Christian Sørhaug is an anthropologist within the framework of Telemark Research Institute of Oslo, Norway, an independent institute with expertise in the research of cultural politics. Telemark is the partnership institution within the project “The New Minorities of Bucharest Municipality”, offering support in the research on site of the cultural diversity from the capital of Romania. In the shadows of a garden located in the heart of Bucharest, we spoke with Christian about tolerance, bicycles, minorities and the attractions of Bucharest.
How were you involved in the research of the new minorities from Bucharest?
I take part in the development of methods and techniques for collecting information for students. Until now I used to teach students. It is about approximately 20 students who are involved in the master programmes within the framework of National School of Political and Administrative Studies, entitled the Master of Visual Studies and Society and the Master of Anthropology. They are grouped in teams of two and they go on site in order to identify the new minorities from Bucharest.
How did you both interact?
I interacted extremely well with the students, both in class and on site. I went to the Red Dragon with a team of students. It was very interesting. The Red Dragon is really impressive; there are these enormous buildings, a lot of merchandise, coming into Bucharest. It is an enormous place with so many things that continue to be brought from China in this nexus from where a lot of traders buy them and introduce them on the market. I tried to talk to them, but I was dressed too formally, in such a way that I was mistaken by an inspector, since that day they were under fiscal control. I talked to some guards in exchange. There are not many English speakers over there, but there are Chinese who speak Romanian and they talked to the students.
I was also at the French Institute and I talked to some people. Some other day I went to the unionist march, where the participants were asking for the unification with the Republic of Moldova. The number of participants was not impressive, so I am not aware of the importance of this unification process, but those who were there were very enthusiastic.
What was your impression of Bucharest?
I like Bucharest very much, I am fascinated by the architecture, I saw beautiful buildings, but most of them are damaged or they are about to become ruins. It is such a pity. As a cyclist in Bucharest, I put my life in danger (he laughs). It is OK, but the cars drive too close to the cyclists. I did not have any accident, so it is OK. Especially because the city is perfect for riding the bicycle, it is plain, unlike Oslo, where there are lots of hills. Although Bucharest is geographically favourable for cyclists, it would be perfect if it had infrastructure. In Oslo, yes, it is a little bit safer to cycle.
What have you found out about the minorities of Bucharest until this very moment?
It was really fascinating to learn from the NGOs in the field that the minorities are isolated to a great extent; they tend to have their own schools, their own professional and business associations, etc. I understood that the Chinese have their own schools, as well as the French, the British, the Turkish, etc. This is not ideal thing to do if we consider integration, because the purpose is for everybody to participate in the common arena, this is alpha and omega and the education of our children is the main arena in which to do it. This leads to isolated communities within the society. The whole idea of nation-states is to have a common education. The existence of these different educational systems can be harmful; it depends on what you are interested. If you want to create a unity, the education is the right place to start from.
Why is it important to study the ethnical and cultural diversity of Bucharest?
It is about people who share the same space. There is the risk for different tensions when different people share the same space. The purpose of studying the minorities is to understand how they interact, what are their hobbies, etc/ for me it is important to have a dialogue in order to come to the bottom of the differences.
People do not care about the minorities because they do not interact with them. I believe that this project is important because we need to picture the existence of the minorities. In Oslo, the minorities are much visible and I hope to bring something from our experience in Norway within this project.