it plays a fundamental role in documenting and monitoring trans rights across focus countries.
“Our communities continue to face escalating levels of transphobia, violence, systemic and intersectional discrimination which perpetuate poor health outcomes, as well as economic hardships and insecurities of poverty, homelessness and unemployment. The situation is more precarious for multiple minoritised trans communities particularly those who are refugees, asylum seekers, undocumented, Black and people of colour, transfeminine, sex workers, elderly, D/deaf and disabled and youth. Yet, amid all these adversities our trans communities remain resilient, united, caring for each other, celebrating small wins, resisting and collectively advocating for our rights together with our allies,” said Miles Tanhira, Senior Programmes and Community Building Lead at TGEU.
Gribu palīdzēt bēgļiem (ENG “I want to help refugees”), Latvia.
Gribu palīdzēt bēgļiem (GPB), Latvia started its movement on Facebook in 2015, providing practical, immediate, and voluntary aid to refugees and asylum seekers to help them integrate into Latvian society by supporting them look for jobs, housing, and schools, assisting with administration, and by creating a website through which people can volunteer to help refugees and refugees can seek help.
Since the full-scale invasion on Ukraine started last year, GPB played a major role in coordinating with approximately 25 other NGOs to provide aid for Ukrainian refugees coming to Latvia through transportation cooperation, donations, and volunteering help, and in the first weeks, helped more than 4000 people.
“The response to the war has taught us a lot about the power of civil society, about us as human beings, as organisations, as countries, and as the European Union united to protect, to assist and to stand together as long as it takes. At the same we should learn how to use the lessons learned to improve the reception conditions for all those in need.” said Linda Jākobsone-Gavala, Project Manager and board member at GPB.
The Saami Council and Sámi rights movement
The Saami Council was founded in 1956 by Sámi organisations in Sápmi, the traditional homeland of the Sámi People, spanning across parts of Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Russia, to represent and amplify the voices of the Sámi civil society, and work for Sámi rights, politics, language, culture, and to raise awareness of Arctic and environmental issues.
The Council has also been engaged on a European level since the EU unit was established in 2019 through monitoring and influencing relevant EU processes and leading the EU-Sámi Youth Idea Lab, a project which raises awareness about Sámi youth participation in EU initiatives and policies.
“Despite being the only recognised Indigenous Peoples in Europe, very few Europeans are aware of the Sámi, and there is still a long way to go in terms of realising our rights in our respective nation states. Cases like the illegal wind industry on Sámi reindeer herding land on Fosen peninsula in Norway, and Finland’s failure of securing Sámi rights to self-determination through the Sámi Parliament Act have sparked national and international debates. Regrettably, media coverage of any case involving Sámi topics often brings out a lot of hate and racism towards the Sámi on social media. It’s a clear indication of the challenges still ahead, and why we need a strong Sámi civil society.” said Anja Márjá Nystø Keskitalo, advisor at the Saami Council.
SPECIAL COMMENDATION: Hungarian Teachers’ Movement
The ECF Selection Committee decided to award a special commendation to the protest movement composed of teachers, students, and parents fighting for public education in Hungary**.
Despite the restrictions faced, the protest movement composed of teachers, students, and parents has been fighting for public education for several years. Their demands include better salaries, improvement in working conditions, autonomy in the national curriculum, open and constructive discourse in public education, the right to strike without limitations, and access to high quality education for all. Several teachers have been fired for participating in civil disobedience but students and parents have joined the protests in their support.
Teachers continue to face new restrictions. In July, the Public Education Act, also known as the status law, was passed by the government. The law, dubbed by teachers as a ‘vengeance law’ in retaliation for their strike action, decreases the teachers’ freedom to work autonomously and their right to strike.
“I could never have imagined that I could be kicked out of my school just because I would like to discuss the welfare of children and colleagues. For us, this was the point when we started to be more fierce by taking part in civil disobedience actions… this started a very difficult kind of game between the government and the movement where we were trying to be more effective and reach practical goals, while the government tries even more to repress the movement” said Kinga Weszely from Pedagógus Egység.
These movements have showcased incredible resilience and the ECF stands in solidarity with them!
* Special commendation award is selected by the committee, outside of the 123 applications received and recognises an exceptional contribution.
** These are key organisations of the Hungarian movement: ADOM diákmozgalom, aHang, Amnesty International, Civil Bázis, Civil Kollégium Alapítvány, Civil Közoktatási Platform, Csak Együtt Van Esély Csoport, Demokratikus Nevelésért Egyesület, Demokráciát!Jogállamot!Kormányváltást! csoport, Egységes Diákfront, Hálózat a Tanszabadságért, Hívatlanul, Közösség a Pedagógusokért, Kulcs Egyesület, Magyar Anyák, Magyarországi Roma Parlament, Motiváció Oktatási Egyesület, NoÁr Mozgalom, Nyomtass Te Is! Oktatói Hálózat, Pedagógus Egység, Pedagógusok Demokratikus Szakszervezete, Pedagógusok Szakszervezete, Szülői Hang, Szülői Összefogás, Tanítanék Mozgalom, TASZ, Történelemtanárok Egylete, Padtársak Miskolc, MENŐK Magyar Európai Nők Fóruma Egyesület, Igazgyöngy Alapítvány, Van Helyed, Zebraszerda, Dialógus az Oktatásért.
The European Civic Forum (ECF) is a pan-European network of nearly 100 associations and NGOs across 29 European countries: big federations of associations deeply rooted in local constituencies, national platforms of NGOs uniting hundreds of thousands of NGOs, human rights and campaigning organisations, but also smaller groups working at community level or engaging with the public on local issues.
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