Posts Tagged Romanian

The Lost Europe

During my last University years, I joined two cultural studies groups, led by members of The Third Europe Foundation in Timisoara. One of them focused on literature studies, while the other carried on social study to achieve an anthropological view on history. With all the debate today in the UK regarding immigration and countries like Romania, my home land, I’m not sure of how The Third Europe sounds, but for me it has a lot of meaning. Let’s see if we can decipher it together.

How many Europes do you know today? Yes, of course, we can think of Europe as being a big book with so many pages of history, culture, social changes, economy, geography and so on. But generally we speak of Western and Eastern Europe. Well, apparently this leaves things out and the people who started the named foundation were aiming at filling the gaps. This “Third Europe” is actually what has been torn apart by the two wars of the XX century, and ever since the whole world seems to have forgotten about it. It is that part of the continent which has been more or less covered by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, one which many of the people living in the countries nowadays considered Eastern Europe are still praising in their memories, even if only for the cultural heritage. It’s Central Europe.
While some people might have heard or known of it, most haven’t, not even in the countries politically transferred behind the Iron Wall after WWII. Ask a Romanian which countries are part of Central Europe and the chances are very slim they would pick out their own.

To tell you the truth, I have to admit myself that I had no idea whatsoever before attending these two cultural studies groups. Then I had the chance to learn from people like Mircea Mihaies, Adriana Babeti, Smaranda Vultur, most of them professors I’d known from the University, about the heritage of this lost Europe. It was then when I understood where the high esteem people in Banat (Western part of Romania) had on German ethnics came from. And at the same time I could see that this lost Europe was never, in truth, found, ironic as it may sound. The paradox of Central Europe is that it has always existed, but never fully acknowledged until it came apart, was wrapped and buried. People from the countries which became part of the communist block were indeed looking with high esteem towards Wien and the “Kaiserlich und Koniglich” (Imperial and Royal) power, simply because it brought a lot of good investment in their lands. At the same time, apparently the Austrian Germans and the Hungarians, the two ruling nations, were not so happy anymore, looking further on the map.
The world I’ve studied about more than ten years ago and to which my thoughts go back now was as such the heir of an Imperial and Royal dream, a Utopia in which people worked in a joined effort for the benefit of all nations living and prospering together. Ordinary men and women from Timisoara and Praha and Warsaw, be them locals or German colonists, played their part in this world built on the music of Strauss and the image of a benevolent ruler, emperor Franz Joseph, as Encyclopaedia Britannica states: “ he was to his civil servants an unequaled model of exactitude, devotion to duty, and justice”.

Timisoara Unirii Catalina George

(lamps in Union Square in Timisoara, probably not the first ones in Europe, though they might as well be)

Born and raised in Banat, a region which was highly colonised with Austrian Germans, and with the colonists came investment in the mining industry, as well as agriculture, tourism, education and infrastructure, I grew up praising this heritage. I have as well inherited that sense of pride all people in Banat had, summarized by the saying “Banat is the crown” (“Tot Banatu-i fruncea”). One of the last regions to be incorporated into the Austro-Hungarian Empire, taken back from the Ottomans, who have conquered it from the Hungarians (complicated, isn’t it?), Banat saw some of the best projects in Europe of those times. How many people know today that in 1884 my home city, Timisoara, was the first city in Europe, yes, in Europe with electric light on the streets? There were about 731 lamps to start with. And this is not the only premiere in Timisoara that gave local people that sense of pride and of being the chosen ones, as well as the ones capable of bringing the Imperial and Royal dream to life, in peace with all their neighbours, no matter if they were Serbian, Hungarian, Jewish or German.

By joining The Third Europe groups I could now base my pride as a Banat born and raised person on something certain, on historical facts, as well as understand the ups and downs history has brought us to. Funny enough, it wasn’t the literature studies I was most drawn to and most involved in, but the anthropological ones.
The main project going on at the time was based on collecting stories from the elderly locals about how life was and how things happened. We were using the “life story” method, encouraging people to tell us about their lives as they pleased, with little to no intervention from ourselves, not to alter their stream of thoughts and memory. All we did was to politely start a conversation and briefly explain that we’d like to know how life was for them, and then just use our active listening skills, encourage them to keep telling whatever they wanted, and politely support their effort. Of course we would record what they told us, with their permission. In the end books were published about Germans in Banat, or other ethnic communities. The study was based on recurring things in people’s stories. What they thought was important and mattered and was worth sharing in their lives spoke about the thinking of their time, about how people experienced history first hand, what made a great impression on them, what their traumas, dreams and disappointments were. This was history from live memory.

Now I remembered all these because I’m about to write about my life story, in a way that maybe can help other people see more in me and other nationals from the same home country than just a Romanian dreaded as the poorest of Europe, unskilled and ready to do anything to get a piece of the cake, involving mostly crime, milking the British benefits system or stealing a job of a worthy Briton. Maybe my life story can tell more about these Romanian people without a face, “vermin” as some say, coming from a “rat hole” as others claim, maybe it can show that Romanians like me have a lot to offer to whoever wants to learn from other’s experience, history, hopes and dreams and, in the end, their humanity.
Saying stories are like windows to the world is probably a cliché. But maybe when visualising this cliché sometimes we don’t grasp all its meanings: a window is an opening to another world/side/image, but at the same time it’s a mirror. We might not always consciously see our reflection in it, but it’s always there and we do grasp it, even if just with a glimpse we don’t even realize dangling at the corner of our eyes.  

