Phiren Amenca

Project Closing Meeting

March 22, 2024 Budapest

As our „CHAD – Countering Hate Speech and Hurtful Speech against Diversity: Roma, LGBTIQ, Jewish and Migrant Communities” has come to an end with the 31st of March, project partners, Budapest Pride, Haver Foundation, Political Capital and RGDTS, held an evaluation meeting on the 22nd of March.

The two-year project was made up of five work packages, all containing several activities. The all-day meeting started with sharing the overall impressions, experiences about the last two years, after which we went through all elements of the project and all partners and colleagues had the chance to describe each action, reflect on the successes, achievements as well as the challenges.

At the end of the meeting, possible future steps, ways of collaboration and added values were discussed.

Reflecting on the management and coordination of the whole project, some partners would have required more in-person meetings and assistance, while others thought that online meetings would have been more effective. For future projects, it is important to bear in mind that there might be differences between personal and organizational interests: there might be elements colleagues are interested to support or take part in because of their commitment to the cause, but this does not always align with organizational capacities. These should be managed already in the beginning of the project, and partners need to make clear what support they expect form other members within their own tasks.

Towards the second phase of the project when all partners had their own tasks to work on parallelly, there was a lack of knowledge about the activities of other consortium members. However, it has to be mentioned that this was not true for all the organizations: RGDTS was involved in almost all the activities of the partners: they consulted on different elements of the activities and took part in the dissemination of invitations as well as the results.

On Work Package 2, partners agreed that there were some elements to be improved: the list of websites, ass well as the keywords should be re-evaluated from time to time based on the preliminary results.

In the beginning, when reviewing the results of the monitoring process, there was an understanding within the consortium that the numbers we got were not convincing enough to build an advocacy campaign on (25% of the texts contained hate speech or hurtful speech). However, when consulting with other organizations who lead similar project internationally, we realized that they arrived to similar results. 25% might not seem too much, but, on the one hand, even one piece of text is too much if it incites hatred or violence, and on the other hand, if one reader encounters hate in every 4th post they read, that can have a serious impact in that it significantly affects their way of thinking about vulnerable communities.

Involving young people belonging to the communities in question had a high added value to the process because of two reasons: they are more likely to recognize hate- and hurtful speech even if it not directed to them, because of their experiences and sensitivity to prejudice. Our interviews with these young people also revealed that during the process of reading texts about groups they do not necessary belong to made them realize that they are not the only victims, others might even have it worse, which resulted in a greater feeling solidarity with other vulnerable minority groups.

In Work Package 3, a lot of activities were realized with different target groups. First, there was a training for the members of the consortium and people belonging to Roma, Jewish, LGBTQ and majority groups on how prejudices, discrimination, and especially hate speech affects them individually and on a community level. This training also included basic getting to know each other activities and information about hate speech (legislation, practices, effects, and possible ways to tackle it). All partners agreed that this was very useful to build not only trust but solidarity among the communities.

The next part of this work package consisted of 4 workshops and trainings: three in Hungary for different target groups (civil society organizations, decision-makers, and future journalists), and a longer training for international participants from civil society organizations targeted by hate speech. All consortium members were invited to take part in all these activities. Although, the original plan for the national element was to hold one three-day training for all three target groups together, through other elements of the project we realized that their aims and interests derive from each other, therefore we decided to organize separate events, so we can better respond to the specificities of each sector. Some of the positive outcomes of these workshops were: Hungarian CSOs representing or working with vulnerable communities had the chance to share not only their struggles related to combating online hate speech, but best practices as well. They also got introduced to methods of creating counter narratives. However, the time was barely enough to go into details and provide them with a detailed methodology besides explaining the basics of hate speech.

Municipality- and institutional level decision-makers, besides gaining useful methods to avoid hate speech in their communication and reach-out activities, and learning about project types they could implement to decrease discrimination and inter-group prejudices, they also had the chance to brainstorm and develop ways of future cooperation with other municipalities and institutions. It became clear that there is a strong need for these players to connect to each other and share practices on working and communicating with minorities within their constituencies, but there is no one of them who would take on coordination this. Civil society organizations could fill this role.

Although most of the participating organizations have strong connections to journalists and media outlets, the first attempt to organize a training for them failed because independent news agencies work with stretched capacities, and state-funded ones did not even respond to our invitation. Therefore, Haver reached out to the Media and Communication Department of ELTE University, where one professor welcomed the initiative of holding a workshop for future journalist. The cooperation resulted in an intention of developing a course about the media representation of minority groups at ELTE university. We hope that this initiative can realize in the next period.

The international training in the beginning of March 2024 was built on the learnings of the other elements of the work package and was held for professionals and civil society actors from 6 European countries. Participants came from very diverse backgrounds and represented a diverse set of communities: there were Roma, migrant, Jewish and even church-based organizations present. They found it very useful to “step out of their bubbles” and build a community of fate. A need to stand up for each other developed during the training event.

The compilation of the toolkit was not an easy task to do, and the consortium had many discussions about its planned content from the very beginning of the project. As there are many toolkits available which compile already existing methods of combatting online hate speech, ideas of presenting the work of participating organizations, or including personal stories in it emerged. In the end, the methods used during the workshops for NGOs, decision-makers and journalists made up the content of the toolkit which is available online.

