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Andra-Lucia Martinescu

Research Fellow

Andra-Lucia Martinescu is currently pursuing a PhD in International Relations with the University of Cambridge, focusing on geopolitical developments in the Black Sea region. She also completed an Mphil with the same department, analysing the transformation of national security doctrines in the post-Soviet space. She has extensive experience in operational and strategic research having worked for the British Army, RAND Europe and the Royal United Services Institute for Security and Defence (RUSI, London) in various research and analysis capacities. She is currently an independent consultant, focusing on civil society projects, diasporas as well as public policy and good governance.

Array ( [0] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 5053 [post_author] => 60 [post_date] => 2020-10-08 08:55:01 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-10-08 07:55:01 [post_content] => The incipient phase – A crisis unfolding ‘I call on Romanians in the diaspora (…) – my beloved, do not come home for the holidays this year’. The appeal was launched by Romania’s President, Klaus Iohannis, at the beginning of April in the midst of a rapidly escalating pandemic.[1] Since March 16th, the country was under a state of emergency, with the Army drafted in to run overwhelmed and severely mismanaged public hospitals. One such facility and the epicentre of an outbreak in the northern part of Romania was Suceava hospital, which as of March 31st accounted for more than 25 per cent of Romania’s infections, prompting a strict regional quarantine.[2] The disproportionate rate of infections amongst medical personnel was particularly alarming. Years of mismanagement, political appointments, endemic corruption, lack of accountability and poor hygiene standards to name but a few, compounded the systemic failure to tackle the crisis.[3] The forbidding ‘landscape’ is reminiscent of a warzone as one army doctor described it on his social media account.[4] Rewind to October 2019.   The same hospital and its leadership were subject to much praise for their modernised infrastructure, a flagship accomplishment that could be used in political campaigning. Only a few months before, the managers were awarded honours for their supposed achievements, a ‘political décor’ that was nullified as soon as it became clear how flagrant mismanagement had exacerbated the crisis. In terms of accountability, this was about it, unless prosecutors succeed in indicting those responsible, including the chain of (political and administrative) command that enabled the protracted incompetence and loss of lives.[5] The Suceava incident was one of the myriad cases flaring across the country and prompting public outrage: from shortages of healthcare personnel against the backdrop of a continuous brain drain, to the lack of protective equipment and to the precarious institutional responses, lack of transparency and inadequate preparedness. Given the dire state of the healthcare system, its workforce deficit, unqualified management teams, lack of clear protocols, and depleted reserves of (protective) equipment, strict lockdown measures had an early onset as well as tighter enforcement (see graph/times series below on government responses), with increased powers for the police, gendarmerie and the army in some cases.[6] The deep-seated mistrust in institutions when paired with poor access to information, or as little as was available, also meant that certain segments of the public were initially less inclined to observe social distancing and isolation measures.   To return or not to return – The impact on the Diaspora In such trying times, narratives of accountability had shifted more and more onto the people, often vulnerable communities, or those returning home from abroad faced with a sudden lack of income after sector closures. Despite the government’s appeal urging Romanians abroad not to return, for a great many this was simply not an option. Their repatriation polarised public discourse, with some politicians even vilifying the diaspora for circumventing the quarantine, spreading the virus and for burdening an embattled healthcare system (without contributing towards it).[7] Civil unrest started surfacing in already marginalised communities, both rural and urban, upon the return of those scraping for a livelihood in Western Europe. A great many were Roma.   Others that found themselves compelled to return home did so because of economic uncertainty. Working on temporary contracts, zero-hour contracts (as is the case in the UK) or no contract at all, they were precariously consigned to the fringes of state protection, without the safety nets afforded to a long-term resident workforce.[8] Even so, closures across Europe, plummeted entire sectors, particularly affecting construction (see Graph 1, below) and hospitality which in turn depended on migrant labour, seasonal or otherwise (see Graph 2, below, for employment levels in the UK). The incremental or sudden lockdowns across the continent severed the economic lifeline for many Romanians living, working and studying abroad, rendering them vulnerable and in numerous cases unable to subsist. For instance, caregivers were stranded across Europe, from Austria to Italy, in demanding, round the clock jobs tending to the elderly, often facing high risk of exposure, but with poor contractual or legal provisions to ensure their rights and safety.[9] In such cases, the option to return was even more limited.   Graph 1 - Shows a significant drop in employment levels in the 1st and 2nd quarters of 2020 (Source: Office for National Statistics, UK)     Graph 2 - UK Distribution of workforce by nationality in the construction sector   If up until recently repatriation has been the state’s (Romania) preferred long-term strategy for engaging with its diaspora, in the midst of the pandemic perceptions seem to have drastically shifted.[10] Improper institutional assistance and miscommunication regarding the quarantine spurred vitriolic attacks, stigmatising those returning from abroad.[11] The political momentum to act compassionately and in an informed manner so as to prevent divisive narratives from discouraging a unified response was irretrievably lost; in fact, such a crisis could have provided an opportunity to consolidate institutional and political commitments to what has become, through civic mobilisation and financial contributions (remittance flows), a strategic constituency.[12]   Across Romania, policing capabilities were deployed to run daily checks on individuals entering the country and encouraged to apply hefty fines. To illustrate some of the prohibiting measures, Graph 3 (below) offers a comparative perspective on coronavirus fines and the average salary per country.     Graph 3 - Selected countries' coronavirus fines in euros   A lack of transparency in communication and official reporting combined with improper data gathering practices all added to the general sense of confusion, creating a breeding ground for enmity and targeted scapegoating. There are different versions and official takes on how many Romanians actually returned and from where.[13] Hence, an independent assessment of monitoring practices and how these were being enforced by the different agencies became tenuous at best. Instances of people trying to elude quarantine upon crossing the border did occur but even so, the reporting of such cases often tended to overshadow compliance amongst the general cohort of returnees.[14] In effect, the dehumanising aspects of both discourse and practice indicate a lasting ambivalence in Romania’s institutional reaction to the unravelling crisis.   The time series below, comparatively assesses the number and strictness of government policies in response to the pandemic, for both Romania and the UK (neither to be considered as appropriate or effective).[15] The selected timeline shows the variable adoption of emergency legislation, as well as fluctuations in restrictions (adoption and easing) between March and September 2020, across a variety of government measures/policies such as travel bans, school, retail and other sector closures, access to public transport, fiscal & financial policies etc.).   Graph 4 - COVID-19: Government Response Stringency Index    Counter to this dynamic of repatriation, fears of disruption in food supply chains prompted bilateral decisions to allow passage for seasonal agricultural workers amid general border closures.[16] However, concerns over safety were dispelled by viral images of workers packed in buses or flocking Romanian airports en route to farms in Germany, the UK and other countries.[17] It was not long until hotbeds of infection emerged as a result of precarious working and living conditions in processing facilities and farms, with most of them cramped in shared rooms and with poor access to protective equipment. The plight of seasonal workers is not new. On the contrary, time and time again snippets of the context with which they were confronted made the headlines, only to subside under nominal reassurances that tighter controls would be enforced by authorities at home and abroad. In Germany for instance, no legislation is yet in place to ensure much needed reforms in the meat-processing industry and agricultural sectors, where working conditions have been exposed under media scrutiny.[18]   During the pandemic a chain of opportunism was further exacerbated, with subcontracted recruitment agents largely benefitting from the crisis but with little or no regard for the workers’ safety, livelihoods or well-being. As a consequence, a great many workers suffered under extreme duress, confined to the same shared spaces following a spike in infections and imposed quarantine. Although the preference for an overseas (seasonal) workforce continues unabated, more substantive institutional responses addressing such vulnerabilities are yet to materialise. In the UK for instance, as a study shows various initiatives to recruit domestic workers into the agricultural sector seem to have had limited success, ‘with only 0.2% of those expressing an interest ending up taking the jobs.’