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April 11, 2021

Why are East-Europeans more suspicious?

Whole generations of children were taught in school that their Romanian forerunners were a remarkable people due to hospitality and tolerance. It was, of course, just a self-flattering phantasm, meant to fuel a nationalism that was feeding on victimisation rather than pride. In other words, Romanians, during their history, just reacted, defending themselves if needed, and being good and tolerant neighbours for the rest. The historiography, especially the one of the communist age, was full of lies and occultation, but probably this image of the hospitable Romanian is still enchanting many of our co-nationals.
But the current European immigration crisis is shedding a somewhat different light on that conception. It’s true that, at a first glance there are quite a few Romanians willing to accept some of those migrants into their country. However, the response of some politicians foretells a fiercer polarisation. For now, this has not been genuinely a problem for Romanians. Or it’s been, but in the reversed way: millions of Romanian migrants are based in various countries, mainly Italy and Spain, where they face a diversity of attitudes from the locals. Since such opinions fluctuate, the current survey results matter less, as they can be very misleading and inconclusive. This is why it’s probably wrong to detach Romanian mentalities from those of East-Europeans in general. These latter ones are strongly hostile to extra-European immigrants. And it does not apply just to countries that have had extended right-wing political regimes, such as Hungary. The countries in the region have a relatively recent extremely traumatic history of national conflicts and their ramifications. The conflicts of the last century started from the competition of nationalisms and territorial claims were always defended by ethnic statistics. Populations were displaced, sometimes brutally, based on ethnic criteria, and migrations were often seen as subtle ‘colonisation’, with the risk of future political mutations. Naturally, in those cases the ethnic groups concerned had a kin state somewhere in the neighbourhood, but this kind of suspicious mindset regarding the undermining of the ethnic status-quo is still alive in this region. At the same time, the quasi-half of communist century kept East-Europeans far from the evolution of Western sensitiveness and political culture, much more open to immigration. So, to them, this is a much newer phenomenon.
On the other hand, after communism, East-Europeans inevitably feel like second-class Europeans and some – Romanians – even worse. They feel they are badly treated when they go to the West – remember the polemic on the ‘Polish plumber’ that was circulating a few years ago – they make their voice heard in European politics with more difficulty, but, most of all, they feel extremely disfavoured from a cultural point of view, as if the divide was decisive. This uncertainty of substance in fact implies more rigidity on one’s own identity. The West is more open to immigration also because those people know migration could not undermine their identity – in spite of polemics on the future weight of a continuously growing Islamic community. Maybe a contribution is also made by a certain post-colonial thinking. In the East, on the other hand, the classic example of highly mobile migration group, such as the Jews in the past, is mostly related to conflicts that cannot be resolved. Anti-Semitic ideology was also strong in the West, but only here, in the East, its consequences were so dramatic and guilt so expanded.
They invoke – as one of the most virulent local opponents to immigration, Traian Basescu has done – the situation of the Roma, believed to be hard to integrate. We should not forget that the Roma have a long history of marginalisation in the Romanian society, which means that the failure is not exclusively due to the alleged cultural incompatibility. It is true, on the other hand, that in all Eastern countries, the precedent of a difficult management of Roma integration has a role in cultivating segregationist mentalities, now reactivated against extra-European immigrants. They also invoke their Muslim identity. To remind of the atrocities committed by the Ottomans during the centuries of domination in the Balkans is a dangerous anachronism. As a matter of fact, if they had been happy to welcome Christian immigrates, why didn’t Romanian authorities make an offer at the most dramatic times, when Christians were being hunted down as game in the Mideast? Why didn’t Christian solidarity work then?
Such arguments are as embarrassing as the immigration figures cited in the case of Romania are ridiculously small compared to the Western countries.

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