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TOPIC: citizenship among the online Romanian diaspora
citizenship among the online Romanian diaspora 7 Years, 1 Month ago  
Languishing in Purgatory: narratives of belonging and citizenship among the online Romanian diaspora

First Draft

‘On every side was darting forth the day.
The sun, who had with his resplendent shafts
From the mid-heaven chased forth the Capricorn,
When the new people lifted up their faces
Towards us, saying to us: "If ye know,
Show us the way to go unto the mountain."
And answer made Virgilius: "Ye believe
Perchance that we have knowledge of this place,
But we are strangers even as yourselves.
Just now we came, a little while before you,
Another way, which was so rough and steep,
That mounting will henceforth seem sport to us."
(Dante, Purgatorio Canto II, The Divine Comedy translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)

Introductory remarks

This paper discusses some of the initial results of a larger ethnographic research project, conducted with support from the British Academy. The project focuses comparatively on Romanian diasporic websites in Italy, Spain and the UK, with the aim of analysing the potential of diasporic networks of communication to support political and cultural expressions. It examines how political mobilization, contestation and negotiation crystallize
online and support (rare) incursions into the majority political field, how resistance and identity are articulated and performed and how the status of Eastern European migrants is assessed by migrants themselves in the current European Union context.1
This paper today looks more specifically at how, through online discussion fora, a new migrant typology emerges raising questions about whether migration can ever be a successful or at least ‘completed’ process. Yet narratives that depart from the traditional ‘self-made’ success stories can be read as sites of critical reflection, resistance and affirmation of new citizenships.

A migrant ‘pathology’?

Eastern European migration towards the West has been determined by a myriad of factors: a lengthy transition process, the economic crisis fatigue, the myth of Western superiority, a sense of adventure after decades of travel
1 Estimates of Romanian migrant populations in studied countries. Italy: 1-2 million (largest diasporic group); Spain: 500-800,000; UK: 65-150,0000. These are approximate (wild) estimations due to those overstaying their tourist status, and also due to high numbers of ‘seasonal’ workers (e.g. orange and strawberry pickers in Spain).
prohibitions, socio-cultural conservatism, even institutional corruption. While in the 1990s most Romanian migrants were spurred abroad by human rights issues and acute financial needs (asylum seekers and economic migrants), the current decade is defined by a new type of migrant, no less determined, but rather more adventurous, with a taste for new cultures and experiences, more conscious and reflective of their position.
The ‘old’ migrant has now become a figure of ridicule among this more reflective and apparently more successful category. As one source summarized the initial Romanian migration to Italy: ‘there are several categories of Romanians in Italy: many, very many girls and women who don’t do much but have an Italian (fidanzato or marito) who supports them financially; those who have no qualification or have it only on paper and want to work, so they accept any type of work and are happy; those with a degree but who also have a profession and do not accept just any job, so are unemployed or do not have the desired job and are unhappy; and the last category, but not the least important one … those who came here to thieve and are veeeeeery happy…’2
2 E-mail exchange with “Felicia”, settled in Lignano Italy, 1 July 2008
The same bleak picture emerges from the following categorization of Romanians in Spain. Model one: ‘comes from a poor area, usually rural, minimal education, no culture, he works in construction, she cleans or washes dishes in a restaurant, they speak Spanish with grammatical mistakes (they can’t even speak Romanian correctly)’; model two: ‘the youngster who has graduated but can’t find a job […] comes abroad to work, usually menial jobs’; model three: ‘the HUMAN DIRTBAG comes to steal, to traffic prostitutes and beggars’; model four: ‘the slaves of the human dirtbags – prostitutes, beggars etc.’3
The interactions between ‘pre-migrants’, ‘post-migrants’ and ‘settled migrants’ (Hiller and Franz 2004) on diasporic fora are structured by a hierarchy that puts settled migrants in charge of those narratives of hope, doubt, success and failure that help re-create the image of the ‘ideal’ migrant towards which pre-migrants and newcomers must aspire. This causes some of the criticism towards those whose voices are rarely heard, those who have been less able to climb socially and financially.