[19] On the backdrop of Brexit and caught between divisive political narratives the fate of the EU migrant workforce becomes even more uncertain. The question remains: Who then purports to represent these communities’ interests in the face of multiple, impending crises, both at home and abroad?   A view from within – Diaspora mobilisation As our previous policy briefs show, diaspora associations and NGOs are placed at the interface between institutional responses and often vulnerable communities. The COVID-19 pandemic posed challenges not only to institutions and their capacity to effectively manage a global crisis with multiple facets (healthcare provision, financial, social etc.) but also tested the organisational capabilities of civic and community (diaspora) associations that often acted as first responders in cases of social and economic upheaval. In the UK the issues compounded by the pandemic reflected more general socio-economic trends: rising unemployment, sharp decline in revenue or household income, housing problems, increasing reports of domestic violence etc. Nevertheless, the structural uncertainties facing more vulnerable segments of the (Romanian) diaspora community were exacerbated by the lack of access to social/employment benefits, language barriers, employment conditions and in a number of extreme cases, work exploitation. Gauging the preparedness and response effectiveness in addressing such multifaceted issues proves challenging especially with incomplete statistical data. However, a series of focus groups we recently conducted with diaspora organisations and volunteer networks in the UK that mobilised in support of vulnerable groups revealed the impact upon Romanian communities in different regions, as well as the challenges facing the diaspora associative ecosystem which saw most organisations acting with limited resources and outreach capabilities.[20] A revealing aspect of such extended interviews has been the outcome of interactions with both UK and homeland institutions in forging solutions to the crisis, and the levels of support received.   Furthermore, an online session we conducted with both Romanian institutions and diaspora associations across three host countries representative of the Romanian diaspora, enabled us to identify and categorise perceptions of risks and vulnerabilities during COVID-19 and to forge pathways towards a more integrated transnational approach to cooperation – concerted action as an effective response. The project is still in its infancy and results are yet to show, but its long-term outlook and purposeful exchange are a promising start. In effect, embedded participation permitted a more granular appraisal of underlying issues facing the diasporic ecosystem, with its architectures of cooperation and communication, as well as trust-building between Romanian communities abroad and (homeland) institutions. If anything, the pandemic re-actualised the necessity for new forms of legitimacy in the rapport between institutions and the (Romanian) diaspora, based on palpable results and contributions towards the community as indicators of representativity. This is not to say that opportunistic dynamics did not occur. On the contrary, along with recurring sets of problems affecting the livelihoods of Romanians abroad, the pandemic equally exacerbated exploitative tendencies, from organisations seeking to benefit from the precarious circumstances of those rendered vulnerable, often by syphoning public money to deliver services for which they are unprepared or unqualified, to criminal networks engaging in human trafficking and modern-day slavery.   In the UK, drawing upon the grassroots experience of diaspora organisations and local charities (with groups at risk), immediate destitution (involving homelessness) was one of, if not the main issue disproportionately affecting Romanian communities. Amid the general lockdown and ensuing emergency legislation, the British government made provisions against evictions as well as for housing the homeless in temporary hostels or hotels[21]. However, with businesses shutting down, and millions losing their jobs, a new wave of homelessness plagued the country, particularly affecting those working in the hospitality industry, on zero-hour contracts or no contract at all. In many cases, and with no tenancy agreements, those subletting from private landlords were not legally covered by the government’s temporary ban against evictions. Moreover, they were equally unable to access any of the benefit schemes set in place by the British government. Overcrowded hostels attest to the extent of the crisis, with many placed on waiting lists and hence, deprived of shelter. Once in temporary accommodation, (some hostels catering for East-Europeans, depending on the region), tensions may still escalate within a shared environment and with limited capacity for a case by case provision of social assistance. Particularly striking was a caseworker’s testimonial about the many difficulties encountered. Families had to share communal spaces with those plagued by addictions and prone to violent behaviour; consequently, it has been very hard to interfere in family dynamics, and cases of domestic violence. Sudden financial uncertainties acted as triggers for violence and in such circumstances, it was extremely difficult to communicate, in absence of sustained psychological counselling that may (or may not) have alleviated a violent escalation. The multifaceted assistance required in such situations (legal, social, employment related, psychological) surpassed the limited resources and logistical capacity available for temporary housing. Moreover, charities and associations themselves faced a shortage of personnel due to reductions in operational costs, although volunteer networks, both established and ad-hoc, did respond to some of the mounting needs (mobile food banks, donations etc.).   Such vulnerabilities are intricately related. Further testimonials attest to the difficulties in applying for benefits, in absence of a contractual blanket, which left many unable to self-sustain. Furlough schemes for those without a legal basis or on zero-hour contracts were extremely difficult to access, if not impossible.[22] In such instances, dependency on donations, raising the funds within the community for otherwise costly repatriation flights (though flight operators made some exceptions for extreme cases) remained the only option. Under pressure and facing myriad uncertainties, many receiving assistance from associations in applying for benefits did not properly understand the nature and conditionalities attached to social aid schemes (for instance, actively looking for a job). The same lack of understanding regarding work rights coupled with opportunistic and predatory practices paved the way towards protracted exploitation. As testimonials indicate, because of the pandemic the charities’ outreach has been limited hence the artificial drop in labour abuse reporting. However, the extent of modern slavery and its impact upon Romanian and East European communities by and large are yet to show.   In the provision of sustained humanitarian aid, diaspora associations, charities and volunteer networks in UK and across Europe did mobilise promptly and displayed more willingness to cooperate in an environment otherwise guided by mistrust. However, a lack of direction and capacity in terms of harmonising or even observing basic procedures for screening and investigating social cases or applications led to a general sense of confusion and at times, conflict, no matter how well intentioned the volunteers may have been. Moreover, the auditing of cashflows from donations was extremely poor or absent altogether, eroding the legitimacy of those acting in support of vulnerable groups. Although experiences vary, most diaspora associations whom we interviewed identified the lack of coordination as a serious vulnerability. This invariably widened the gap between community needs and available services, which often led to a duplication of efforts instead of a coordinated response. In a set of more benign consequences, but with serious implications, was and continues to be the backlog in the processing of (identity) documents by homeland authorities.   In an unfortunate series of events, the Romanian Consulate in London not only closed its doors to the public as dictated by the COVID restrictions, but also decided not to reopen its long-standing offices (planning to move operations to a new address). A temporary office running from the premises of the Romanian Institute came as a weak and insufficient compensatory move for the general public, given that the waiting time for rescheduled appointments exceeded four months. This particularly affects applications for Settlement Schemes in the advent of Brexit, with a valid form of ID and NINO (National Insurance Number) pivotal for a successful application. Since 2007 more than 1.2 million Romanians have registered for a NINO, even with the odd missing percentage of those having chosen to leave the UK in the meantime (see Graph 5, below). However, there is still a large number of Romanian nationals bound to require identity papers at any given time and with the HMRC having suspended the issue of NINOs,[23] the most vulnerable segment of the community was left stranded with no support from any authority.   