CEU Women Making a Difference | Alumna Victorina Luca Receives Inaugural Global Anti-Racism Champions Award
CEU alumna Victorina Luca was honored as an awardee in the U.S. State Department’s inaugural Global Anti-Racism Champions Awards this month for her changemaking work championing racial equity in Moldova. Luca is one of six outstanding civil society leaders awarded, all of whom were nominated by U.S. Embassies and Consulates around the world.
Luca graduated from CEU in 2013 with a Master of Laws in Human Rights from the Department of Legal Studies following her participation in the university’s Roma Graduate Preparatory Program. She is a human rights lawyer and founder of the Roma Awareness Foundation, and for the past five years has served on the Moldovan parliament’s Council for Preventing and Eliminating Discrimination. Luca has advised international organizations, including the United Nations, World Bank and Council of Europe as an expert on the inclusion of marginalized people. She also operates Radio Patrin Moldova, which broadcasts the language and culture of Moldovan Roma to audiences all over the world.
In honoring Luca at the awards ceremony on August 9 in Washington D.C., Secretary Antony J. Blinken said: “Victorina Luca is a tireless advocate for Moldova’s Roma people, who have faced generations of abuse, of stigma, of harassment…the Roma-language news station that she founded—Radio Patrin Moldova—is a key source of education, of entertainment, of empowerment for Roma across Moldova and throughout the diaspora. You can imagine the powerful lifeline of information and also forging a sense of community that this radio service provides.”
CEU spoke with Luca about her racial equity work and how her studies at CEU have helped shape her trajectory in advancing human rights. This article is the first in the series, “CEU Women Making a Difference”, which features outstanding CEU alumni changemakers.
Having received the Global Anti-Racism Champions award, what does this recognition from the U.S. State Department mean to you?
This honor means a lot because my work with Radio Patrin Moldova demonstrates that Roma NGOs are capable of bringing change together with community involvement. The recognition opens the door to donors and international NGOs, who have not previously worked with Roma organizations, to trust and become more involved with such NGOs. Only after there's an awareness of, and a voice for, this work do we build further with local authorities, government and other actors of the state, to bring change faster and more effectively at a greater scale. I am thankful for this recognition by those who believe in us and with whom we can work against discrimination.
What does your work with the Roma Awareness Foundation and Radio Patrin Moldova entail?
I created the Roma Awareness Foundation in 2016 after returning to Moldova to serve the community there. I was thinking about how to promote human rights among the Roma. Mass media is a powerful tool that can have a large audience and inform and educate listeners, so we opened the online Radio Patrin Moldova, which has ongoing programming in the Romani and Romanian language. The radio has a huge impact through programs that build a bridge with the host population.
We create a variety of radio programs that can also be downloaded as podcasts. Often within the Roma community some people cannot read and write, so podcasts are a good way to deliver information. We cover the news within the Roma community, there are music programs as well as programs oriented towards connecting the community with education and trainings. The radio is working on the integration of the Roma.
The radio programs target different age groups. For example, we have programs for children who are going to school and are learning to become more empowered through different stories; we also have women's programs about relationships and women's leadership participation in politics. Overcoming the challenge of discrimination is another topic covered. We also offer special programs which connect people to trainings in community with experts.
Recently, due to the war in Ukraine, we expanded the languages of our radio programs to include Ukrainian and Russian, because of the enlarged audience and the need for the people to understand information regarding social programs in community. Education is really the purpose, so together with a wonderful team, we worked on the establishment of the radio with the Netherlands Embassy, which has helped to make it possible. I came up with the concept and would like to continue bringing change, with more funding, to help facilitate bigger shifts.
What is a day at work like as a member of the Council for Preventing and Eliminating Discrimination?
I was one of five members elected in 2018 by the parliament of the Republic of Moldova. We have hearings examining complaints of alleged discrimination; we listen to both sides and make a decision. There's a lot of responsibility on us. We are governed by the law and apply all the norms according to the law, so it can feel like being a judge analyzing the decisions made in courts and providing people with an assessment. We also do work related to awareness raising and promotion of equal opportunities, working against discrimination and stereotypes through programs and trainings at the agency level.
The third thing we work on is the assessment of the existing legal framework from the perspective of equality and non-discrimination standards. We work to adjust legislation and apply international norms at the local level in order to address the gaps and eliminate discrimination from within the law itself.
How did your education at CEU shape your professional trajectory of advancing human rights?
I want to express my gratitude to CEU’s Department of Legal Studies, which allowed me to go on with my studies even while I was pregnant at the time with my son, Noah, in Budapest. CEU built in me so much potential through human rights education. I was a human rights activist before that, but CEU was the platform that gave me a ticket to the world.
A lot of my achievements have been a result of the full scholarship I received from the university. I really cherished working with Renata Uitz, a really strong and powerful professor. I also became quite close with Sybil Wyatt who was then CEU’s Director of Communications. She guided me during that time and was my pillar of support.
Before entering the program in human rights, I completed CEU’s educational programs in English for Roma students. Coming from a Roma family, I first studied English by myself at home, but we could not afford to go to special courses, so I was starting fresh with academic English through CEU. The program helped me to improve academically, to use English better and structure writing for university studies. I took the LSAT and did well, and was admitted with a scholarship to the law program. I was so thrilled to have this honor; the program was amazing, and this was my dream to study at an American university.
What else would you like to express to CEU’s global community about becoming a changemaker in advancing human rights?
I would like to say to the CEU students, the fact that you are studying at CEU means that you already are making a difference. It means you are already stepping out and demonstrating outstanding achievements. CEU brings the best of the best. Remember you must never give up, be strong and go on. You have a voice.
CEU is one of the best universities that not only builds character for human rights activists, but builds pathways for change that you can potentially bring into your community later. We are all family in a way, and I am of service as a human rights lawyer to this CEU family in terms of advice and guidance. It's very important to take the opportunity to learn from other cultures, to learn from other environments, and to see together how you can make a change, because bringing change is all about people.