Vintilă Mihăilescu is an anthropologist, professor at the National School of Political and Administrative Sciences and he coordinates the research within the project “The new minorities in Bucharest county”. In his opinion, the new minorities are “invisible” in Bucharest and their impact only amounts to the sphere of corporations and restaurants. In this context, contemporary Bucharest is less multicultural than the interwar one. Why it is important to study the cultural impact of new minorities, in the interview below:
How do you consider the cultural impact of new minorities in Bucharest?
There is no social representation yet of the “new minorities” in Bucharest. On one hand, there are the “Occidental people”, who are not perceived as forming communities – even when they are in quite big numbers, such as Italians – but as individuals; and as individuals, they are rather perceived as members of the “business world”, of corporations etc. than as members of the society. And when they settle in Bucharest, they become “curiosities”. From this point of view, the situation is different (if we refer to Italians, for example) from that in Timișoara, where the Italians are already perceived as a community. The “new minorities” are only non-Europeans – and these are still “invisible” in Bucharest, namely they are unnoticeable. On one hand, Chinese are more present in the collective mentality due to quite large and visible punctual concentrations and Turks due to both their quite big number and historical memory used to their presence. The rest possibly goes to “and others”; for example, nothing is practically known about Indian and Lebanese people.
The cultural impact is also different. On one hand, there is a significant cultural impact in the sphere of corporations, TNC category. On the other hand, the cultural impact in the daily life of Bucharest inhabitants amounts mostly to the gastronomical one, through the spread of “entice” restaurants – much more numerous in the present than those with “Romanian specificity”. This impact doesn’t have to be underestimated because it is an important internalized form of opening and relativizing ethnocentrism. Other than that, the cultural elements presented by the rare specific cultural festivals remain in the exotic field. Briefly – and from the point of view of the cultural impact – contemporary Bucharest is less “multicultural” than the interwar one.
Is Bucharest attractive for migrants?
For the majority, Bucharest is a market, so a business opportunity. However, a “second hand” opportunity, to say so, and which doesn’t depend mainly on the intrinsic market characteristics. Still an opportunity because it’s closer (for Turkish people, for example), it’s less regulated (and then it’s more attractive for beginners), because social life outside work hours is more attractive, because some persons studied here (which is a certain additional opportunity) etc. For those with more experience, even the economical dynamics, considered on medium and long-term, seems to be an attraction: Romania is within a great window of opportunity in terms of its development – declares a former British corporation manager, settled in Bucharest to start his own business. However, for the political or economical immigration, out of necessity, not freely, Romania is generally unattractive, but only a reserve solution: most of those from this category consider Bucharest a transit railway station; not so many of them settle here.
What are the disadvantages for a migrant if he/she wants to settle in Bucharest?
Not being an asylum country, Romania is not (yet) hostile for asylum seekers – which is a general advantage not at all negligible, especially in Bucharest, where they are practically unnoticeable. When we are talking about settling in the country, things become complicated because bureaucracy intervenes. Until relatively recently, Romania didn’t have a clear legislation in the field of immigration, which complicated things even more. Now it was improved, but it’s still difficult and functions often randomly. The main thing immigrants in this situation complain about is the lack of clarity and accuracy of information, especially from civil servants. But this is a wider dissatisfaction spread including among Romanians… For the category of poor asylum seekers, another financial disadvantage intervenes in Bucharest: the still high cost of rents.
How do you consider the attitude of Bucharest inhabitants towards new minorities?
In general, for Romanians migration still means almost exclusively emigration and not immigration. As I said, the immigrant doesn’t cause fear for now. He/she is many times associated with the traveller who is offered hospitality – and as such, many times, he/she is welcomed in the neighbourhood. I get along very well with my neighbours, I don’t have any problem, I have never had any problems with them – said a young Indian, who came on the track of his father who started a business even from 1992. And in most cases, there are no tensions between the “new minorities” and their neighbours from Bucharest.
At work, the relations are rather subordinated to employer-employee relations or to the hierarchy from corporations than interethnic relations. From the point of view of Romanians, it seems that the English are more preferred at work than Italian, but these are more preferred than English outside work, in socializing spaces.
How would you define the integration of minorities?
We cannot talk about a general integration of minorities as a whole. Thus, for example, Chinese seem least integrated because they remain isolated, have little contact with the outside world and enter very hard in their communities. But they rapidly build their own communities and networks and integrate in them, not in the host society; the community is then the one which provides relations with the surrounding world through its structures. At the other extreme, the Occidental people who settle in Bucharest do this from personal reasons and generally based on prior integration; they seem to be the best integrated. The Turkish people are somewhere in the middle, having many times businesses that involve frequent or even daily interactions with the population from Bucharest – which allows them a more organic integration. However, as a whole, I would not talk about an “integration”, but about an “adaptation” to the society from Bucharest, complementary to its “acceptance”.
How do you comment about the attitude of Europeans towards migrants, especially in the context of current crisis?
Europeans passed from reticence to hostility towards migrants and from this to panic recently. There is not yet a European “attitude” in this sense – and much less a common strategy. On the other hand, we are talking about distinct waves of migration. Against the crisis, the hostility towards “economic” migrants was related to employment and especially to the “vampirization” spectrum of social care funds. The policy, sensitive to the state of mind of voters, took measures for immigration control. On the other hand, the economy warned that, without the contribution of this cheap and generally under the counter workforce, some economies (such as of Italy for example) would bear insurmountable costs. Last but not least, with a strongly old population and a fertility around 1,3 children per couple, Europe needs a demographical contribution. The other immigration, which now exploded and became finally visible, is of other nature: “humanitarian”. The actual crisis is generated by immigrants who run from death and whom cannot be stopped by anyone – and a “Chinese wall” around Europe is not possible. We are probably witnessing the first explicit signs and “on our cost”, to say so, of global unbalances and of inequalities and inequities that lately emphasized in the world. The real risk of European immigration has already started but will increase exponentially in the next years.