Graph 5 - National Insurance numbers allocated to adult Romanians   To complicate matters further, the backlog in processing applications (for identity documents) also affects the ability to vote in the next parliamentary elections (set for December 2020), adding to a general sense of uncertainty and frustration shared by many Romanians abroad.[24]   A lack of transparency whether it concerned the handling of budgets, communication or delivery of services has long been a symptom of unstandardised organisational practices and operational modes. Most diaspora associations across Europe and in the UK do not have procedures in place for an effective crisis management, which leads to disparate initiatives with low impact when it comes to addressing the grievances of the disenfranchised. As our analysis shows, without targeted institutional support and funding aimed at bolstering the organisational capacity of diaspora associations, the rift will continue to widen.[25] It is not necessarily a matter of resource availability (i.e. funding) but rather the capability of accessing those resources, through projects tailored to community needs, both in countries of residence and the homeland. Moreover, as one testimonial aptly states, ‘there is a persistent lack of cohesion and will to build real communities rather than islands of self-praise and self-worth, a dynamic that can and has been easily manipulated depending on the political context (…) Moreover, most Romanian communities in the UK are siloed and do not integrate (or seek to integrate) with existing communities, thus depriving themselves of existing help, when needed’.   Liaison with institutions in response to the crisis – Forging a common path With regard to institutional responses, most associations reported an efficient interaction, rapport and communication with UK institutions and local organisations / charities, due to a more proactive stance.[26] Factors such as availability, transparency in the management of public relations, prompt dissemination of relevant information (in Romanian which improved accessibility), as well as a results-oriented outlook, enabled a swifter mobilisation across a variety of topics: work rights and cases of exploitation, social assistance, provision of aid, and in some cases repatriation. Nevertheless, given the sizeable demography and geographic dispersion of Romanian communities across the UK, there is a persistent need for a more granular institutional appraisal of the Romanian diaspora, for better tailored policy responses.[27]   On the other hand, homeland institutional responses occurred with variable degrees of support, disproportionately dependent on the nature of already formed (personal/political) interrelations. The weak or inconsistent liaison between institutions and Romanian communities abroad attests to a lack of coordination, which similarly affects the diaspora associative environment (how Romanians abroad associate and cooperate). For years on end, practices of patronage, with conferred support dependent on political loyalties (politicisation) not only eroded associative dynamics abroad but also institutional continuity at home. Nevertheless, some positive developments can be observed in the distribution of funding from Romanian institutions for diaspora-related projects, with significantly less tolerance for political favouritism and more proactive engagement with diaspora communities. To some extent, this helped diversify the portfolio of projects (applications) from diaspora associations, particularly civic ones, usually less inclined to apply for state funding because of bureaucratic and political hurdles. Although this indicates a positive trend it is simply not enough. The issue at stake is the institutions’ capacity to sustain continuity in both policy and practice – continuity that withstands political change. Gradually building a competent administrative apparatus through substantive reforms could be a stepping-stone in shedding old practices.   Diaspora associations involved in providing aid or counselling also reported disjointed communication or even lack of, especially when it came to delivering real-time information from the field. Apparently, there was low institutional appetite for an evidence-based appraisal, with almost no public authority (from Romania) pre-emptively offering support or asking to be informed/briefed on the situation of vulnerable groups stranded abroad and facing immediate destitution. Nevertheless, and depending on the caseload most associations reported that the Romanian Consulate in London generally responded to requests for assistance. Another negative facet in the interaction with home country institutions, was a perceived sense of inadequacy stemming from diaspora MPs, those who purport to represent the interests of Romanian communities abroad in the Parliament. In the UK, diaspora organisations described a lack of interest and engagement during the pandemic, with almost no MP asking to be briefed or informed on the dire state of those facing immediate destitution. This ‘appalling passivity’ is particularly unfair given the impassioned discourses and sundry promises delivered on the campaign trail. Integrating diaspora expertise in public consultations as well as in policy and decision-making practices has long been a fixture in public discourse, though it never quite seems to materialise.   Moreover, in the empowerment of some entities over others in generating points of contact with the community, but without transparent indicators (such as an association’s legal status, level of acceptance / degree of representation within the community, its capacity to trace cashflows from donations and the general handling of finances), homeland institutions (with some exceptions) widened the space of mistrust and uncertainty. It is as much a process failure as one emanating from institutional (mis)perceptions and attitudes towards the Romanian diaspora. Some of these issues are acknowledged by homeland representatives and public administrators themselves, particularly how a long-lasting, intensive politicisation led to a deep fragmentation, but it is also noticeable that there has been a lack of concerted action. The nominal acknowledgment of such issues has been welcomed by community leaders abroad, but there is a shared sense that discursive artifices cannot replace institutional accountability. An improper understanding of the myriad risks and vulnerabilities affecting an overwhelming proportion of Romanians living and working abroad crosses institutional borders and is amply shown in the proliferation of organised crime networks and human trafficking as malign forms of exploitation.   Nevertheless, we conducted an online session concerning mobilisation in the context of COVID-19, attended by public authorities and diaspora representatives from community and civic associations abroad. This enabled us to categorise commonalities as well as differences in perceptions towards the crisis. Figure 1 (below) outlines common positions from institutions and diaspora associations concerning suggested actions as a way forward and across a variety of topics. Figure 2 summarises nuanced perceptions of risks and vulnerabilities both systemic and compounded by the pandemic. The main objective of these online sessions was to identify commonalities of actions and interests, not only in addressing the immediate effects of the pandemic, but also in forging long-term solutions with the hope of redefining the relationship between the diaspora and homeland institutions.   This was a step forward towards digitalised communication and we were content to notice more openness from public authorities towards constructive engagement with diaspora communities. There is hope that in the near future the diaspora, through expertise and the grassroots experience of frontline community leaders, will bolster the policy and decision-making capacities of homeland institutions, thus strengthening the impact and legitimacy of their policy actions. Strategically aligning the objectives of both civil society and government so as to better respond to crises and emerging challenges is a scope in and of itself. This cannot occur in absence of constructive criticism, informed analyses, and transparent communication.     Reducing the gap between the acknowledgment of such issues and actual implementation no matter how complex, appears to be the way forward. Digitalisation, particularly for a country like Romania that builds its brand around technological capabilities, becomes an imperative. Perhaps, one optimistic facet is that the pandemic may have hastened this process. The reintegration of those who returned, by improving access to education, the labour market and other opportunities or incentives that may enable them to contribute is yet another challenge.[28] What also seems to fall through the net is the case of Romanian children born in the UK. In the context of Brexit, a world ravaged by a pandemic and governments that have no policies of dealing with second generation, dual citizens, they are at great risk of growing up with no identity or civic attainment, in a vacuum left unaddressed.[29]   A data-driven, transparent approach to diaspora engagement would enable home and host country institutions alike to become more informed of the actual circumstances facing Romanian communities. Stepping out of the (institutional) comfort zone and discussing the multifaceted impact of the pandemic not only on the diaspora but also on its contributions might go some way towards reducing (just about) some of the impending uncertainties. Of interest to policy and decision makers at home and abroad, could be the significantly reduced level of remittances sent from abroad and how this would impact the national economy on the backdrop of shrinking budgets.   