So what are the prerequisites of successful migration? One important attribute seems to be determination:

‘emigration is not for everybody, you need plenty of balls and cold blood’4; one has to ‘take the bull by the horns’5; ‘you need patience and courage’6; ‘I left pride to one side and I worked hard […] if you have a well defined aim in life, you get used to anything’7; ‘you need to have the perseverance to overcome, to make something from nothing!

Natural selection…’8.

The natural selection metaphor suggests that only the most ‘fit’ survive and live to tell their story. The moral of it is: ‘good people, don’t plunge without a net, don’t emigrate without a dime in your pockets and with empty promises by I don’t know who […] I don’t suggest to stay in the UK if you do not have the balls’9.

Migration also seems to be a self-regenerating resource, whereby migrants draw energy from the process itself, from the capacity to acquire ‘transnational capital’ (Meinhof and Triandafyllidou 2006) and employ it to help with integration. ‘My longing for home will never

cease, but I don’t regret it [the experience of moving abroad] […] It “opened my eyes”. I saw and lived in beautiful places, I made friendships, I acquired experiences. This would not have happened had I stayed home’10. ‘Romania is a good enough country for my standards … I did not want to emigrate “for good”, but I love “itinerating” and I don’t think I’ll ever get “tired” … it seems a valid way of “opening minds”, in other words, education…’ 11. This is ‘the type [of migrant] who travelled for many years in various lands, has been civilised according to the Occidental model, maybe even with a new citizenship’12.

Capital acquisition, new experiences, the chance to prove oneself, represent just one side of the story, that does not tell of the price to pay. The more reflective ‘new’ migrant also talks about difficulties, disappointment and endurance: ‘you must try to understand local culture, tradition […] it’s essential if you want to integrate.

Otherwise you risk remaining/becoming lonely and frustrated, rejected, suffering from protagonist manias’13.
He/she talks about flexibility and sacrifices: ‘those times when you worked for a few months and then went home to squander your money are gone. There are other Europeans with many more rights than us. Our problem is that we are not united’14; ‘many have renounced the conceit of practicing the profession for which they trained and obtained a degree’15; ‘everybody starts at the bottom’16. They tell of lessons in humility ‘you have to learn to lower your head and only then raise it bit by bit’17, of burnt bridges and not being able to return: ‘In Italy and in the “Occident” is ok for those who, for one reason or another, have never achieved absolutely anything in Romania’18.
The true recipe of the ideal émigré could therefore be a mixture of any of the following ingredients: ‘I had to think twice before taking action’; ‘I had to change my

attitude. I have become feistier since I’ve been here’; ‘be polite and smile […] I have learnt not to discriminate, to discover lovely things in each culture’; ‘I met different people, different cultures’; ‘I evolved […] you try to adapt to those around you, but preserve your own personality’; ‘while still daydreaming, reality poked me in the eye’; ‘a smile left on the face every time I am in public, a smile that has nothing to do with reality, that I have to take with me in the same way I have to wear shoes’19.

A more complex ‘pathology’ of emigration thus emerges, where natural selection is a function not only of natural traits, but also of the willingness to learn, change, adapt and endure, and climb the mountain whatever it takes. Yet, how much is it gained and what has been lost in this process of adaptation?20

Languishing in Purgatory

The willingness to engage with the more problematic aspects of migration goes against the classic narrative of

20 Or, as Salman Rushdie queries in a recent Guardian article, ‘…what are the things we cannot give up unless we wish to cease to be ourselves?’ (Salman Rushdie, The Guardian Review, 28 February 2009, pp. 2-4).
the self-made migrant living the dream and becomes the first site of political reflection, negotiation and resistance, aided by the anonymity and openness of the Internet, where bluntness, critique and open conflict are tolerated and encouraged.

It speaks of the ambiguity of the relationship with both the original ‘home’ and the ‘host’21: ‘you end up believing that you can never find your place and this usually happens in the first few years. Why? I would say it’s the adaptation, for some it can last a few years, for others their whole lives […] Loneliness is hard to bear’22; ‘You have to be open, capable to adapt, in order to succeed and win over the homesickness that plagues you at least in the beginning. You have to accept that you will always be caught between two worlds – in the adoptive country you feel a foreigner, you dream of Romania. In Romania so many things make you unhappy and you catch yourself dreaming of the other country. Roots weaken and you almost become homeless’23; ‘Winners? Against whom?! At war all the time with the image in the mirror, maybe! Losers? Who fights

21 An issue extensively explored in postcolonial and diasporic theory: ‘double consciousness’ (Gilroy 1993), ‘Third Space’ (Bhabha, 1994), ‘in-between’ (Bhabha in Hall and du Gay 1996), ‘place-polygamy’ (Georgiou 2006).

