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Romania: The old country

One in six Romanians now lives abroad. How has this wave of emigration transformed their nation? Photography by Petrut Calinescu.

Philip Maughan writes: More interesting than the tabloid speculation over Romanian immigration to the United Kingdom is the story of how emigration is transforming life in Romania.

At present, one in six Romanians lives and works abroad. Since the fall of the Ceausescu dictatorship in 1989 (and following liberal reforms in the late 1990s), the country’s economy has grown steadily. Romania is the 49th-largest economy in the world; its GDP was estimated at $274.1bn in 2012, slightly ahead of the United Arab Emirates and Israel, though growth has slowed. Romanian artists are receiving international recognition: Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007 and the writer Herta Müller won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Most of those who left in the 1990s were from parts of the country that already sent people to work as itinerant labourers in Romania. They moved to France, Italy and Spain – countries with which they share cultural and linguistic ties (Romanian is the only Romance language in the Slavic-dominated eastern Europe). They plugged gaps in labour markets – construction, agriculture, domestic services – and continue to do so.

Rural areas such as Satu Mare, Maramures and Suceava have been transformed by mass emigration. The photographer Petrut Calinescu attempts to document this process in the photographs in this essay, taken from his “Pride and Concrete” project.

“Unlike in the city,” he writes, “where economic competition is a more subtle affair, in the villages of Romania changes are highly visible and the main street acts as a stage for ostentatious display.”

Photography by Petrut Calinescu.

Cotros (second from the right) recalls his arrival in France. Unable to understand his doctor’s instructions, he drank a bottle of eyedrops that were prescribed to him.

A road through Cajvana, a town in Suceava County in north-eastern Romania, lined with half-built houses

In the north-western county of Maramures, a woman washes her clothes in an icy river flowing out of the Carpathian Mountains

Sheep pass by a newly built house on the edge of Cajvana. Many of the town’s residents have made money in the construction industry abroad and are now building their own houses in Romania

A horse-drawn cart passes a parked Ferrari. The owner of the car is an entrepreneur who now lives in Paris. He hires Romanian labourers to work in the construction industry there and returns to Certeze during the holidays

Newly-weds in traditional dress pose, carrying bottles of a local spirit in Eiffel Tower-shaped glass decanters. These bottles have become a symbol of success abroad. Both the bride and groom are currently working in the UK


This article first appeared in the 01 April 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Easter Special Issue

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Why did the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet win this year's Nobel Peace Prize?

Thanks to Tunisia, it is no longer possible to argue that the Middle East and North Africa are inherently undemocratic or prone to violence.

It is a fitting that in a tumultuous year for global peacemaking, the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the little-known Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, a coalition made up of the union federation UGTT, the employers’ institute, the Tunisian human rights league and the order of lawyers . Over the past few years, the Quartet has been quietly shepherded in democracy to the country that lit the fuse of the Arab Spring. In part thanks to the efforts of this broad cross-section of civil society, Tunisia has stayed the course in transitioning from an authoritarian past to a democratic future, even in the face of terrorist violence and as other revolutions in the region have faltered.

The award comes at a time of escalating sectarian conflicts in Syria, Libya and Yemen. Islamic State’s campaign of terror has uprooted Iraqis and Syrians alike, driving desperate refugees into small boats to battle the waves of the Mediterranean. They join others fleeing to Europe from political and economic crises in Africa and Asia, forming a stream of humanity symbolising failures in leadership in three continents.

Among all this, it is not hard to identify why the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the world’s most coveted peace prize to the Tunisian Quartet.

First,Tunisia deserves to be celebrated for its momentous achievements in consolidating democracy. Unlike other countries in the region, it has trodden a path that is slow but solid, adopting a comprehensive and consensus-building approach to decision-making.

In this it provides a rare and extremely important example, not only for the region but also for the world. Thanks to Tunisia, it is no longer possible to argue that the Middle East and North Africa are inherently undemocratic or prone to violence.

Civil society steps up

Second, the role of civil society is fundamental for bringing about sustainable peace. Political leadership is important, but the scale of the challenge in transitional societies means that we cannot simply leave things to political leaders to sort out.

At local level especially, peace feels a lot more real when it comes with tangible improvements to quality of life. Citizens want to see the economy motoring again and to have confidence in the state’s institutions. They want to know that they can sleep soundly and safely, without fear of violence, persecution or poverty. Governments often lack the capacity and credibility to deliver these dividends alone. Civil society must step up to the plate – particularly the associations of trade, justice and human rights of which the Quartet is formed.

And third, the Quartet’s work relies heavily on forming constructive relationships across the political spectrum – from secularists to fundamentalists. It has walked a fine line, keeping disparate groups with diverging interests invested in an inclusive national process of dialogue. It has, in the words of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, laid the “groundwork for a national fraternity”.

Politicians are often the most cynical of creatures, yet the Quartet has managed to build a sense of collective endeavour among them. It has encouraged them to put the country’s best interest ahead of personal or sectarian interests, making this the guiding principle for decision-making.

Other bright spots

The transition in Tunisia is a work in progress and there will be more setbacks and successes. The country was left reeling from two terrorist attacks earlier this year, when 22 people were killed at the Bardo Museum in Tunis, and another 39 people died during an attack on a tourist resort in Sousse. But the message today is clear – Tunisia has made remarkable progress since 2010, despite the odds. This is in large part due to a credible and engaged civil society, a remarkable achievement in a new democracy. The country has forged a path of inclusive national dialogue from which many lessons can be learned.

Elsewhere this year, Myanmar goes to the polls in November – the country’s first free national ballot since 1990. Colombia is closer to lasting peace than ever, ending half a century of war that has taken 220,00 lives and uprooted six million people.

The US restored diplomatic relationships with Cuba, and also struck a landmark agreement with Iran over its nuclear programmes. And the UN has adopted the sustainable development goals, explicitly recognising peaceful and inclusive societies as a development priority for the first time. Behind every step forward there is an individual or institution worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize, but only one can win and the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet is a worthy laureate.

Laura Payne is a Research Fellow and Director of RISING Global Peace Forum, Coventry University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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