Dispelling the uncertainties that plagued those already uprooted from abroad because of immediate destitution should form the corollary of future diaspora related strategies, at least by opening a truthful conversation about the vulnerabilities that overwhelm communities abroad. To this end, better coordination between homeland and host country institutions across a variety of topics, first and foremost by addressing the malign cross-border forms of exploitation and taking concerted action towards alleviating this plight would only counter the protracted mistrust in the institutional body. The diaspora is strategically placed to mediate such a process.   Andra-Lucia Martinescu is pursuing a PhD in International Relations at University of Cambridge and is a research fellow with the Foreign Policy Centre. She is co-founder and coordinator of The Diaspora Initiative, a research network focused on mapping the Romanian diaspora, and a pioneering project aimed at providing strategic insight for transnational diaspora initiatives.   Alina Balațchi is co-founder of the association Romanian Women in the UK and has been actively involved in the grassroots experience of diaspora communities (in the UK) since 2004. Alina is currently pursuing a PhD in Diaspora Studies at the National School for Political Science (SNSPA) in Romania, focusing on second generation UK-based Romanian diaspora.   [1] Ro Insider, Coronavirus: President asks Romanians living abroad not to come to the country for Easter, Romania Insider, March 2020, https://www.romania-insider.com/iohannis-diaspora-eastern-return-march-2020 [2] Matthew Holroyd, The region with twice as many coronavirus cases as anywhere else in Romania, Euro News, April 2020, https://www.euronews.com/2020/04/10/the-region-with-twice-as-many-coronavirus-cases-as-anywhere-else-in-romania [3] Regional directorates for public health now a frontline in battling the virus can be deemed a weakness given that those in charge were appointed to such positions without a transparent, competitive or competence-based application process. In fact, a great many lack the minimal (medical or public health) background required for such positions. [4] Paraphrased from Romanian; the account is available on social media and can be accessed in Romanian on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mihai.marginean.12/posts/10220175901601737 [5] A comparison with Italy, particularly the Lombardy region is available at: Alison Mutler, Romania’s ‘Lombardy’: How a small Romanian region got so badly infected by the coronavirus, RFE/RL, March 2020, https://www.rferl.org/a/romania-s-lombardy-how-a-small-romanian-region-got-so-badly-infected-by-the-coronavirus/30520630.html [6] Romania is amongst the member states with the lowest public expenditure on healthcare within the EU. A more detailed overview can be accessed at: Romania: Health Care & Long-Term Care Systems, European Commission, October 2016, https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/file_import/joint-report_ro_en_2.pdf [7] Alina Eftimie, Senator from Basescu’s party, attack on Romanians coming from the Diaspora: There are people who work illegally, Media Fax, March 2020, https://www.mediafax.ro/politic/senator-din-partidul-lui-basescu-atac-la-romanii-care-vin-din-diaspora-sunt-oameni-care-muncesc-la-negru-18994392 [8] A zero-hour contract is a type of contract between an employer and a worker according to which the employer is not obliged to provide any minimum working hours and the worker is not obliged to accept any work offered. [9] Some 40,000 Romanians work as 24 -hour carers in Austria alone. An account of their livelihoods can be accessed here: Paula Erizanu, Stranded or shunned: Europe’s migrant workers caught in no-man’s land, The Guardian, April 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/16/stranded-or-shunned-europes-migrant-workers-caught-in-no-mans-land [10] Romania’s Labour Minister (2019) made a public appeal and launched an advertising campaign for Romanian workers to return home from abroad, with a promise of one million jobs awaiting upon repatriation. Analysis available in English at: Chris Choi, Romanian workers go home – says Romania, ITV, October 2019, https://www.itv.com/news/2019-10-11/romanian-workers-go-home-says-romania  [11] Romanians returning from European hotspots were initially asked to self-isolate at home upon filling and signing a compliance form. [12] The diaspora series can be accessed at: Andra-Lucia Martinescu, Understanding the Romanian Diaspora: A Strategically Important Network, FPC, November 2019, https://fpc.org.uk/understanding-the-romanian-diaspora-a-strategically-important-network/ & Andra-Lucia Martinescu, Understanding the Romanian Diaspora, FPC, February 2019, https://fpc.org.uk/understanding-the-romanian-diaspora/ [13] Andreea Pora, Between 200,500 and 950,500 people entered Romania “escaped” from quarantine and isolation. Tested between 0.82% - 3.29%, Radio Europa Libera Romania, March 2020, https://romania.europalibera.org/a/%C3%AEntre-200-500-%C8%99i-950-500-de-persoane-intrate-%C3%AEn-rom%C3%A2nia-au-sc%C4%83pat-de-carantin%C4%83-%C8%99i-izolare-testa%C8%9Bi-%C3%AEntre-0-82---3-29-/30499768.html (available in Romanian). [14] Analysis of disease control measures enforced by the Romanian government can be accessed at: Coronavirus in Romania: PM announces harsher penalties for those who help spread Covid-19, Romania Insider, March 2020, https://www.romania-insider.com/coronavirus-romania-penalties-disease-control [15] Hale, Thomas, Sam Webster, Anna Petherick, Toby Phillips, and Beatriz Kira (2020). Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker, Blavatnik School of Government. Data use policy: Creative Commons Attribution CC BY standard. [16] Mostly from Eastern Europe, particularly Romania, Bulgaria but also Poland; For UK: Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and Department of Health and Social Care, Coming to the UK for seasonal agricultural work on English farms, Government, July 2020, https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coming-to-the-uk-for-seasonal-agricultural-work-on-english-farms [17] Editorial staff, Video 2000 people crowd in the parking lot in front of Cluj Airport to go to work in Germany / Explanations of the Airport management and the County Council, G4 Media, April 2020, https://www.g4media.ro/aproape-video-2000-de-oameni-se-inghesuie-in-parcarea-din-fata-aeroportului-din-cluj-sa-plece-la-munca-in-germania-explicatiile-conducerii-aeroportului.html [18] The plight of Romanian seasonal workers in Germany has been investigated by Deutsche Welle and can be accessed at: Germany: Romanian workers reveal dire conditions at slaughterhouses, Deutsche Welle, https://www.dw.com/en/germany-meat-industry-conditions/a-54033187 [19] Dr Roxana Bărbulescu, Seasonal harvest workers during Covid-19, UK in Changing Europe, June 2020, https://ukandeu.ac.uk/seasonal-harvest-workers-during-covid-19/# [20] We are grateful to the openness and purposeful contributions these associations selflessly bring to diaspora communities abroad. In the UK to name but a few: Work Rights Centre, Link Luton, Law Centres Network, East European Resource Centre, Romanian Women in the UK, DOR – Romanian Diaspora UK (Rezist WMW, Midlands). We equally acknowledge their valuable contributions to this analysis and future studies. Special thanks to Sorina Stallard (DOR UK) for her insightful comments. [21] No longer in effect as of September 21st, 2020. [22] An explanation of what furlough schemes mean to both employers and employees is available at: Eleanor Lawrie, Job Support Scheme: How is furlough changing? BBC, September 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/explainers-52135342 [23] Due to Covid-19 restrictions the issuing of NINOs has been temporarily suspended, with the exception of those granted a work visa prior to arriving in the UK, and whose applications could be validated with the Home Office. For UK/EU/EEA citizens who haven’t interacted with the Home Office, under normal circumstances, their identity and right to work would have been validated in a face to face interview, a process now suspended. [24] Particularly after a conflicted presidential election in 2019 which saw Romanians in the diaspora able to vote for as many as 3 days in a row. [25] Soon to be published by Foreign Policy Centre, a collaborative project mapping the Romanian diaspora ecosystem, its interactions and impact in the United Kingdom. The project received a grant from the Department for Romanians Abroad (Romania), which we welcomed as a step forward in delivering knowledge and expertise for more informed diaspora engagement policies and strategies. [26] Amongst which the local councils, the GLAA (Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority) etc. [27] So far, the Romanian diaspora has been lumped/assimilated with other diaspora communities in local council schemes, which may not reflect the size of the population, its specificities and level of representation. [28] Most children attended school abroad and are completely unfamiliar with the Romanian educational system or have the language aptitudes required to perform. [29] With the national UK census coming up in the following month it would be interesting to see if the British government will explore dual nationality citizenship, so far, no statistics being publicly available. [post_title] => Understanding the Romanian Diaspora: Diaspora mobilisation during COVID-19 [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => understanding-the-romanian-diaspora-diaspora-mobilisation-during-covid-19 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-11-03 19:55:51 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-11-03 18:55:51 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://fpc.org.uk/?p=5053 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 4220 [post_author] => 60 [post_date] => 2019-11-04 15:52:02 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-11-04 15:52:02 [post_content] =>