Budapest Pride was leading Work Package 4 which included several dissemination and communication elements. All these elements were based on the counter-narrative training where colleagues and volunteers of the involved organizations analyzed the contents of the most common hateful and hurtful narratives found during the monitoring process. What was common, is that all these groups were said to threaten the future of the Hungarian nation and Europe: because of their different culture (migrants/muslims), because they are not Hungarian and have lots of children (Roma); serve foreign interests (Jews), or because they do not produce a future generation (LGBTQ people). Therefore, an animated video was created where we see characters from LGBTQ, Roma, Jewish background and characters fleeing from war. As a voiceover, a nationally respected multi-award-winning Hungarian actress, Piroska Molnár is reading a poem about love and belonging, from one of the most famous Hungarian poets, Attila József. The video was run in mainstream media as a public service announcement ad. The video was also used to popularize one of the actions: a petition for the president of Hungary to be everyone’s president and represent vulnerable communities as well. It was noted that a vantage of this pledge campaign was that it did not mobilize against something but for something: instead of hate, it called for solidarity. Besides this video, stories were collected about hate speech at popular international festivals during the summer, workshops were held as part of the Pride Month on hate speech against diverse communities and public actions were organized. The collection of stories was the most difficult part because they were scheduled for the summer which is a turbulent period for most of the partners.

Wort Package 5 was coordinated by Political Capital and included setting up an international working group of experts, SCOs and professionals with relevant knowledge, experience or even power related to countering online hate speech, organizing national and international conferences, and based on these, compiling two sets of recommendations: for Hungarian civil society, decision-makers and media, as well as international experts, civil society actors and decision-makers.

Evaluating the international working group, its setting up proved to be very useful in terms of involving international partners, experts and their knowledge and experiences in the other elements of the project. Its members also were very engaged in the topic and expressed their need to have such an expert group for exchanging developments and backing up each other’s advocacy efforts on the international level. However, it seems that the 10 meetings during the 2-year period was quite ambitious, and one meeting per 4-6 months would have sufficed instead. It might also be difficult to keep the working group active in the long term, because of the differences in capacities of the members, actors, and that these meetings need to have a specific relevance: either an upcoming policy proposal, a specific event or advocacy campaign.

Both the Hungarian and the international conference was a big success regarding interest, content, and formulating recommendations. Political Capital managed to bring together experts and policy-makers active in different aspects of combatting online hate speech, so at the end of each conference, a comprehensive picture crystallized about the use and contradictions of artificial intelligence in spreading narratives; the ambiguities of the legal definitions of hate speech; and the possible ways to combat it. However, it also became clear that three days are far from enough to encompass such a complex topic. Both the conferences and the working group meetings contributed to the development of the policy recommendations which were widely distributed through mailing lists and online channels.

Future plans:

One of the most important positive outcomes of the project, according to all partners was that participating organisations could “practice” active solidarity, an exercise they all would like to continue, as it is necessary in the present political climate both in Hungary and Europe. Standing up together for our communities strengthens them as actors, rather than pitiful victims. An eagerness was communicated to develop future projects aiming at strengthening such coalitions as this one, as there is a need to define together what kind of a future we imagine, and are willing to act for.

Budapest Pride’s colleagues think that it would be beneficial to keep contact with the decision makers involved in this propject and bring our existing trainings and workshops to them. In addition, a network of municipalities dedicated to social inclusion and solidarity could be built and upheld in the future, in order to keep them informed about the work of minority-representing CSOs and international initiatives they could join and benefit from. 

Budapest Pride came up with the idea to involve our different minority organizations in their ongoing project in which they hold training events for opposition party members. Other ideas for utilizing our training experiences and expertise were bringing them to universities (especially for future psychologists, as they have a limited knowledge about the experiences of Roma, Jewish, LGBTQI+ and migrant people; minority stress or the effects of hate crimes and hate speech), NGO staff, as schools blacklisted many NGOs. These adapted training courses could have e-learning modules developed to make them more accessible.

In terms of alternative narratives to build on, the idea of a “more just world” seems to work and mobilize many people, so this line should be continued.

Haver Foundation expressed their interest in participating in the development of an accredited university course for future journalists and media experts, together with other NGOs representing vulnerable communities. There is openness from the side of ELTE University. They also proposed to invite the participating organisations to our organizational team-building and strategic retreats, as our staff and volunteers, as well the organisations themselves would benefit from more knowledge about the cultures, experiences and issues of our different communities, even when developing their strategies.

Political Capital found the project useful for their work in general: they had worked on extremism before, but not with such specific foci, so they could gain new knowledge and invaluable professional contacts internationally through this initiative. The project also shed light on the importance of online hate speech, monitoring narratives and disinformation related to communities targeted by propaganda and extremist outlets, and how social media platforms handle this. The knowledge  and network obtained in the last two years increases the lobby capacities that can be utilized for fighting extremism online.

he „CHAD – Countering Hate Speech and Hurtful Speech against Diversity: Roma, LGBTIQ, Jewish and Migrant Communities” project (project nr. 101049309) is funded by the Citizens, Equality, Rights and Values Programme (CERV) of the DG Justice, European Commission and coordinated by RGDTS Nonprofit Llc. in partnership with Haver Informal Educational Foundation, Rainbow Mission Foundation and Political Capital. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the Citizens, Equality, Rights and Values Programme. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.