The dark side of volunteering

Is voluntary action positive in any case? The topic of this panel discussion was to identify controversial kinds of volunteering and how they emerge.

Agnes Uhereczky mentioned social activism and demonstrations as dubious cases where it is not always clear whether the respective activity could be perceived as “good for society”. Humanitarian projects, especially if paid, would sometimes have the tendency to consolidate dependencies and passiveness rather than help overcome it. A similar effect occurred in projects targeting unemployed people, she told us.

A rather dramatic kind of misuse of the term ‘volunteering’ can be seen in regards to involvement in political right wing movements. Together, we characterized the extent to which it could be called volunteering: Active people are, from their own point of view, altruistic; they often sacrifice a lot of their time for their activities; and by doing so they gain social competences and even career opportunities. We watched an excerpt of Borbala Kriza’s film documentary “Dübörög a nemzeti rock“ (rocking the nation). It pictures the leader of the extremist Hungarian band “Romantikus Erőszak” (romantic violence) and his interactions with fans. There we could see how the idea of ‘active citizenship’ can be turned against democracy itself.

Throughout the discussion it became clear that many people needed and searched for opportunities to get involved. This often occurred in societies where there are no working social contexts and where young people are left alone with the need to define a purpose and find values in their lives.OpenForum 11 – BudapestV11 – Volunteering 2011