The Political Geography of In-betweenness

There is often a complex relationship between Diasporas and their homelands. This issue was previously examined in the first paper of the ‘Understanding the Romanian Diaspora’ series,[1] particularly explaining how civic activism increasingly shapes the organisation of Romanian communities abroad. Surfacing in response to social and political dynamics affecting the home country such forms of political mobilisation are only beginning to shape diasporic identities. Protests across Europe brought to the forefront the civic and political demands and aspirations of those who decided to migrate towards better economic opportunities, or simply, where stability helped them build more manageable livelihoods, comparatively free from uncertainty. The effects of this widespread mobilisation echoed transnationally, and helped internationalise otherwise localised, domestic issues.

During the 2019 European elections (and national referendum on anti-corruption laws),[2] as Romanians yet again queued for hours on end outside embassies expecting to cast their ballot (a great many did not vote)[3], I was frequently asked about more viable alternatives to the long and frustrating wait (voting by post, for example). Why were there so few voting stations across the country? Were Romanian authorities oblivious to the turnout? Was the poor organisation intentional, with bureaucratic hurdles deliberately imposed so as to hamper the process? Unaccustomed to such exasperating voting practices other citizens were baffled by our democratic enthusiasm. Almost every passer-by asked if the turnout was to be attributed to the Communist, authoritarian legacy, with people now eager to exercise a previously denied constitutional right. Such instances always make for interesting conversations because they open host societies to political, historical or even cultural realities, which in absence of transnational mobility would have remained peripheral. They also show how host societies tend to perceive and understand the multifaceted political contexts in which Diasporas are anchored, in relation to the state of origin, but also as a strategic constituency within countries of destination. Voting extended the participative space beyond the homeland into the very fabric of host societies, but perhaps more insightful to external audiences was the way in which the (voting) process itself was sanctioned and conducted by Romanian authorities.

The mismanagement of polling stations abroad amply demonstrated how Romanian state institutions and a government captured by a ruling, but largely contested coalition[4] wilfully acted to disenfranchise this foreign-resident segment of the population. It also showed how homeland institutions tend to perceive the diaspora, thus exposing a fraught relationship and amplifying a tension that at the same time consolidated the political and civic identity of those abroad. Asked about the failure to foresee such a substantial turnout, the Minister of Foreign Affairs[5] deflected accusations by stating that ‘nobody knows how many Romanians live abroad’.[6] Over the years, there has been no consistent, institutionally-driven effort to gather data or engage in a nation-wide, informed conversation about migration. The statement is also revealing, because it epitomises a deeply entrenched institutional bias that governs official attitudes towards the diaspora. The more the diaspora becomes instrumental to regime change, demanding political accountability, the more officially sanctioned discourses curtail its actual influence. Consequently, lacking a knowledge basis, homeland engagement policies mostly stem from transitory, politicised interpretations of what the diaspora constitutes.

Yet, the rift between homeland institutional narratives and the shared, transnational reality of the many who decided to migrate persists. The fracture is also visible in Romania’s pivotal strategy towards its diaspora, which centres on repatriation (relocation to the home country). The diaspora’s supposed return is incentivised through different schemes of relocation, spanning from business opportunities and tax rebates to funding for start-ups. There may be some nominal benefits attached to this, but even so there are no official statistics to help us gauge the effectiveness or merit of such policies. Despite the much-invoked nostalgia for the homeland, often subject to opinion polls and emotional populist pleas, structural impunity and systemic corruption continues to socially disempower and drive people away. As mentioned in our previous brief,[7] the diaspora is perceived as a financial resource, and depending on electoral cycles, either as a threat or an opportunity. This myopic view seeps into official narratives and political actions.

It is also reminiscent of the Streetlight effect, an observational bias that ensues when individuals only search for something where it is the easiest to look. In the same way, institutional actors (in Romania) opt to perceive migration as temporary, and the diaspora through the benign prism of its ethno-cultural identity. Strategies of repatriation appeal to this affective component of belonging, the return to the homeland, without much consideration to the root causes that drive the ‘exodus’ in the first place. Diaspora engagement policies also lack an informed basis, a knowledge gap that became evident when we started researching the phenomenon.

If migration is considered to be temporary then entire spaces of exclusion emerge, with home institutions negating the capacity or the will of certain segments of the diaspora to fully integrate and partake in the political and civic lives of their host societies. Evidently, not much is being done in terms of assisting with the process of integration,[8] or even encouraging political participation, apart from sporadic volunteer-based initiatives, both underfunded and localised. Consequently, despite its considerable demographic presence across Europe (but also North America) the diaspora’s transnational impact, reach and influence remain limited. The Romanians’ representation and participation in the politics of host countries are equally modest.  

However, the two spaces inhabited by the diaspora, that of origin and of destination, are not mutually exclusive, but profoundly intertwined. As we have often witnessed in the many instances of mobilisation abroad, homeland-oriented politics are very much a reality lived and breathed within host societies; and perhaps more importantly, a reality that is continually mediated and conveyed through dialogue, albeit informally. Diasporic advocacy thus creates a hybrid political geography, an ‘in-betweenness’, where identity and agency are constantly negotiated. However, protests as repertoires of social action[9] are, in Charles Tilly’s words, cycles of contention. Civic mobilisation does impact governance in both countries of origin and destination, but it essentially remains an act of contestation, since institutions may or may not take heed, as is often the case.

The Strategic Dimension of Diaspora Communities

This is precisely why, we set out to explore new structures of opportunity that could enable a deeper engagement with host societies, by enhancing the civic and political participation of (Romanian) diaspora communities. We also investigate whether the diaspora itself can effectively advance Romanian foreign policy and strategic interests (as a non-state/ transnational actor), and to what extent bilateral relations (between countries of origin and destination) can be mediated through diaspora initiatives. In a nutshell, the upcoming publication and network analysis,[10] examines the strategic dimension of diaspora communities, as a means of bridging civic activism with national interests, pertaining to both the homeland and the countries of residence. This work aims to achieve several objectives.

