On Wednesday 3 June 2015, the 13th edition of the SOLIDAR Silver Rose Awards was held in the European Parliament’s Members Restaurant organised with the support of the S&D Group, the Party of European Socialists and EurActiv. The evening was opened by Paca Sauquillo, newly elected SOLIDAR President. The entire evening was dedicated to the organisations and individuals who had won awards in the four different categories, Organising International Solidarity, Building Learning Societies, Together for Social Europe and the Lifetime Achievement award. This annual event brings together policy makers, trade unionists and civil society organisations (CSOs) to pay tribute to those who have contributed significantly to advancing social justice in Europe and worldwide. Above all the evening reflected the impact CSOs can have.
As Gianni Pittella, President of the S&D Group, stated in his speech: “Today we need CSOs more than ever, sharing the same aim of social justice, to fight for dignity and the most vulnerable groups, children, migrants, workers’ rights. And this is the political commitment of the S&D group”. Sergei Stanishev, President of the Party of European Socialists (PES) shares his view on the role of CSOs, especially when it comes to inequality: “There is a sharp sense that there is not enough equality. We are a big family and we have to change this with CSOs and trade unions. This alliance makes us stronger for the future”. Sylvie Guillaume, Vice-President of the European Parliament summed up the aim of this particular evening: “I want to compliment SOLIDAR for its work in promoting decent work and its long-term commitment to build learning societies. I compliment the awardees this evening for making the voice of the most vulnerable heard, standing for freedom of expression, decent work. And I compliment them for their long term commitment”.
The first award of the evening went to Elizabeth Tang, Secretary General of the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF). Wellington Chibebe, the Deputy General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) introduced her on the stage before a room full of Members of the European Parliament and representatives from trade unions and CSOs, calling her a fighter. Elizabeth Tang has been working tirelessly to empower domestic workers to come out and organise themselves to claim their rights, as respected dignified workers around the world. According to Tang, “International solidarity can really play magic. We just have to work together, organise, fight together to make a real change”. She continues, “If the EU is committed to making progress and not regress, it should also take up this challenge to make this magic happen and protect the right of domestic workers and of migrants”.
Wellington Chibebe reminded us of an African saying - if you doubt whether change can happen “then you haven’t spent a night with the mosquitoes”. He underlined that change can happen, and can be made to happen by CSOs, trade unions and progressive political forces working together.
Cemal Yagci received the SOLIDAR Silver Rose Award in the category ‘Building Learning Societies’ on behalf of SOYAD (Sosyal Yasama ve Egitme Katki Dernegi) for helping and empowering children in vulnerable situations in Turkey. The award was presented by Marju Lauristin, Vice-President of the S&D Group, who recognised the importance of the work done by SOYAD in tackling social injustice. In her speech Ms Marju Lauristin highlighted the fact that still today we are living in a world in which disabled children are discriminated. Most of them are deprived of access to many services. This occurs even in rich societies, which is why “Citizens’ participation plays an essential role in many areas, one of which is education for disadvantaged people”.
Mr Yagci dedicated “this most beautiful of silver roses” to all the children and families assisted by SOYAD. When thanking SOLIDAR for the award Mr Yagci stressed the importance of the workers who fight for children’s rights and expressed the wish to work together with EU NGOs to learn and share experiences in working for improving the well-being of disadvantaged children.
The 2015 Silver Rose award for the ‘Together for Social Europe’ category was presented to Mr Jean-Luc Rongé representing the French coalition ADJE “Aide et Defénse des Jeunes Isolés etrangers” which provides legal assistance and support to unaccompanied minors and young undocumented migrants. MEP Zita Gurmai, President of PES Women, proudly handed over the award to Mr Rongé. “I am happy to award a person who believes in the next generation regardless of their origins, religion or sexual orientation” she said.
The ADJE was created in 2012 by a network of 23 associations promoting migrant’s rights and social inclusion to respond to the reduction in funding allocated to child protection and the worsening situation of unaccompanied minors in France. Since then, more than 1000 young migrants have been helped to improve their legal situation and apply for social assistance. The coalition is entirely run by volunteers and is supported by the civil society organisations working in the field. This is the reason why “to exist” was the response of Mr Rongé to the question about ADJE’s most important achievement. The ongoing tragedy of thousands of migrants losing their lives in the Mediterranean has recently put the spotlight on the EU’s capacity to manage migration flows and on the approach of the European and national institutions to migration and fundamental rights. As we have been repeatedly advocating, migration is not a problem that needs to be tackled but an inevitable reality that needs to be managed with solidarity and full respect of fundamental rights. With this in mind, this award is one of the more poignant to be given out this year.
German journalist and writer Günter Wallraff was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award for his life-long commitment to disclosing workers’ rights abuses and social injustice. His most popular books have sold millions of copies and have been translated into 38 languages. Wallraff started his career as an undercover journalist in the early 1960s, disguised as a homeless person, later as a mining worker and became famous throughout Europe in 1974 when he got arrested under the Greek dictatorship for staging a demonstration to demand the freedom of speech and the release of political prisoners in front of the Greek parliament. As a political prisoner he suffered 14 months in detention, with torture. He described this action as his greatest success, although the book on it was not a best-seller, while the collapse of the Greek regime was his best experience. Receiving the award from MEP Knut Fleckenstein (SPD Germany), who introduced Mr Wallraff as “the one who was able to expose the hidden and the unjustified for the past 50 years, during which he has not only received prizes, but has also had to cope with accusations, defamation and even torture. This requires courage and resistance. Never give up your goals!”. Wallraff made clear that the Silver Rose Award from SOLIDAR is an honour for him. Not only has he “received” more judicial proceedings than awards so far, he also feels part of a big family of SOLIDAR activists and Silver Rose awardees. Wallraff stressed the fact that this Lifetime Achievement will not mean retirement for him as he has enough activities planned for at least two more lives, in accordance with his motto “You can’t change the world without taking care of the individual”.
His experiences have inspired Mr. Wallraff to found an organisation called ‘Workwatch’ where he and other activists are uncovering abuses of workers’ rights and helping these workers to defend and reclaim their rights. He called on EU policy makers to follow his example and support investigative journalists to disclose abusive practices all over Europe. His work will remain a leading example for human rights activists all over Europe and worldwide and SOLIDAR is honoured that Günter Wallraff accepted the Award and became a friend of the SOLIDAR family.
Conny Reuter, SOLIDAR Secretary General closed the evening saying that “for SOLIDAR this evening as such isn’t simply about advocacy by an NGO, we are a movement, a platform of civil society organisations who are active on the ground, who stand together to promote social justice and pursue our common values”.