A Romanian Invitation: “Want to go out for juice?”
Expat professionals enact “diplomacy of a different sort”, confronting a negative image of their fellow countrymen abroad
It was a drizzly spring evening as Cristian David, Minister for Romanians Abroad, took shelter at Wein & Co at Schottentor, and found his way down into the cosy wine cellar, shaking off the damp. He was there to meet with a group of young Romanian professionals in Vienna connected through Facebook, calling themselves "Romanians who go out for a juice" – home-country slang when meeting for a drink.
However, the agenda that May evening was anything but casual.
This was diplomacy of a different sort: After a round of introductions, the minister made his intentions clear: He was there to pick their brains about how to improve Romania's collective image abroad.
This is a group who are not just Romanian, but "proud to be so", something the minister appreciated during these difficult crisis years. He seemed to have been particularly impressed at how the group supported one another, with trips, advice and jobs.
"This is what it will take," David emphasised, "if Romanian expats are going to stand a real chance of changing false impressions abroad."
"Lifting restrictions on the labour market has met with growing concern in some countries, particularly given the EU’s current economic situation," the minister commented during
the break, "which in turn has contributed to damaging the image of Romanians abroad." This was an irony not lost on the young people:
"Even in Romania, the news shows only the disagreeable aspects," commented one engineer. "How can we address that?"
In part, it’s simply the nature of the news business, the minister replied. "The public appetite is such that good news is not news," a general attitude towards the media all over the world.
Everyone was looking for answers. "What can we do?" wondered Anca Lucian, a financial controller at the law firm of Wolf Theiss. "Diplomacy works over time, after rounds and rounds of negotiations and discussions," he said.
Still, it’s important that these discussions don’t affect the economic relationship, David emphasised. "Austria is the largest investor in Romania, so there are ‘certain diplomatic expectations’. It’s important to balance the effects and outcomes – there is no perfect solution."
Plans for the minister visit included a meeting the next day with Sebastian Kurz, Austrian minister for integration, to discuss these aspects of Austrian and Romanian relations.
As the meeting progressed, the group shared experiences, often ending in historical arguments. Lucian gave one example of discrimination: "The police stop cars with Romanian plates to enquire about the reason for being here."
"At the AMS (an unemployment agency), they ask, ‘Why do you want to work here, and why you don’t go back home’," interjected Luiza Puiu, a studies assistant at the University of Vienna. Occasionally though, the reverse can happen: Raluca Fonoage, a professional in supply management, pointed out, "I actually was hired for being Romanian. In professional circles, Romanians have a good reputation."
As the evening wound down, the young Romanians made plans to create a progressive network, including a database that would help capitalise on professional connections and launch partnership projects. Another goal was to develop a FAQ info sheet – of both rights and obligations – for Romanians in Austria linking to the ministry.
But first, it was time to go out for a juice.