22 Post by ”bill” on, thread entitled ‘are they sending us home? And are they also giving us money to leave?’, 19 June 2008
23 Online interview with Laura, Udine Italy, 6 September 2008

against us?! […] All of this in-fighting happens on the inside, not “outside”. Outside Romanians become normal, educated, integrated or deported’24; ‘we are winners because we are still standing […] we have the potential to win, but some of us “lose their way”25.
The metaphor of the fly caught in the spider’s web, unable to return, but also unable to resign itself best describes this limbo. ‘We have all that Romania cannot offer us, and still, we are not completely happy. I’m surprised to discover how many of us are caught between these two worlds, without knowing where we would like to live the rest of our lives’26. The uncertain, perpetually transitory existence is partially caused by the perceived impossibility of return: ‘We all (the great majority) come here to make money and then go back, open a business, buy a house, a new car […] but you never have enough money and even if you make lots of money, then what’s the point to return when you have become so successful here’27; ‘the adaptation period lasts from the moment you arrive till the

moment you have financial stability […] I stopped believing in friendships a long time ago’28; ‘I never imagined I would work this much, but I don’t complain and I am not going home. When folk see you back home they say ‘look at him, everybody makes it ‘outside’, only he is coming back like a coward with his tail between his legs, it’s hard, I know, grit your teeth and raise your head’29.
This metaphorical language is symptomatic of the migrant condition and old traditional Romanian maxims like ‘falling into a lake, then again from there, straight into a well’ and ‘bowed heads remain untouched by the sword’ are also recurrently employed to depict it.
Transcultural capital seems to be trimmed down by a cultural ‘loss’, that is perceived as a threat for the group’s future: ‘when you do not have a past anymore, future is in danger’; ‘the second generation is running the most danger, they will have a crisis of identity for the rest of their lives’30.
My argument is that once the group begins to reflect upon their migrant and diasporic condition as co-presence
28 Post by ”Bruttus” on, thread entitled ‘are they sending us home? And are they also giving us money to leave?’, 19 June 2008
30 Interview with Adriana Vidroiu Stanca (Romanian diasporic writer), 2 September 2008, Valencia Spain.
and as an endangered future within the host environement, a new site of reflexivity and new citizenship manifestations have the potential to emerge (although these are early days).
Establishing a substantial Romanian diasporic presence in Europe is a relatively new phenomenon. A new ‘diasporic rope’ (Cohen 2008: 161-2) is now being woven. It ties together homeland, collective memory, idealization, group consciousness, difficult relationships with the ‘host’ but the possibility of a distinctive creative life, co-responsibility with co-ethnics in other countries. The only problem is what direction is it being pulled into – rope to tie up and hang from or rope that provides new links, new directions. I believe in the later.
Bhabha, Homi K. (1994) The Location of Culture. London: Routledge.
Bhabha, Homi K. (1996) ‘Culture’s In-Between’ in Hall, S. and P. du
Gay (eds.) Questions of Cultural Identity. London: Sage. (pp: 53-60)
Cohen, Robin (2008) Global Diasporas. An introduction. London: Routledge.
Georgiou, Myria (2006) Diaspora, Identity and the Media. Diasporic transnationalism and mediated spatialities. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.
Hiller, H. H. and T. M. Franz (2004) ‘New ties, old ties and lost ties: the use of the internet in diaspora’, New Media & Society. Vol 6(6): 731-752.
Meinhof, U. H. and A. Triandafyllidou (eds) (2006) Transcultural Europe. Cultural Policy in a Changing Europe. Basingstoke: Palgrave.
Dr Ruxandra Trandafoiu
Contact details: Media Department
Edge Hill University
St Helen’s Road
Ormskirk L39 4QP
01695 584145
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