“The power of activism lies in a strong willingness to act and commitment to create change!”
Written by Tekla Scharwaschidze, EST Ambassador to the Republic of Austria
Nini Tsiklauri is an actress, writer, political activist and passionate European, who grew up in Hungary, Georgia and Germany. She studies Political Science and European Studies in Austria. Nini is also an initiator of the #https://pulseofeurope.eu/” PulseofEurope movement in Austria and founder of the innovative workshop ‘Europe Lab’ in Vienna. With the author group “The Young European Collective” she publishes appeals to the young European generation, such as the most recent ZEIT article “Youth of Europe, Unite!” (2017). In addition, the book “Who, if not us?! A four step guide to empower Europe and our generation” (2015) was published in English as well as in German, “https://www.droemer-knaur.de/buch/9387944/wer-wenn-nicht-wir” “Wer, wenn nicht wir” (2017).
When did activism become part of your life? Was it maybe a certain situation or experience that led you to it?
I started my acting career when I was 13 years old and I was mostly doing charity work at that time. I didn’t really feel the urge to engage myself politically until, two years later, I had the opportunity to meet Germany’s Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel. Just the feeling of being in the same room with her was indescribable and I was absolutely nervous. During the previous years, I acknowledged all the riots and political tension in my home country Georgia. The outbreak of the war in 2008[i] happened on the exact day my family and I flew in to have a vacation. It was a devastating situation and the only thought of my parents was to get me and my brother out of the country as soon as possible. I was able to film the part where we drove through the danger zone, where bombs were released above our heads. Thankfully, we got out of the country safely and this experience turned out to be one I will never forget. It motivated me to somehow use my voice and spread awareness about what was happening in my country. Many fake news was published at that time and with my video evidence I wanted to contribute an honest part and make an impact. So, I asked that powerful woman for help. I just talked to the Chancellor of Germany about the current situation of my country and my personal experience.
I believe that this was the moment that highly influenced my commitment to any kind of activism, as it gave me the motivation and understanding that anything is possible once you put your mind to it, no matter how old you are. Suddenly, I knew what activism truly means and what it is based on. Embracing Self-Initiative.
How much did your perspective on activism change throughout the years?
At first, I started writing articles on EU-based issues, as at that time I was convinced that this was the best way to target an audience.
In 2017, I got to write and publish a book with many other ambitious authors called “Who if not us?”, a four-step guide that can help overcome a variety of challenges we are facing both in personal and professional environments. 7.500 copies were printed and we toured through Europe and promoted it in different schools and universities. We aimed to motivate and inspire others to engage their selves more in the EU and we made an impact by getting in a conversation with the people.
But still, that was not enough! From one day to another, Trump was elected and Brexit was happening. You could sense the increasing deployment of right-wing populism in European countries and I realized that written activism is just not enough. Soon, I came across an event in Germany, where people were going on the streets with the European flag in their hands and getting in a conversation with passersby about the values and significance of the EU. What fascinated me was that there were visible and that was so important at that time. So, I decided to do the same in Vienna. I wrote a call-up on Twitter, waited in front of the Karlskirche with my Europe flag and surprisingly soon I found myself with a group of supporters. In 2017, there were 500 people, who stood on the streets of Vienna every single Sunday and supported the rallies.
At that time, I put my heart and soul into the organization of this movement and had, therefore, no leisure time. I could not spare any minute or stop what I was doing, because I thought if I would not do it, who would? My studies, sleep and leisure time definitely were held up to it. [ii]
What motivates you to keep going?
As I grew up in three countries, I got to see a lot of different perspectives. With the outbreak of the war in my home country I experienced people, who would give up their lives in the fight for justice and freedom. We, who live in the European Union, often take our freedoms, the value of justice and the rule of law for granted.
It is significant to raise the perception and awareness among people in order for them to not just observe the EU as an institution far away and beyond their reach, but as a successful peace project and a strong union, that can be influenced by every single one of us. I intend to fight against the dissatisfaction, raise awareness and strengthen the perception of a European identity.