Firstly, we hope to challenge home country institutional attitudes and induce a strategic shift in policymaking. If repatriation has been the main objective so far, how can we broaden these assumptions to encapsulate other types of diaspora contributions that nonetheless benefit the homeland (through expertise, know-how, work ethos and professional networks to mention but a few)? The institutional willingness to formulate policies beyond the requirement of geographical presence (in the state of origin) and innovatively utilising this vast social capital will certainly pose challenges.

Such a shift would require dismantling the centralised approach and entrenched patronage structures that govern the relationship between state and diaspora. Moreover, inter-institutional coordination, especially integrated funding mechanisms[11] that support capacity building for Romanian associations abroad ought to replace the bureaucratic processes that lack in transparency and hamper initiative. The institutions of external representation (embassies, Romanian cultural centres, etc.) are often passive, thus failing to meet the specific needs of diaspora communities. The preferred mode of engagement is mainly focused on the promotion of cultural and traditional events that, on the long term remain largely inconsequential. The cultural-populist model of engagement promoted by homeland institutions reduces otherwise complex and heterogenous diasporic communities to mere appendages of an ethno-linguistic/religious identity.

This reductionist view from Romanian institutions also confines bilateral dialogue to mandated tropes, official discourses frequently disconnected from the grievances and aspirations of those seemingly represented. It is no wonder then that the voting queues create a more effective space of critical dialogue and exchange with host societies than most government endorsed public diplomacy efforts. How can bilateral dialogues, even the culturally oriented ones, have any meaningful impact in absence of legitimacy? How can diaspora communities wholeheartedly act on behalf of the same homeland institutions that repeatedly curtail its democratic freedoms?  Both aspects require first and foremost engaging in a process of building trust. Therefore, a failure to acknowledge and empower the diaspora as a political, strategic and civic actor, will only perpetuate a sense of disenfranchisement from national aspirations, in both Romania and host countries. Instead, diaspora communities will continue to engage in this dynamic of contestation, attuned to the homeland, through protests and civic mobilisation, but incapable of fully contributing towards its development (from wherever they may be).

Secondly, through our vast mapping study of the Romanian diaspora, we hope to provide an institutional resource for host societies. Although the geographical scope is global, each analysis is tailored to reflect specific online as well as offline interactions in each country of residence. We analyse the different modes of association, the networks that emerge and their impact, whether local, national or transnational. We look into the scope and outreach of Romanian diasporic associations[12] not only in countries of destination but also in relation to the homeland, by examining financing patterns and evaluating the effectiveness of diaspora engagement policies so far. The networked approach also helps us visualise levels of political and civic participation in host societies and thus, the extent to which Romanian communities, access and navigate the structures of opportunity available to them.

Findings from the Network Analysis

Most importantly, we depart from the monolithic view that anchors Diasporas in the emotional rhetoric of identity politics. Our findings show a complex web of interactions, albeit fragmented. The overall network is centralised in its relationship to the home country, particularly with diaspora funding bodies, such as the Ministry for Romanians Abroad. The institutional preference for cultural engagement centred on folklore and traditions is also reflected in the financing trends. Associations purporting to organise culturally themed events have been the main beneficiaries of funding.

We are not dismissing altogether the significance of cultural capital as an instrument for social cohesion (amongst members of the diaspora), as well as public diplomacy. Promoting and preserving the culture, language and traditions of the homeland are indispensable in mediating an understanding of national identity. However, so long as state-sponsored discourses focus exclusively on the cultural dimension to define and structure the relationship between the homeland and the diaspora, then the latter’s de facto influence will remain limited.

The implications are far-reaching. Despite its considerable demographic presence, the diaspora’s associative models so far have had a limited impact. Besides its sporadic political mobilisation, transnational influence remains modest, which could also be attributed to reduced organisational capabilities, low visibility and online presence. The disproportionate interaction with host country institutions and low participation in the public sphere show that diaspora communities are not a fully-fledged political actor. As a consequence, the diaspora’s strategic dimension is yet to be realised. Part of the solution resides in changing the political geography of scope and aspirations. The diaspora is politically and civically anchored in the homeland, but institutions have done little to absorb and utilise its potential. In effect, its capacity to act has been limited to the repertoire of protest and contestation.

These forms of political communication are undoubtedly useful and necessary, but they ought to be expanded. Homeland institutions (so far influenced by the different parties’ priorities and interests) have duplicitously politicised the diaspora, capturing initiatives through patronage, and often weakening the autonomy of diaspora associations by preferentially allocating funding to those most amenable. The centralised network also shows increased dependency on government support, which in turn (and given the circumstances) encourages a tactic of subsistence. As a consequence, since their priorities are misaligned, many diaspora organisations become disengaged from their communities, embroiled instead in a competition for political favours, or the outright syphoning of public funding. Leadership rivalries within and amongst associations further erode legitimacy and discourage participation from public life. The impetus to collaborate or even seek commonalities of interest remains low, and so does the impact. In many instances, diaspora communities tend to perceive associations as an interface with their host societies and public institutions. However, in absence of more structured support, people primarily rely on personal, mutual assistance networks. Provided their priorities are not misaligned, diaspora organisations can and should be viewed as a gateway towards active engagement and participation in the civic and political spheres of host countries, because they are uniquely placed to enable access to these structures of opportunities.

For example, in the UK civic initiatives with a transnational impact (across multiple states or even continents) are more prominent than in other countries. This means that certain associations, even if volunteer-based, seek collaborative projects or partnerships with organisations beyond the UK (and not necessarily with other Romanians). Most diaspora associations in the UK have an online presence (website/social media or both), which fosters better communication and outreach. We found that online presence also increases the frequency of collaborations and partnerships amongst diaspora associations in the same country and beyond. Interactions with government bodies or institutions indicate some degree of participation in the host country’s public life and a more nuanced appraisal of local/national politics. This also demonstrates that communities are significantly more attuned to the structures of opportunity present in their host societies.

The networked approach is not rigid or static, because the diasporic ecosystem, with its association patterns is constantly transforming. Our aim is to render diaspora organisations as well as state institutions more self-reflective, capable of identifying opportunities for engagement with wider publics and building the kind of legitimacy that would foster influence. We hope that with strategic foresight and collective support, we can use the diaspora ecosystem in the UK to build a case study of good practice. Given the current political climate, there is renewed urgency in exploring ways of maximising the diaspora’s relevance in the public sphere, by engaging in a strategic dialogue that could essentially shape the future of bilateral relations between Romania and the UK. Opening such a conversation would also make institutions more cognisant of the diaspora’s political remittances, of how the diaspora can innovatively contribute towards leveraging its countries’ strategic role and international posture.


Contributions by Catalina Moisescu (University of Fribourg).

Research from the Romanian Diaspora project - Funding for Romanian Diaspora Associations 2014-2019 - can be found here: https://public.tableau.com/profile/andra.lucia.martinescu#!/vizhome/RomanianDiasporaProjectsFunding2014-20192/Dashboard1 


[1] Andra-Lucia Martinescu and Rares Burlacu, Understanding the Romanian Diaspora, FPC, February 2019, https://fpc.org.uk/understanding-the-romanian-diaspora/

[2] The Parliament, dominated by the Social Democrats (PSD) voted to selectively amend the judicial system, particularly the code of criminal procedure by lowering sentences for some offences and the statute of limitations. The pervasive aim was to put an end to several corruption investigations and ongoing court cases involving high-ranking politicians and dignitaries (including then PSD leader Liviu Dragnea). Centre-right President Klaus Iohannis called for a non-binding referendum in a bid to combat the government’s (Social Democratic Party - PSD) controversial justice reforms, set to pardon and confer amnesty over graft-related crimes. Voters were asked if the government should be barred from using emergency decrees to change legislation on justice and whether they supported a ban on any amnesty for those convicted of corruption. 85% (including the Romanian diaspora) voted against the government holding such powers.

