Interview with Mikuláš Lakatoš, Young European of 2023

On Europe Day, Mikuláš Lakatoš, who was just announced Young European of 2023, speaks about his work and his vision for Europe. Focusing on strengthening Roma and LGBTQ+ communities, he tells us why equal opportunities for everybody matter and how is addressing remaining inqualities.

© Mikuláš Lakatoš

Hello and congratulations, dear Mikuláš! Can you introduce yourself and tell us what induced you to become active and work towards a more just European society?

Mikuláš: Currently, I am serving as a public policy maker, youth worker, lecturer, community developer, activist, nurse practitioner, and, I believe, as the voice of many of the unheard and silenced. My whole journey of an activist emerged from a direct need to act, to defend those who were not able express their needs and protect their personal or community identity. Throughout my activism work and professional career, I very often witnessed strong oppression of diverse members of our society, such as marginalized Roma communities, socially and economically deprived ones, members of the LGBTQ+ communities and more. Experiencing hate speech and inequalities very often on my own skin as well, provided me with personal experiences, knowledge and skills in these fields, and made it impossible for me to quit. As a socially active person and public servant, I am working towards a European society in which everybody is taking over responsibility and contributing to accomplishing its goals. And by goals, I mean a strong, connected, diverse and equally open Europe for everybody!

How have you contributed to making Europe a better place through your engagement and dedication?

Mikuláš: I started my journey as a volunteer of the Slovak Red Cross Youth, where I focused on providing public first aid trainings and organizing discussions among the youth about topics such as:  drug abuse, sexually transmitted infections/diseases and many more. Later, I started working with another youth organization from the nongovernmental sector, and was active as a youth worker, lecturer, mentor, tutor for the most disadvantaged, marginalized Roma youth groups, supporting them in their studies, future plans and in enlarging their social skills. Upon finishing my studies in general nursing, I started to serve as a nurse practitioner in the field of intensive neonatology care. I was so excited entering the healthcare sector, but at the same time found out about many political problems within this sector.

This forced me to quit my job as healthcare practitioner and return to university as a public policy student. During this time, I got the opportunity to start working as a health public policy maker at the Office of The Slovak Government (Plenipotentiary Office of The Slovak Government for Roma Communities). There, I was able to support the team working on health care policy, specifically with developing the new Strategy and Action Plans for Equality, Inclusion and Participation of Roma until 2030. I consider myself lucky to be able to share my perspective as a healthcare professional and also as a public policy student for whom these experiences served as a big boom in his future policymaking career.

Next to these efforts, I am supporting the LGBTQ+ and Roma LGBTQ+ communities in the country. Due to this personal interest, I contributed to the work of the first Roma LGBTQ+ NGO in Slovakia – ARA ART – SK (which was established based on its Czech mother organization’s work model) as a mentor and lecturer supporting its community members.  This field of involvement became for me as important as the others. A more inclusive, open, diverse and tolerant Europe must be supported in a multispectral manner!

What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced while working towards your cause, and how would you use the award to help you overcome them?

Mikuláš: As a Roma community member in the world of the privileged ones, we are very often forced to experience discriminatory processes on our own skin. This problem in our societies is strongly caused by the existing stereotypes about the Roma community and homogenized visualization of the community, where no one is perceived as educated, trained and skilled. Experiencing these challenges while achieving our professional desires and our places in the society, we can learn a lot about the society itself and can become stronger. It is up to us to define challenging periods and factors as only harmful or also as something that allows us to learn and to achieve our goals.

How do you think your work and dedication can inspire other young people to get involved and make a difference in their communities?

Mikuláš: I am pretty sure, that I am a living example of the saying: “Nothing is impossible”. If I was able to overcome tons of challenges, rejections, mistrust and many other obstacles resulting from racism and stereotypes, it is possible for anybody who is strongly motivated, has its vison, is aware of the necessary steps in achieving its plans and ready for hard work. At the same time, I hope that my work and the work of many others can lead to more equal opportunities for all young people, meaning that Roma and other marginalised groups do not have to work extra hard to find their way.