Every year the Golden Times is honouring the outstanding AEGEE Member of the Year 2017. More than 100 people were nominated and voted by the 81 active members whose interviews you could read in the past weeks in the Golden Times. This time there was a clear winner: Réka Salamon, who was President until summer 2017, received more votes than anyone else. Here is a little eulogy, followed by statements of some of the members who voted for her – and some information on the other outstanding members of 2017, who managed to get into the Top Ten!
I met Réka Salamon for the first time At Agora Enschede in spring 2012. There is something strange about the four spring Agoras in that city – somehow they are always connected with scandals or intrigues. Back in 2012, Réka was member for one year and it was her first Agora. I saw this young Hungarian girl there at a party for the first time, in company of Network Commissioner Beata Matuszka from AEGEE-Budapest. I had no idea that Réka had already started to storm the European stage and was already Beata’s subcommissioner.
A few months later Réka became CD assistant for PR matters, coordinated the very first edition of Europe on Track in autumn 2012 and spring 2013 – that’s when this trademark project won the Charlemagne Youth Prize. In the following year Réka coordinated Europe on Track II as well and was involved in basically everything: PRC, Y Vote, EQAC… Many people thought she would become the next President of AEGEE-Europe, when shortly before the spring Agora Patra AEGEE-Enschede veteran and Agora Chairperson Paul Smits threw his hat in the ring and won the Presidency by 6.6 percent difference – against Réka.
Réka decided to take the long way and became CD member in the following year before she was finally elected as President of the association in spring 2016. With incredible energy she wanted to improve AEGEE, an association which had been in decline for several years. I met Réka many times in all these years and we chatted a lot about all the reasons that caused the problems for the association. And Réka always surprised me by her sharp analytic mind – usually she had already realized what had gone wrong before I said it. In all my years in AEGEE I never met any other member – CD or not CD – who studied AEGEE as thoroughly as Réka. She seemingly read half the files in the archive, she used every opportunity to talk to members of all generations in order to hear more facts, memories and opinions about the past, present and future of AEGEE. I was amazed by this incredible knowledge she accumulated about AEGEE. This was someone who wanted to learn from mistakes from the past instead of repeating them and calling this “progress”.
And this is where the troubles started. During her year as president, Réka developed a plan how to get AEGEE back on a better track. She wrote a document of 35 text pages called “AEGEE State of play 2017”, which was made public shortly before the spring Agora Enschede 2017, when she wanted to ask the Agora delegates for another mandate as President in order to carry out the necessary reforms. In her attempt to start an open and honest discussion, Réka forgot the basic rule when it comes to changes: get AEGEE’s biggest influencers and multipliers on your side, convince them of your plan and organize yourself a majority. Instead, with this document Réka stepped on many feet of some people, who were active on European level.
Some of her radical ideas, which were mainly food of thoughts, were taken out of context and used to criticize her. In fact, this document was far too long and did not contain a catchy summary with some big fancy emotional words – a strategy which helped several show-offs and pretenders to become elected. But that was simply not Réka’s style. She wanted to go the hard way, believing that the reform ideas were so convincing that she did not need to sugarcoat them. Just being honest should win the day. It was a serious miscalculation. Some people who did not like these ideas held a personal grudge against her also for other reasons and so she lost the election – again against a candidate who appeared in the last moment, like in 2014.
However, despite the negative election outcome, Réka received standing ovations at the end of Agora Enschede. It made her so emotional that she even wanted to close the Agora – an act which is of course the privilege of the Chair. It was a funny moment that showed that this was a human being, who was tired of not being treated in a human way.
Since the Agora Réka has not stopped working for AEGEE. She continues to help the association on many other levels. For example, I had the pleasure to work with her at the AEGEE Project Lab, a small ideas factory and training event that we organized together in summer 2017 together with AEGEE-Agrigento. And right now Réka is helping AEGEE-Istanbul to prepare their autumn Agora 2018, serving the team as vice coordinator.
A lot of people who worked so long in AEGEE in Brussels did this with the intention to foster their own career. Not Réka. For her the association always came first. This is extremely honourable.
Also many other people felt that Réka’s work and attitude were outstanding – and that’s why they voted for her as “Member of the Year 2017”. In the annual Golden Times survey I asked more than 100 members who held an office on European level or left an impression as extremely active board member of their antenna. 81 replied and cast their vote. Actually, they could nominate up to three people and so more than 100 people were suggested – and Réka won hands down!
And this is what some of them wrote:
“Réka faced countless issues with a big smile on her face and a great temper”
Gabriele Nicotra, former President of AEGEE-Catania, SubCom for Francesca Zorcolo and PRC member, AEGEE-Catania
“I would follow Réka anywhere if we had the chance to work again together. In over three years of friendship and one year of working together, I didn’t see anyone in our organization as devoted, hardworking and detailed in her work. Of course, not all moves were right or played out well, but that is a small and irrelevant number when you consider what positive effect her work had on AEGEE. Because of her work on project management field, we don’t even realise how much project management knowledge and experience was accumulated with projects such as Europe on Track and GREAT, and even after her term the results of her hard work could be seen in recent projects”
Zvonimir Canjuga, Vice Chairperson of AEGEE-Europe, member of AEGEE-Zagreb and AEGEE-Passau
“I want to mention Réka Salamon, for her willingness to continue working in AEGEE, tackling problematics, and helping new people, even after two years of CD. Her determination is really admirable”
Damien Latacz, former MedCom, AEGEE-Aachen, AEGEE-Düsseldorf
“The single most amazing member of 2017 is Réka Salamon. Her bravery, her intellectual honesty, her incredible understanding of the situation of our association is unbelievable. I may not always agree with her, but I know there’s always a good reason why she says something and it’s worth exploring it. If it wouldn’t have been for her, I would be in Torino at this very moment.”