[3] There are no official statistics as to how many Romanians failed to vote (in the diaspora), but estimates suggest tens of thousands.

[4] A coalition led by the Social Democrats (PSD), which included ALDE (the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats Party) and UDMR (the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania Party). The coalition dissolved in August 2019 leaving PSD in charge of a problematic minority government.

[5] The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was tasked with organising elections abroad; the same Minister (member of ALDE Party) was in charge of the 2014 Presidential elections abroad, which resulted in the same public outrage because of the poor organisation and misallocation of resources.

[6] Translated from Romanian by the authors, original statement available online at: https://www.g4media.ro/ce-stiu-autoritatile-despre-numarul-romanilor-care-traiesc-in-afara-tarii-cea-mai-buna-estimare-vine-de-la-autoritatile-din-tarile-gazda-38-milioane-de-romani.html

[7] Ibid.

[8] Symptomatic of both homeland and at times host-country institutions.

[9] Charles Tilly & Sidney G. Tarrow (2007). Contentious Politics (Boulder CO: Colorado). Passim. Within social movement theory, the term cycles of contention, also referred to as protest cycles or cycles of collective action, traces waves of protest and social mobilisation from their incipient phase to the very end, looking at outcomes, changes in participation and the tactics deployed by the different groups involved in the protest movement.

[10] Soon to be published by Foreign Policy Centre the study analyses the Ecosystem of Romanian diaspora communities in the UK.

[11] An analysis of funding patterns (allocated by the Ministry of Romanians Abroad) for diaspora associations can be accessed here (soon, in English): https://public.tableau.com/views/RADIALFinantareAsociatiiDPRRPStat/Romania?:display_count=y&:origin=viz_share_link; the graph shows which diaspora associations and what type of projects received funding (granted by the Ministry of Romanians Abroad). Based on the approved projects’ scope, we are able to gauge the government’s priorities in its policies of engagement, as well as the countries of residence where the diaspora associations which benefited from funding, are located.

[12] Here we refer to the mostly volunteer based associations created by Romanian diaspora communities and officially registered in the countries of residence. They vary in scope and outreach, with most catering for local Romanian communities, offering legal support upon settlement, organising events and generally enabling socialisation (with varying degrees effectiveness).