 

 

 

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A Romanian in the UK. The first step

Over the last year, 19.000 more Romanians and Bulgarians started to work in the UK. Also, 378.000 new jobs were taken by British nationals. These numbers, which I found in a recent Guardian article, bring some light over the very dark valley lurking with chilling whispers (sometimes sounding more like ghastly screams and shouts) about the Romanian and Bulgarian hordes of 29 millions waiting to invade the British shore, steal jobs from the British, milk the benefit system down, abuse the NHS and live 20 people in a three bedroom house. If it was only for my parents, my nans, their village neighbours and I can assure you some tens of people are NOT going to invade.

The article which I’ve gladly read on the Guardian site manages to shed light on a bigger piece of the puzzle. Nationals of the two countries, one of which is my own home country, took only a small percentage of the jobs available, which in my opinion is not that horrible. Most of the Romanians I know here work in the same industry as me, health and social care, or in construction, they are young and fit people, determined to succeed, to make the most of their own lives. Me and one other Romanian colleague at work have come here to get another qualification which we couldn’t afford back home, as there were no jobs available in the field either. We paid about £2.000 to study for it, we work together with British born and raised colleagues and some other two nationalities, we pay taxes, we are searching for new opportunities to study so we can have better earnings in the future.

 

My partner as well works in the same field, but with an agency, and I’m telling you they are continuously looking for new employees. He earns even better than me, as he can be paid over £100 a day, but his work is more physically demanding, as well as on the go, today in one residential home, tomorrow in another, which is an option I wouldn’t really be up to. He handles is quite well though, being even fitter than me, very determined, well organised and hard working.

Both me and him chose this field not at random, but because we were always inclined to the social sciences and humanities. I know it sounds a bit pretentious, after all we are both support workers, not the best paid jobs and not necessarily the ones regarded as the most intellectual. But when you go and take your chance in another country you are willing to even start working it from the bottom up, especially if the circumstances force you to change carriers. Back in Romania I used to be a teacher and a journalist, fields which have both been in a lot of trouble during the last 5 years, and he studied Psychology in the University, while being a plumber, trade which he couldn’t practice here so far.

 

The Guardian article finally gave me the push to get myself to writing what I’ve had in my mind, more or less, over the whole year. At first I was shocked, to an extent, at reading the Daily Fail type of tabloids, which I came to think are more horrible than the Romanian worst quality ones. At least those were filled almost exclusively with cheesy pornographic completely stupid and mind-blocking stuff, such as the X star, who used to be a known singer’s wife, has had another row with her mum after she learnt how to bake, or other such incredible things. I haven’t read much of political dirt, much of racial rant, much of social fear inducing articles, other than the ones about the hurricanes and floods that were to sweep Romania every summer or more-than-heavy snowing we were going to hardly survive. If any articles about Roma people, or Gypsies how they are known even in Britain, they are mostly centred on the successful Roma singers of a popular music style called manele and rooted in the old Ottoman Empire. These singers make lots of money, they display big golden jewellery, outrageously painted expensive cars and have a new secret lover every week. Oh, and they have loads of enemies who either envy them, or try to harm them, or both.

I’m not sure that everybody will see UK tabloids versus Romanian tabloids just the same, but this is my vision of them, compared to each other. And this is what I actually intend to do with this new series of posts on my blog: speak about my Romanian life and my British life, as I wish to share them both with people who would like to find out more than the newspapers can give them, may they be in good will or serving politics and covering the incompetence of today’s leaders.  

 

Going back to the figures, they look more than normal to me. They display the normality of normality in a country which still attracts migrants, in a Europe which is still struggling to come together after two World Wars that ripped it apart and some social revolutions/changes that happened in just a blink of an eye. For the big history of humanity, I’m not even sure that an almost 100 years makes enough for a blink. British people get new jobs every year, some of them in the company where I work (over the last year and a half, four new local British employees, young people, have joined a small service with about 13 support workers all in all). The oldest employees in the company houses here are British locals. We have colleagues of two other nationalities, if I’m not mistaking, and we all try to provide the best service to the clients we support.

 

Under these circumstances, I feel reactions such as the one I got on Facebook, when posting a link to the Guardian article, might be rooted in lack of information or fears fed by the mainstream that seems to be overflowing with harmful effects. It might not be physical harm, but let’s not forget that the psychological one can be even worse and most of the times precedes the physical stage. Reading articles that describe Romanians as beggars, scroungers, criminals, people who only come here to take advantage on the social system, to get undeserved benefits, to work illegally, avoid taxes and live in hard to picture conditions got to me, but in a positive way. Yes, at first I was irritated, yes, I felt there can’t be such a thing as a crusade against other people just because they are of a certain nationality, yes, I was a little upset that people let themselves so carried away by negativity, fears, even hatred, violence which seeks just a way to leak out so it doesn’t eat on the inside. Then I realised if I keep reading and complaining about it, to myself or to my partner, if I judge the people who allow themselves to be wound up by such media filth, I’m just making myself part of the plan (and I’m not a conspiracy theories fan).
What I can do better is tell my story, tell people about real Romania, about how my life was and is, and maybe how I think we can all do things better for ourselves. A personal touch and commitment has been known to do wonders. And I’ve actually just started doing it.

 

 

 

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