Wednesday, 10 September 2014 00:00

Discrimination against Eastern Europeans: still a European attitude

Written by Ana Maria Ducuta
Photo: John Nakamura Remy;  Licence CC-BY 2.0 
Many Europeans are still fighting against discrimination


The concepts of "integration" and "otherness" have been interpreted variously in EU countries, with differing perspectives shaped by local cultural and political contexts. Policies against discrimination have been avidly pursued in an attempt to make immigrants feel home wherever they go in Europe. But social exclusion is always lurking. Ana Maria Ducuta, a Romanian student of Comparative Politics and contributor to the Centre for European Policy Evaluation, gives her personal experience of discrimination and reflects on immigration and related EU actions.


Even in our modern Europe, xenophobia is still a plague. Eastern Europeans such as Bulgarians or Romanians who go abroad are regular victims of xenophobic feelings. Eastern Europeans are regarded by some Western societies as barbarians and in some cases criminals too. On many occasions when I went abroad, after people got to know my Romanian friends and me, they have affirmed "we are good people despite the fact that we are Romanians" and that "we know more foreign languages than they ever will". You never get to understand the harmful nature of xenophobic stereotypes until you are faced with a real situation in which you are made to feel unwelcome before you have done or even said a thing.


In some moments while abroad, such as at workshops, conferences or youth gatherings, I have been asked how Romanians deal with the high rate of delinquency and crimes, or whether it is safe to go out on the streets of Bucharest after 8pm. Others have asked me if I used to live alone and whether I intend to move to a safe western country, where civilisation is the key word. I listened in awe every time I heard references to the grotesque way we live "here" in Romania. I could see the pity foreigners felt upon encountering an apparently good girl with the misfortune to have been born "in the wrong place". So, each and every time, I take a deep breath and embark on an explanation from the very basic beginning: that we are not thieves or criminals, that Bucharest is much safer city than many western European capitals, that Romania has given to the world the inventors of sonic drilling, the insulin injection, jet engines, the pen or the cholera vaccine, not to mention artists, writers and scientists whose work has been crucial in the development of art or medicine.

I could see the pity foreigners felt upon encountering an apparently good girl with the misfortune to have been born "in the wrong place".


Many jobs were inaccessible for Bulgarians and Romanians up to January 2014 and many rights immigrants should benefit from are still lacking at the level of governmental policies. In 2007, when Romania and Bulgaria became EU member states, the UK and eight fellow EU countries placed seven-year long restrictions on how many Romanian and Bulgarian citizens could enter their countries and the kind of jobs they could take. The principle of free movement of people, one of the cornerstones of European integration and citizenship, was undermined and only a small number of people from the two Eastern countries were able to move across EU, with many of them fighting xenophobic attitudes as they arrived in fellow EU countries.


Most reports and financial analyses have nevertheless shown that migrants have a net positive benefit to the economy. For instance, a great number of studies have shown how much Eastern European immigrants add to the UK economy compared to how much they take out. Their contribution to the UK economy is also made via taxes and because they constitute a much younger labour force than average British workers. In addition, an analysis elaborated this year by the Confederation of Danish Employers on the effect of migrant workers on the country’s economy has highlighted how much workers from Poland and Romania benefit the Danish state, paying more taxes than they receive benefits. And a World Bank report for Europe and Central Asia entitled "Migration and remittances: Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union" concludes that migration creates many new possibilities for receiving countries, while remittances have a positive impact on long-term economic growth. Immigrants who send money to their families back home will be more likely to actively contribute to the economies of the countries they work in and will thus ensure a smoother flow of goods and capital.


Yet it is not easy to settle down in another country. Migration can expose workers to difficult situations such as relocation and discrimination: that's why receiving countries ought to take appropriate measures and coordinate policies, ensuring that migrant workers get a job through legal channels. Instead, most of the Western countries show little concern for migrants' wellbeing. They must implement more coherent policies in order to have migrant workers' rights respected. After all, it would bring some advantages to hosting countries too.


Romanian students
Photo: Costel Slincu; License CC-BY 2.0 
National Day: students are recreating a map of Romania's borders using their bodies



The clichés and stereotypes one has to endure while being in a foreign country, in fact, have the potential to affect the hosting country, as its migrant workers could suffer from being excluded and treated badly: they may get involved in illegal activities or work less because of emotional and psychological instability and pressure. But blaming others – in this case immigrants – for all problems that are inherent to any society is a fault of our times: we don’t have the time and we don’t want to take the time to listen before we misjudge and criticize someone.


As an Eastern European I am extremely proud of my history, my culture and my people. It is true that sometimes Romanians tend to have a short temper but I think it’s a common fault they share with other European countries. Eastern Europe has always been the torn child of Europe and somehow the child that has gone through bloody wars (Bosnian War, Kosovo War) and revolutions (fall of communism in countries such as Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania). It has always been held accountable for its "rebel" side but it comes a time when we have to accept history and learn from it. Only by accepting who we are we can overcome what haunts us. Migrant workers from Eastern Europe may not be haunted by their history, but they certainly go to work abroad hoping for a less corrupted social system, a better-equipped welfare state and a more job security. They will be paid less than western Europeans and may not get the job they aim for, but they will surely do their best, just as they have been taught to do.


Last modified on Saturday, 08 November 2014 17:01

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