When we embarked on this project there was no structured approach to studying the Romanian diaspora, the millions of Romanians who live, work and study in other countries. From Europe to the Americas, Romanian communities have sprouted and thrived in the most surprising ways. However, no matter how solid their presence the realities of those forging a livelihood abroad are far more complex than imagined. First, there is the reality of a homeland left behind, with all it encompasses: families, often children reared by their grandparents, distant relatives, or neighbours; an intrinsic sense of communion and community; the language. Then, there is the reality of the new spaces they inhabit, in search of a better, more stable life, in search of opportunities not afforded by the homeland. Often the promise of a foreign land fails to deliver, other times, it makes for great, inspiring stories of success. This permanent in-betweenness forms the grassroots reality of all Romanians living abroad, as they seek to replicate at a smaller scale, perhaps with a sense of nostalgia, what was left behind, finding solace in keeping the language, traditions, and religion alive, an identity too complex to gauge in just a few words.
It is not only the culture that binds these communities, but also their resolute participation in the public and/or political life of the home country, despite its disenchantments and frustrations. Indeed, and we’ve observed this dynamic throughout our years of research – generally, Romanians tend to be anchored in and have greater interest in the political trajectory of their homeland rather than actively becoming involved in the public life of host societies. It is precisely this civic mobilisation that sporadically made foreign headlines: the long queues at elections, the protests of 2018 violently quelled by police forces, the civic fight against the plague of corruption, the same that drove millions to permanently emigrate.
Albeit, more significant demographically, the economic migrants so to speak, the more recent diaspora (after the EU accession and liberalisation of access to foreign labour markets) constitutes only one facet of all Romanians living abroad. Due to the intertwined regional histories, with population exchanges and constant territorial reshaping, there are pockets of Romanian (historical) communities living outside the border, dispersed all around the immediate neighbourhood, in the Republic of Moldova (formerly the province of Bessarabia), in Ukraine, Serbia, Bulgaria, Hungary etc. Their Romanianness and belonging are conferred by citizenship (if it’s permitted to hold double-citizenship), as well as by an ethno-cultural or linguistic identification. Their plight often goes unnoticed and still fails to be documented appropriately. If in the West, the manifestation of ethno-cultural identities is almost a given, both encouraged and supported, in other countries, the policies of assimilation forcefully dissuade communities from preserving and passing on their ancestral identity: through language, religion or traditions.
Then there is the historical diaspora, the dissidents, and political asylum seekers having escaped the communist dictatorship. These communities brought an immense and often unacknowledged contribution to Romania’s democratic transition (actually making it possible). They forged bilateral bridges in the hope that by bringing to the forefront the atrocities of communism upon those captive nations, more resolute and determined Western actions would eventually dismantle dictatorships. And so, it happened. In our research we seek to capture their strategic contributions and foster historical continuity in our understanding of how and in what circumstances did emigration occur. Communities abroad replicate at different scales national and regional histories. Therefore, we are interested in observing the patterns of succession, for instance, between the dissident diaspora of before and the new civic movements that continue the fight for preserving Romania’s democratic future, as well as the legacies of mobilisation from the past.
Having said this, our research and initiatives go beyond the Romanian diaspora. We seek to apply our innovative approach to mapping other communities and diasporas, expanding our comparative knowledge base to encompass the trajectories of many others. Our academic and research partnerships, which can be explored in our Initiatives and Research sections, are intended as a way of expanding our existing knowledge and of contributing innovatively towards the development of the field.