Thursday, 4 April 2013

Why have a blog about them?

This blog is about giving the two-fingered salute - in the nicest possible way - to David Cameron, Ukip and other scaremongers who have been trying to whip up a frenzy of fear and loathing towards the Romanians who are apparently planning to over-run dear old Blighty like a plague of locusts in 2014 once the employment controls that limit their freedom to work - and claim social security benefits - in Britain are lifted.  To quote from BBC news reports published respectively on 17th and 28th January: 

'[Think tank Migration Watch predicts that] about 50,000 people from Romania and Bulgaria will come to the UK every year when restrictions are lifted next year.'

 'Since 2007, Bulgarians and Romanians have been able to come to the UK as self-employed businessmen or women, or as students, provided they do not seek benefits or any other employment.  But the end of existing controls will give Bulgarian and Romanians who want to work in the UK the same rights as foreign nationals from the other 24 EU nations.'

On 30th March, The Guardian reported that the EU's Employment Commissioner, Laszlo Andor, had 'launched a ferocious counterattack against David Cameron over immigration saying his talk of benefit tourism and a something-for-nothing culture among EU migrants is unintelligent and risks stoking "knee-jerk xenophobia."'

I'm British by birth, so why am I getting involved?

Because for the past 20 years I have spent a lot of time exploring Romania and meeting Romanians.  It is hard to think of any moment during those trips when I did not receive the most wonderful welcome: people made me feel at home practically everywhere I went, and though it would be impossible to repay their generosity in full, this is a small way of showing my gratitude. 

The trouble is it is hard to know where to start.  There are so many fascinating individuals to choose from.  There is my friend Rodica who lives a few miles away and cares for an old lady with dementia.  She comes from Braila where she worked as an HGV driver, she has a cloud of unruly hair and is one of the most extraordinary characters I have ever met: exuberantly extrovert, unbelievably generous and ferociously critical of anyone whom she considers to be a waster.

There is the surgeon from Neamt who treated me for an infected thumb joint in our local hospital last summer, and the builder from Suceava who has done a brilliant renovation job for my friend Tim's house in Belsize Park.

Then there is Alexandru, a facebook friend who writes a blog of his own; Alexandru has lived in Portsmouth for just over a year, is a taxi driver and has paid his way throughout, and resents being lumped together with freeloaders of any kind.

There is Ramona who has founded a new publishing house for Romanian crime fiction translated into English; Mariana who escaped from Romania in 1979 and turned herself into a talented artist; Anca who has created a theatre project for Romanian exiles to share - and assuage - their traumas of living under communism; Serban who was the head of the Royal Fine Art Commission for many years; Daniela, a go-getter who runs fund-raising cultural events for Romanians in Birmingham, and many more.  I know of teachers, engineers, cleaners, journalists, nurses, librarians, historians, electricians, film-makers and musicians.  They are not murky, fly-by-night figures bent on ripping us off, but fully-rounded, decent human beings who could teach the rest of us a thing or ten.    

It would be fun to go further back in time, to find out who the Dacian soldiers were who came to protect Hadrian's Wall from the Picts after the wall was completed in 126 AD.  Roman Dacia, the province they hailed from, covered most of what is now Transylvania.  There are tantalising inscriptions which mention the Dacians in northern England but give little other clues as to their uniqueness as human beings.  And then there are the Vlachs, Latin speaking descendants of the Roman diaspora, who have close ties with Romanians and whose name comes from the same root as the words, Wales and Welsh. 

OK, not all Romanians are angels.  But they do not have a monopoly on crookedness.  I can tell you one thing for sure, though: Frank Timis will not be appearing in my list of admirable Romanians.

Click here to find the Avaaz petition protesting about press discrimination against Bulgarians and Romaniains. 

Here's, a very well-informed and sophisticated forum for Romanians who have come to live and work here. 

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