Marco Daniele, Network Director, AEGEE-Torino
“For me it has been Réka Salamon, who has been outstanding not only in 2017 but during her entire AEGEE career. The way that Réka works is not only adorable but it can motivate many AEGEE generations to come”
Armenak Minasyants, Executive Director AEGEE-Yerevan
“This year marked a turning point for me while thinking about AEGEE, so I will mention just one member: Réka Salamon. Everyone who attended Agora Enschede will understand why, but if someone still doesn’t understand why and wonders, just ask yourself if you would ever make such a sacrifice for an NGO and keep standing still during Agora Enschede. Thank you Réka!”
Marina Klanjčić, Network Commissioner, Liaison Officer towards BEST, Advisor of AEGEE-Zagreb
The runners-up in this category
The three people with the highest numbers of voted behind Réka are: CD member María Ballesteros Melero, NetCom speaker Spyros Papadatos — and Svenja van der Tol. This is what people said about them.
María Ballesteros Melero
“María Ballesteros Melero has done an amazing job in organizing the opening conference of Europe on Track and she has been constantly active on several levels, not last her involvement in the Gender Equality Interest Group. Now as CD member she is working even harder than before, and I can just say I could not imagine a better CD appointed person for my Working Group.”
Viola Bianchetti, Equal Rights Working Group Coordinator, AEGEE-Heidelberg
“María Ballesteros is so strong and full of energy that everyone should be inspired by how she works for our association. She is everywhere, multitasking and I am so happy that she is in the Comité Directeur now.”
Francesca Zorcolo, Network Commission, AEGEE-Cagliari
“I nominate María Ballesteros from AEGEE-Madrid, for her dedication and amazing job with Europe on Track 4 and the kick-off conference in Budapest, as well as for her work as External Relations Director of AEGEE-Europe, which she has taking to a whole new level with the biggest liaison office we’ve seen so far. For her way of training, thinking and making decisions among many other things that she does for AEGEE, she is the most outstanding member in 2017.”
Jorge Sánchez, Project Manager of Europe on Track and Partnerships Officer, AEGEE-Dresden
I would also like to recognize the amazing work of Maria Ballesteros Melero and thank her for being the inspiring person she is, for encouraging me to get out of my comfort zone and take initiatives that without her support I am not sure I would have taken. I want to thank her from the bottom of my heart for everything she has offered to our organization, on so many different levels!
Erifyli Evangelou, Europe on Track, Language Interest Group, AEGEE-Athína
“I nominate Spyros Papadatos, for his commitment to the Network Commission for already 1.5 years, who is going now for his second term as speaker and from whom I learned a lot. I hope we can continue cooperating for so long!”
Alejandra Piot, Content Manager AEGEE Day 2018, AEGEE-A Coruña
“Spyros Papadatos for his hard work as a Network Commissioner. He is always ready to help and build a connection with locals and the people behind them.”
Zografia Lepoura, Language Interest Group, AEGEE-Athina
“Spyros Papadatos, Netcommie for second year in the row, Liaison Officer and member of EoT 5, is other than my best friend, my mentor and personal inspiration. He is a hard-working, young person with a solid vision and specific goals regarding AEGEE and his life, that I think challenges many people around him to want to be better. I have seen it as a friend, as a co-worker on local level and as an observant in general.”
Vasiliki Andrioti, SUCT, The AEGEEan, AEGEE-Ioannina and AEGEE-Cagliari
“Spyros Papadatos is one of the most outstanding members of the year, and I want to thank him very much for his dedication, his time, energy and mobile data he has used for Skype calls, for being always around to help and support. It is always a big pleasure working with him!”
Erifyli Evangelou, Europe on Track, Language Interest Group, AEGEE-Athína
Svenja van der Tol
“It is amazing how Svenja van der Tol continues to support other members to grow in our organisation. She is always available for questions for us as CD, and plays a pivotal role in the Youth Development Working Group, Human Resources Committee, and one million other things.”
Loes Rutten, President of AEGEE-Europe, AEGEE-Utrecht
Svenja van der Tol is my mentor — not only as experienced member of AEGEE, but also as amazing person. Svenja, who did sooo much for AEGEE, still has motivation, never-ending energy and courage to rule a working group of fresh and unexperienced members is my favourite soft dictator.
Polina Khapaeva, Member of YDWG, President of AEGEE-Sankt-Peterburg
“Apart from being very active as Youth Development Working Group coordinator, Svenja van der Tol has played a special role for me this year. Not only was she a dedicated SubCommie, working hard and coming up with new ideas, she has also been there for me personally when I needed her. Thank you so much Svenja!”
Maria Zwartkruis, Network Commission, AEGEE-Utrecht
“I’d like to name my pre-predecessor Svenja van der Tol, who proved that true leadership lasts longer than a CD mandate. She keeps on inspiring me with her warmth and commitment for our newest members.”
Florian Hauger, Secretary General of AEGEE-Europe and former President of AEGEE-Heidelberg
Others on the top
Also in the top ten are the following people: Network Commissioner and EPM organizer Marina Klanjčić, Agora Chair and former Financial Director Zvonimir Canjuga, former NetCom speaker and Key to Europe editor-in-chief Alejandra Piot, Network Director Marco Daniele, Juridical Commission President Monika Mojak and Europe on Track 5 project manager Jorge Sánchez Hernández.
Congratulations to everyone!