New Internationalist Issue 275
The material that follows has been provided by New Internationalist
Swimming against the tide
It is easy to be overcome by gloom when contemplating the worst that human beings are capable of. So we should contemplate the best, too. The Right Livelihood Award, often called the Alternative Nobel Prize, is dedicated to recognizing some of the people working selflessly to change the world for the better. Here are the winners for 1995.
SERB CIVIC COUNCIL
Created in March 1994 by Serbs loyal to the multi-ethnic democratic government in Sarajevo, the Serb Civic Council now has about 50,000 members - a third of all Serbs living in areas still controlled by the Bosnian Government. Its own vision of peace is based on the preservation of a democratic and sovereign Bosnia-Herzegovina in which all citizens' rights and freedoms are guaranteed in accord with the highest international standards. Members have been targeted for assassination by snipers, not least because of their links with resistance leaders operating within the region controlled by Radovan Karadzic's Pale regime. The Serb Civic Council's president is Mirko Pejanovic.
British historian Adrian Hastings calls their work 'an outstanding contribution to the cause of humanity, a contribution fully comparable with that of those Germans who 50 years ago participated in the resistance to Nazism. It is, nevertheless, a contribution which the international community has deliberately ignored, anxious as it is to explain the conflict - quite mistakenly - as a 'civil war' between Muslims and Serbs, when it is in fact a war between a democratic and legitimate government, backed by an overwhelming majority of its population, and a fascist and terrorist movement.'
HUNGARIAN FOUNDATION FOR SELF-RELIANCE/ ANDRÁS BÍRO
András Bíro founded the Hungarian Foundation for Self-Reliance in 1990 to reinforce democratization by supporting initiatives on the environment and on minority rights (particularly those of the Roma or gypsy community), and by promoting civil society and grassroots democracy. The Foundation acts as a channel for voluntary aid from overseas, giving grants to grassroots organizations. But it is also leading an initiative to address the problems of the Roma in Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia as well as Hungary, concentrating on income-generating schemes - the Roma have been particularly badly hit by the ballooning unemployment which has followed the switch to the free market. The Foundation also awards a 'Tolerance Prize' each year for the best contribution to Hungarian ethnic harmony by a journalist or broadcaster.
Sulak Sivaraksa has spent a lifetime working for human rights and democracy - and for an alternative development model to that of Western consumerism. He has played a leading role in the mobilization of civil society in Thailand, creating a string of social-welfare and development organizations, including a commission which trains Buddhist monks for development activism, and the Santi Pracha Dhamma Institute which promotes 'democratic ideals and practice through non-violent means'. Sivaraksa's consistent rejection of the Western development model in favour of a holistic, spiritually based alternative - one which is responsive to local cultures - has been of great influence worldwide. He has repeatedly incurred the wrath of the Thai Government, particularly in its military incarnations, and was forced into exile in 1991-92. He is currently working on two new initiatives: an international 'Alternatives to Consumerism' network and a new college in Thailand which will explore an alternative, more holistic approach to education.
Carmel Budiardjo suffered three years' detention without trial before being forced to leave Indonesia in 1971. In 1973 she founded TAPOL, the Indonesia human-rights campaign and has run it ever since from its base in London, England. TAPOL has become the leading English-language source on Indonesian human-rights abuses (the word 'tapol' is a contraction of two Indonesian words meaning 'political prisoner'). Carmel was a major contributor to the NI issue on East Timor (March 1994).
According to the International Federation for East Timor, based in Japan: 'If today the tide of international opinion is turning with regard to the Suharto regime; if some of Indonesia's trade partners and economic aid donor countries are beginning to factor in democratization and human-rights protection in their relations with Jakarta; if Western arms sales to Indonesia are at last being seen in light of their true destructiveness: in no small measure this is due to the accumulated efforts for two decades of Carmel Budiardjo and TAPOL... A committed human-rights worker can make a difference. Carmel Budiardjo is proof of that.'
©Copyright: New Internationalist 1996