Change the Conversation 2021, conference hosted by Europe Foundation, Fondacija Mozaik, Alert Foundation and YouthBank International took place on July, 26 - 30. Young people from different youthbanks were exploring leadership, activism and changemaking!
During the week we`ve danced, shared ideas, created waterfalls but also got into Sustainable Development Goals as well as into activism. What kind of activism?
Well, let us introduce you to one of the guest speakers on Change the Conversations 2021 conference - Ana Ćuća, devoted human rights activist!
Make sure you read the interview, who knows, you might even end up being inspired :)
1. Ana, we have already introduced you as a human rights activist but maybe you would like to introduce yourself and place your activism in a wider context?
I am Ana Ćuća, a young feminist, a political scientist specialised in human rights, and I currently work in the civil society sector in Croatia. My education and my working experience were guided by my interest in the topic of refugee rights that was somewhat fuelled by personal experiences of my family, but also by my experience of volunteering at the so-called Balkan Route in 2015/2016 when the humanitarian crisis happened in the EU. My educational and professional path led to getting a job in a civil society organisation, Centre for Peace Studies, where I cover the topic of violent pushbacks of refugees, criminalisation of solidarity, education of children asylum seekers and refugees, labour market integration of refugees and other migrants. In that sense, I am lucky that I had the opportunity to not only learn more about human rights but to work on the protection of human rights in my everyday work.
2. At what age did you recognize your urge for activism, or was it some situation that made you realize you have to do something, change something?
The first time I felt the urge to help my community in some way was around the age of 17 when I started volunteering for UNICEF. At the time I was finishing technical high school and wasn't quite sure what my next step should be, but the context in which I grew up, made me rethink what exactly I want from my future. I felt that I was living in a society divided by nationalism, and I didn't want to take my „assigned role“ but rather challenge it.
However, a turning point for me happened in 2015, when all of us witnessed the humanitarian crisis happening within and at the borders of the EU. Coming from a family that was greatly impacted by the war in the ’90s, I wanted in some way to help and show support to people who are searching for safety. I knew by the stories and letters send by some of my family members who were refugees, how important it is to feel this sort of support that is not solely humanitarian, but rather human in its core. And this is where it all shifted for me. It showed me that I can help out and that sometimes my efforts are not going to lead to the change of the world, but they will change someone else’s day. At the time I already enrolled at university and started my bachelor studies in Political Science. At that university there was a Student Club, where throughout the years I spent a lot of time organising roundtables, taking part in different initiatives, campaigns and protests that were not solely connected with the topic of refugees, but also women’s rights, youth policies, social inequalities. I am very grateful that I had access to a wonderful platform like this Student Club that allowed me to further shape my beliefs, learn more about activism, different tools and methods used for different goals and issues we were addressing at the time.
3. What inspires you and pushes you forward? Where do you find your motivation?
My daily inspiration is the feeling that I get when some process I was working on is closed and we helped someone, or someone gave me some sort of feedback on how we made her/his day. My main source of motivation are people with whom I engage daily. It’s my friends who experienced being refugees, it’s the people with whom I work, it’s my friends, my partner, the books that I read. Lately, a lot of my friends are becoming parents, and every time I see the mini versions of them, I feel that all of us collectively must do better for those youngsters to live in an inclusive society, free of patriarchy, racism and discrimination.
However, I don't want to romanticize activism, and I would also like to say that my motivation is not always constant. I had to learn that the hard way, going through a burnout. I learned that not all „battles“ are mine and that I should not feel the responsibility to react to every issue that arises in the society I am part of. I know this might be a bit surprising as a message, but I want to share it because I strongly believe that before taking care of others, we must take care of ourselves first (of our mental and physical health).
4. Do you think people, in general, are more aware today or do they rely on someone else to fight their battles? How active or passive people really are? What is your experience?
I would say that people are more aware and more ready to fight their own battles. In Croatia, I think this awareness is not on the same level as in some other places in the world, but we will get there. I would subscribe this rise of awareness to social media that is a good tool to spread the messages faster and it is easier to get informed about human rights violations happening on the other side of the world. The current pandemic showed to everyone that just because some other nation is going through human rights violations/climate change that doesn’t mean that we should not in some way react or show support to them or that the same political shift cannot happen in our environment. The world is a village.
However, I would like for people to become more active on issues that are not directly impacting them but other marginalised groups. There is for sure a lot of work to be done in bringing awareness of our privilege and how we can use the same privilege to help the ones who daily face discrimination, racism.
5. What does activism mean to you? Is it standing up for something or someone, or is it about spreading awareness on different issues?
For me, activism means acts of resistance to the narrative/policies which strip down an individual or a group from their human rights and human dignity. Activism should challenge and works towards tackling down the patriarchy, racism, systemic discrimination, climate change. Acts of activism can have many different forms, and I strongly believe there is no unified definition of what the acts of activism should look like. They are dependent on the context in which we live, the privilege that we have, and the issue we are trying to tackle.
6. When we mention activism of any form, we have to mention values. What values do you recognize as important?
I am trying to guide my activism through the lens of solidarity. Whenever there is a group of people or individuals with whom I am engaging and joining their battles I am coming from the position of friendship, empathy and companionship. I believe it is really important not to come from the position of superiority, which sometimes can arise even unintentionally. That is why I find it very, very important for all of us to assess our privilege and continuously remind ourselves of that. The core values I am guided by in my everyday life are empathy, compassion, resilience, accountability, justice. I think all these values are embedded or should be embedded in the process of protecting all human rights and our environment.
7. How do you see young people of today and how would you evaluate their engagement? Are they willing to stand for their beliefs?
I am very positive about the engagement of younger generations. Although I think their engagement will be out of necessity, not a choice, having in mind how different the world is and all the problems older generations didn’t address in time. I think with years we will see how capable younger generations are. For years society didn’t give them a platform to voice their opinions and beliefs, and current political structures often overlooked their needs or talked about them solely out of their interest. And this is where the beauty of social media is! Social media is allowing them to exchange opinions, information, organise and lead towards change. Even now if we look at the most prominent leaders and change-makers, those are mostly young people ( women 😊).
8. Can you share some highlights from the Change the Conversations conference? What is your perception of YB young people`s understanding of activism?
The Change the Conversations conference was amazingly conceptualised and it represented a platform for young people from different countries to come together and detect the same issues they are encountering. Their different experiences with the issue allowed them to map out a unique response that would apply to their different communities. These young people were innovative, inspiring and dedicated, and it was not only interesting to work with them but enriching and I learned a lot from them. I believe they are an example of the truest form of activism! I loved their determination and their honest belief that they are the ones who can make a change. This is the most important thing, having trust in yourself and know that you are capable of changing your environment for the better. I think the form of this particular conference should be replicated and should be implemented in every community/country. This conference understands that youth can identify the issues in their community most precisely, and can give adequate solutions.
9. In the end, what kind of a world are you dreaming of?
I am dreaming of a world filled with diversity that uses the same diversity to thrive. I am dreaming of a world that will be inclusive, that will leave patriarchy, racism and systemic discrimination behind in history. I dream about the world where it won't matter where are you coming from but rather where are you heading to. And lastly, I am dreaming of a world where we are taking care of our environment and taking climate change seriously. The world that is about to come will put the environment and our wellbeing before profit.
Photo credit: Brett Jordan, Unsplash