Ionela Ciolan, My Body My Rights Campaign / Amnesty International Bucharest Group

Ionela Ciolan, My Body My Rights Campaign / Amnesty International Bucharest Group

IONELA CIOLAN, Romania

”Art was and is an important messenger for depicting or inspiring for a better society.”

LOUDER interviews gather contributions from activists, community organizers and civil society professionals from Romania, Finland, Russia and all over the world.

We are happy to welcome to our LOUDER interviews section Ionela Ciolan, founder and president of Amnesty International Bucharest Group, the only group of human rights activists for Amnesty International (AI) in Romania.

LOUDER: What does it mean for you to contribute to your community?

I always saw the involvement in the community as both a responsibility and a privilege. A responsibility because after many years of studying history and international relations, I came to the conclusion that democracy is not an abstract concept but rather a vivid, changeable phenomenon which exist only if all the “pieces of the system” are working properly. In this regard, I consider that the role and engagement of citizens, grassroots movements and organizations are key elements for the functioning of the democratic system. And privilege, because I am aware that being a human rights activist and doing the work that I do is usually dangerous or punishable in other countries. By not having to fear for my or my colleagues’ well being, when organizing our human rights activities, is already a huge privilege that motivates me to continue my work regardless of usual difficulties.

LOUDER: Could you tell us an inspiring story about your activity or you working for your community?

In my 7 years as a human rights activist for Amnesty International in Romania, there were many inspiring moments. But I would like to highlight a moment which is dear to me and that inspires me constantly. In 2014, I created the first group of human rights activists for Amnesty International in Romania called Amnesty International Bucharest Group. At that time, I had already 3 years of experience volunteering for Amnesty, but I was also nervous because it was a big step from being a sole activist to being in charge of a group of 15-30 persons. I certainly didn’t have the experience or knowledge how this endeavor should work. Nevertheless, I consider myself lucky because I found a bunch of like-minded, passionate people who committed most of their free time to this cause. So, this is how, after only one year of existence, our group was already seen as an example of sustainable growth within the Amnesty movement, the most active group in Eastern Europe and Central Asia and one of the four most active groups globally. To me, the most important lesson that I draw from this episode is that sometimes a group of passionate individuals can change things around them even without a proper formal training. Sometimes strongly believing in a cause and working towards it can lead to unexpected positive results.

LOUDER: Do you think art can contribute to a better society/community? How?

Art was and is an important messenger for depicting or inspiring for a better society. If used together with social campaigns, art can be a powerful instrument of awareness, education and empowerment. For example, we, at Amnesty International Bucharest Group, are using some forms of art (photography exhibitions, drawings, strong visuals with messages) as key elements for promoting our work and presenting various campaigns on human rights.

LOUDER: Any words for our LOUDER participants.

We are living in a time when we start to realize that democracy is not untouchable. The past couple of years showed us the rise of extremist, populist, authoritarian groups that are attacking the core values and principles on which our current democratic system was built. I consider that for some decades we lived with an “end of history” mentality and we took the liberal system for granted. Today we are facing a “cold shower” and are starting to grasp at the imminent danger that a lack of media literacy, basic knowledge about history, democracy and human rights, plus a huge susceptibility to propaganda and misinformation are bringing to our society. In this dim and complicated context, I see the work of civil society and human rights activists highly important for raising awareness, promoting and preserving the liberal, rule-based, tolerant and open international society that we are living in.
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