In order to extend perspectives and change the atmosphere within the EU, we have to enter into a dialog with each other. The current dissatisfaction is justified, although with Pulse of Europe we try to get as many misconceptions and uncertainties as we could out of the way. There are still a lot of people, who demand much more of the EU, but these demands will not get implemented until we stop negotiating at a national level and end pushing national perspectives into the foreground. We cannot remain hidden from global problems behind national borders forever.
What keeps me going is the thought that there is a lot more to be done. There will never be an end in progress and for me, it is important to advance positive change in our society.
Crises should not deter us, as they are just upheavals, which, in turn, bring new challenges and chances. We came far as a Union, but now is time to clarify how this Union defines its role of power in foreign affairs and operates sovereignly.
Many people cannot see how much effort activists put into their work. What kind of achievements came with it?
Exactly, I consciously devoted myself to the work. I am a very emotional person and if I am committed to something it is very hard for me to back off, but surely, I came up against my mental limits as well and throughout the years I learned to take some time out to acknowledge, reflect and set new goals. The effort was certainly paid off, as it brought new chances and experiences. For instance, the outreach of Pulse of Europe grew intensely, I had the opportunity to speak at plenty panel discussions and am now working close with the European Civil Forum.
How did you decide to position yourself as a candidate for the EU-Election 2019? This might also have been a new milestone in your career.
Yes, absolutely. Throughout the two-year journey with Pulse of Europe I got to collect various experiences and impressions until I felt ready to take one step further. The numerous inputs, complaints and suggestions of average citizens, for instance, on transnational lists, a right of initiative for the European Parliament, abolition of the unanimity and implementation of reform procedures, which are required in the Treaty of Lisbon, needed to be stronger communicated and heard. I desired to do that and to pursue the concerns of the citizens. Unfortunately, I did not win, but it was a great experience from which I learned a lot as well furthered my personals knowledge and development.
During the election you toured through Austria and spoke in numerous schools. What did you acknowledge most among the students and their interest about the EU? What influence can educational facilities have on strengthening the European identity among them?
What I acknowledged is that most students perceive the EU as not more than a complex braid of institutions, as it is taught and communicated that way. Therefore, the interest or any kind of connection with the EU does not go beyond their school desks, what is very unfortunate. Admittedly, the awareness is firmly anchored, but what is lacking is the strengthening of their perception of the EU. Young people can easier deal with global topics than the generations before them, who had it harder to think beyond their national borders. Thus, educational facilities like schools definitely have a strong influence, although it is equally important to get active outside of school as well. What I suggest is gaining experiences, for example at the European Youth Event, European Youth Parliament or Model United Nations. Initiatives like these create possibilities to come together with other young people from various European or other countries, to connect, to debate and to conceive that we are not that different from each other. What may separate us are language barriers, but with no doubt, they are easy to eliminate.
What is the most important message that you would like to pass on young people, who are maybe thinking about taking initiative in any kind of activism?
There are no limits to our actions, as every single one of us can take initiative to create change and shape our society, despite where we come from, how old or how well educated we are and what abilities we have. I believe that everyone has an inner passion for something, that is worth seeking and engaging for. Sometimes all that it takes is to follow and enhance the urge to get active and step outside our comfort zones. There is a changemaker in all of us!
What are your goals for the new decade?
I am currently recovering a bit from the election, reflecting about what passed and recharging some energy for everything that is going to follow in the next years. My main goals will certainly be helping to shape the development and creative process of the EU, as changes will be inevitable. This decade will be very interesting and I am curious how prospective reform and renewal are going to look like. The EU has to adjust quickly as well as strengthen and define its role stronger to the outside world because if we remain the same, I do not think that movements like Pulse of Europe will have the same decisive impact and influence than before. Dissatisfaction towards the EU is unfortunately increasing and we need to deliberately fight against it!
[i] The Russo-Georgian War was a war between Georgia, Russia and the Russian-backed self-proclaimed republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The war took place in August 2008 following a period of worsening relations between Russia and Georgia, both formerly constituent republics of the Soviet Union. For more information visit: https://edition.cnn.com/2014/03/13/world/europe/2008-georgia-russia-conflict/index.html” https://edition.cnn.com/2014/03/13/world/europe/2008-georgia-russia-conflict/index.html
[ii] For more information on Nina’s writing and initiatives visit these sites. http://www.whoifnotus.eu/ https://pulseofeurope.eu/.