[post_title] => Understanding the Romanian Diaspora: A Strategically Important Network  [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => understanding-the-romanian-diaspora-a-strategically-important-network [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-11-03 17:12:26 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-11-03 16:12:26 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://fpc.org.uk/?p=4220 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 3229 [post_author] => 60 [post_date] => 2019-02-21 15:53:25 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-02-21 15:53:25 [post_content] => Diasporas have been researched extensively, in both current and historical contexts. This essay is the first in a series that aims to deliver a fresh perspective by focusing on the complex relationship between homelands and diaspora communities. Bureaucratic and institutional practices in the home country have shaped to certain degrees, at times considerably, how diaspora communities interact, associate and organise themselves abroad. In particular, by examining the Romanian diaspora we can glimpse into larger issues of governance and more specifically, into Romania’s fight against corruption. For over a decade now, the authors of this study have been part of an expansive diaspora. And whilst fully integrated in the societies that have welcomed us and made use of our expertise, we remained committed to bringing about positive change in our home-country. This is precisely what motivated our current project, which explores in-depth how diaspora communities interact, between themselves, with home and/or host country public institutions as well as other entities (i.e. civil society, media and businesses). Moreover, this networked approach (employing Social Network Analysis methodology) helped us visualise the impact and geographical scope of diaspora initiatives worldwide. We believe such an endeavour is relevant in the context of evidence-based policy-making, in both the homeland and countries of residence. By mapping the associative models of diaspora communities, the principles and motivations for their organisation, as well as the scope of their initiatives, the analysis places diasporas at the confluence between the homeland and their host societies. Diasporas should be viewed as a strategic resource, uniquely positioned to benefit from the ever-expanding geographies of interconnectivity, and thus capable of advancing the nation-states’ resources and foreign policy interests, at a transnational level. This introductory brief examines the Romanian diaspora in light of the more recent political events and the widespread civic mobilisation, which demonstrates a shifting diasporic identity. The study also explores the response of home country institutions and the different strategies of engagement that shape diaspora involvement in policy and decision-making processes at home and abroad. We also focus on the Romanian institutions’ perception of diaspora issues and identity, by examining the strategies and state-sponsorship of diaspora organisations. We argue that civic activism is gradually becoming an organising principle for Romanians abroad, largely in response to the political turmoil affecting the home country. The Romanian Diaspora. Aspects of civic mobilisation and political activism Civic mobilisation has been commensurate with a collective perception of the importance of particular issues. In other words, what takes precedence in a nation’s consciousness that makes civic and political activism possible? In the case of Romanians living and working abroad, the fight against corruption at large, or against the constant political meddling in the justice system, has bolstered public dissent and led to widespread civic mobilisation. The impulse to emigrate in the first place is also attributed to the precariousness of home country politics – a lack of stability, of prospects or economic security. Such dynamics are interwoven. On the one hand, Romanians emigrate in search of a stable future, but in most cases, they remain attuned to homeland politics. On the other hand, and quite paradoxically, it has been the same protracted uncertainty of home country politics, public mistrust in institutions, and the past experience of communist dictatorship that made Romanians abroad weary of political involvement and active participation in their host societies. On the 10th of August 2018, diaspora communities organised an anti-corruption protest in Bucharest. Participation was wide and not limited to the diaspora: public intellectuals, members of the opposition, civil society organisations, Romanian citizens at large congregated in Victoria Square (where the Romanian Government is headquartered) to voice dissent against a regime that is perceived to encroach on democratic values, particularly the rule of law. The protest made international headlines also in light of the repressive use of force deployed by security forces (the Gendarmerie) to disperse the crowds. The continued lack of accountability for the events that unfolded on the 10th of August infuriated the court of public opinion, both Romanian and European. The anatomy of this protest is particularly interesting because it indicates a convergence of interests: Romanians in the home country and those abroad hold similar grievances with regard to Romania’s political trajectory. Moreover, the protest and the exposure it received acted to internationalise home country politics. Those who could not mobilise in Bucharest assembled in European capitals in solidarity with the movement at home. We witness a complex dynamic by which diaspora communities export the sets of communitarian values and good governance principles internalised in host societies back into the home country. Thus, a system of political and civic expectations emerges, at a transnational level. Of course, this is not to idealise host societies in their entirety, but rather to emphasise the context of reflexivity, which diaspora communities experience through livelihoods in more developed societies. Invariably, a comparison is drawn in relation to the homeland and the perceived vulnerabilities or disparities (social, economic, political) that drove the decision to emigrate in the first place. Home politics are therefore internalised, stimulated and reshaped through these new experiences and the perpetual aspirations that arise through migration.[1] Homeland Institutions and the Romanian Diaspora Although the mobilisation of Romanians abroad has been significant, particularly in response to the fight against corruption back at home, transnational initiatives[2] stemming from diaspora organisations are relatively modest. In the same vein, political activism remains sporadic, construed as a reaction to political events in the homeland. Our analysis indicates that diaspora associations are less prone to cooperate, partly due to their limited organisational capacity, and lack of online visibility. To a certain extent, the same mistrust in institutions translates into apathy when it comes to formal organisation.  In explaining the weak transnational impact of diaspora initiatives, institutional attitudes towards Romanians abroad, are perhaps the most relevant. The various but largely ineffective engagement policies are characterised by a lack of evidence and publicly available information on the Romanian diaspora. Upon embarking on this research project we became aware of such caveats, particularly the institutional urgency to produce new strategies in absence of an informed basis. Despite having an institutional framework in place, with a Ministry for Romanians Abroad, Presidential Advisors, as well as substantial European funding available for diaspora associations abroad, little has been achieved in terms of addressing this persistent knowledge gap. Moreover, engagement with the diaspora so far mirrored the patronage practices that largely characterise Romanian politics. Funding allocation, administered by the Ministry for Romanians Abroad has often lacked transparency and failed to address the most pressing issues facing communities abroad and the domestic effects of continued migration. We partly attributed this to a persistent cognitive dissonance in how the Romanian diaspora is perceived inside the very institutions that seek to represent its interests. Another issue pertaining to institutional attitudes is that diaspora communities are pre-eminently viewed as a financial resource. Although, financial remittances[3] constitute a significant contribution to the country’s economy, the defective administration and distribution of resources towards the public sector (education, healthcare or infrastructure, for instance) render such cross-border flows almost inconsequential for actual domestic growth. To complicate matters further, domestic authorities advanced a bill proposal (April, 2018) requiring Romanians to provide justifying documents when sending back sums exceeding 2000EUR, despite Romania’s heavy reliance on the steady influx of remittances. This largely attests to the politicisation of diaspora issues within Romanian institutions – if the voting preferences of diaspora communities are clearly not favouring the current government, then the vast bureaucratic apparatus is selectively deployed to suppress dissent, wherever it may stem. The disproportionate funding of events promoting traditions and culture abroad (without any standardised framework of how such events should be organised in the first place) shows that Romanian institutions tend to favour a cultural-populist model for diaspora engagement. Concerning the capacity to access funding, our study shows that many diaspora organisations across different countries are dependent on governmental funding, thus exposing a dynamic by which, associations align their objectives with those elaborated or at times, dictated by Romanian authorities, irrespective of the needs of those communities they aim to serve. This has led to an entrenched patronage system and increased politicisation of diaspora issues. In many cases, these funding patterns led to a mushrooming of diaspora organisations that opportunistically syphon public funding, with the knowledge and tacit consent of domestic public authorities. This is precisely why an evaluation of such practices becomes momentous also within the wider context of anti-corruption measures. We are not completely discarding the role of diasporas in promoting and conducting cultural diplomacy, however, we consider that in the current political and social climate institutional priorities are severely misaligned. More importantly, these state-driven policies had so far negligible impact on strengthening the (political) representation of Romanians abroad, in their homeland and elsewhere. Similar to other CEE (Central Eastern European) and Balkan countries the Romanian diaspora has a significant demographic presence, not only in Europe but also across the globe. Despite this, its organisational capacity remains precarious and Romanians abroad are poorly represented in their host countries. Political representation seems to be equally poor in Romania. With an official estimate of 3.5 million Romanians living abroad, they are represented by only four deputy mandates in the Parliament’s lower house and two senators. Ever-changing electoral procedures have increasingly hampered diaspora voting. The more recent Romanian Presidential elections (2014) saw innumerable queues forming in front of voting stations across Europe (mainly Romanian Embassies and Consulates), diaspora communities waiting for hours on end to cast their ballot. Apparently, not enough voting stations were made available by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (tasked with organising the elections) and a great many did not get a chance to exercise their constitutional right. This failure and lack of institutional accountability fomented dissent and led to an almost unprecedented civic mobilisation. To put this into perspective, political participation, particularly diaspora voter turnout, has been low, in the previous elections not exceeding 9% (abroad). Conclusion This introductory brief aimed to emphasise the many paradoxes that epitomise the relationship between the Romanian state and its diaspora. Such caveats partly stem from a persistent cognitive dissonance, with institutions consistently failing to build the trust needed for a civic-public partnership. Our research showed that Romanian institutions tended to endorse what was perceived as a benign form of diaspora engagement, centred on promoting a specific ethnic-cultural identity abroad. Current state policies largely, albeit intentionally, ignore the civic dimension of diasporic identity. Despite this, civic and political activism increasingly forms an organising basis for diaspora communities. Common themes such as good governance and the fight against corruption have become rallying points for collective mobilisation, at home and abroad. The following briefs shall expand on the networked approach in studying diasporas, as well as on the associative models pursued by Romanian communities living abroad. We believe that mapping the Romanian diaspora is a momentous and necessary endeavour. For the homeland it goes to show the political influence that can be harnessed through activism abroad. Unfortunately, we are yet to witness a constructive institutional response, which aligns policies to make use of this vast social capital abroad. For host societies or countries of residence, the study will hopefully highlight the transnational potential of diaspora communities as an alternative source for more effective, future bilateral engagement. Authors Andra-Lucia Martinescu is currently pursuing a PhD in International Relations with the University of Cambridge, focusing on geopolitical developments in the Black Sea region. She also completed an Mphil with the same department, analysing the transformation of national security doctrines in the post-Soviet space. She has extensive experience in operational and strategic research having worked for the British Army, RAND Europe and the Royal United Services Institute for Security and Defence (RUSI, London) in various research and analysis capacities. She is currently an independent consultant, focusing on civil society projects, diasporas as well as public policy and good governance. She is an FPC Research Fellow. Rares Burlacu is a doctoral candidate at the École Nationale d’Administration Publique in Québec (Canada), focusing on Canadian digital diplomacy in relation to the EU and China. From 2009 he has been teaching high-level courses in public diplomacy at ENAP. Rares currently coordinates Romania's rotating EU Presidency in Canada through diaspora initiatives. His publications can also be accessed on HuffPost Quebec, La Presse and Le Devoir. [1] Ruxandra Trandafoiu (2013). Diaspora Online. Identity Politics and Romanian Migrants (New York, Oxford: Berghahn Books). P.: 17; [2] By transnational initiatives we refer to those actions that benefit diaspora communities across multiple countries of residence, as well as the homeland. Such initiatives stem from close cooperation/coordination between diaspora organisations and have a transnational impact. [3] World Bank reports 4.94 billion USD for 2017 in financial remittances. [post_title] => Understanding the Romanian Diaspora [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => understanding-the-romanian-diaspora [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-11-03 17:12:06 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-11-03 16:12:06 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://fpc.org.uk/?p=3229 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) )
Articles
21/02/19

Understanding the Romanian Diaspora

Diasporas have been researched extensively, in both current and historical contexts. This essay is the first in a series that aims to deliver a fresh perspective by focusing on the…

Article by Andra-Lucia Martinescu and Rares Burlacu
Publications

Understanding the Romanian Diaspora

Pioneering research initiative mapping the Romanian diaspora in the UK.

10/11/20

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