— And you loved him so much that you ran away from home?
— Well… I told him I would do so. I gave him my word.
Traumatising or not, collective or individual, forced or desired, temporary or permanent, the various types of migrations represent not just movements of people, but also different ways of relating to space, to one’s own identity, acculturation processes, stereotypes and challenging them. The present study follows the secondary migration in today’s Banat region, a type of micro-migration, movements between regions or even communes, focusing on the life story of various subjects interviewed on the field between December 2017 and January 2018.
The migrants’ crisis in the spring of 2015 has led to the reactivation of nationalist spirits, triggering questions about national identity, the acceptance of alterity and the limits of this acceptance. Although a common phenomenon in modern cultures, migration seems to bring out fears that appeared to have lost their intensity, one of them being the fear of the stranger.
Traditional societies are, by their own nature, static, unchanging, meant to last and, as Claude Lévi-Strauss would put it, cold, while modern societies are, by default, dynamic, changing and hot. Migration, as a movement of populations or individuals, ensures this hotness, fosters it and, through the infusion of different cultures, perpetuates the modernisation process. Migration changes both the societies of origin, through the exodus of community members and “especially through the flux of information and customs of the outside world brought back by the returning migrants during the early phases of migration transition”, as well as the new host society, as migrants are bound to have a different view on things, comparing the old one with the new one. The phenomenon offers, thus, transformation, innovation, access to information, the dissemination of information, it intensifies socialisation processes and intercultural exchanges. At the same time, the migrants are people who have or are seeking access to information, they are up to date, they make the best of the (scarce) resources they have, they are adaptable and willing to adapt or, on the contrary, determined to resist change. Education, seen as skill or knowledge, no matter how precarious, is what ensures their access to the new cultural space.
The traditional Romanian rural space is, according to Andrei Oișteanu, clearly structured in a binary mannerre. There is the space within the borders of the village (intra muros) and the space outside the borders (extra muros). The intra muros space has a centre and a limit, it is cultivated and cultured, inhabited and organised — in short, it is made into a cosmos (in the Pythagorean sense of Kosmos as a harmonious, well organised universe). In contrast, the extra muros space is a denial of the first: with no centre or borders, uninhabited, disorderly, it is an expression of chaos, and, according to Mircea Eliade, perceived as different realm, another world populated by bizzare creatures, demons and strangers.
The village includes the villagers, who belong to the place and who claim it by birthright. The outsiders, the strangers, the newcomers, or – as we call them today – the migrants, bring along with their presence the cultural practices typical of the space they left. Historically, the Banat region has been confronted with large movements of population (from the influx of Muslim population in the 16th and 17th century, to the three waves of Austro-Hungarian colonisation in the 18th century, to the deportations and economic migration in the 20th century), which have given it its specific character.
The prospective field research conducted between December 2017 and January 2018 has showed that the current situation refers to migrations of individuals, or migrations of individuals with their family, not massive migratory processes. However, minor but constant cultural infusions have undoubtedly transformed the area and conferred it its multicultural profile, although we are not talking about an ethnic multiculturalism, but about a regional one. As the present study is a qualitative one, I will not offer statistical data, but I will make an inventory of the motifs I found as being at the root of migration: a) from Western countries to Romanian rural areas as a form of escapism; b) from urban areas to rural areas as a form of escapism); c) from urban areas to rural areas as a way to save financial resources; d) from rural areas in one region of the country to rural areas of Banat, seen as economically attractive; e) from rural areas to rural areas, between nearby villages/communes.
MIGRATION FROM WESTERN COUNTRIES TO ROMANIAN RURAL AREAS AS A FORM OF ESCAPISM
Joos, a 27 year old mechanical engineer from Bruxelles, has bought himself a traditional house in the village of Stanciova which he is now restoring with traditional methods, and two pet goats, to keep him company, but possibly also out of the desire to be integrated in the local community. For him, the Romanian countryside has been an opportunity to find himself and get rid of substance addiction, a place that distances him from the Western world and values. Yet Stanciova is not a home for him, and he plans on going back at some point. Asked about the relationship with the villagers, Joos sums it: “I don’t really invite them, they don’t really invite me”, which shows a formal relationship, not a real one. The fact that the villagers call him “the English”, even though he’s Belgian, could be a sign of interest, or lack thereof, but it could also be a sign of a linguistic nature. Having always disliked the feeling of being surveilled in the West, Joos feels he is free in Stanciova, although his moves through the village are monitored and known to all the villagers. But this type of surveillance is part of a traditional system of social relations which states that as long as the foreigner is surveilled, he is partially accepted.
MIGRATION FROM FROM URBAN AREAS TO RURAL AREAS AS A FORM OF ESCAPISM
T.B. is an activist with a reputation in Timișoara for writing and implementing projects, as well as for being a founder of the NGO Ecotopia. T.B. has retreated to Stanciova not only to find herself, but also for the freedom of living a traditional, ecological life, values that T.B. has picked up in her trans-European travels. The community calls her ”the Lady from the Association”, a vague, but respectful denomination, that at the same time sets some limits. T.B., a keen observer of the community she lives in, operates a fine taxonomy of the village groups and hierarchies, a thing that, I believe, helps her make sense of the new environment and the movements inside it: the Serb population who manages the performance of keeping its traditions and connection to the village even three generations after they’ve moved to Timișoara; the shepherds who have moved here from Mărginime, Sibiu county, in Transylvania, and who keep close in touch with their places of origins; the people who have from Maramureș in the 90s, looking for work; the Moldavians who have come in the 80s, but have failed to properly settle down. Then there is the hisper wave that T.B. declares herself part of, which started in 2000.
The years ‘80s, 90s, 2000s, mark clear temporal lines that place migration in space and time. Arrived in several waves, the migrants infuse the settlement with new practices (such as shepherding) and their know-how, either related to traditional practices or new behaviours and mentalities (such as the posthumanist paradigm of caring and being responsible for the natural world).
Moving to Stanciova, T.B. and her husband are making a statement: refusing mainstream values. In a world engulfed in bank credits and ruled by the instant gratification, T.B. proposes an alternative lifestyle, in which values are not commodified and the change for the better in a community outweighs individual desires. Idealistic or illusory, the perspective is definitely different. As a researcher, I can’t fully take on the community’s perspective on T.B.’s interventions and her alternative lifestyle, but I take note of the manner in which she has taken on a role, without waiting for the community to offer it to her. The change of identity is strategic and represents a choice: she doesn not negotiate her identity, waiting for approval and verification from others, but she assumes it and imposes it.
MIGRATION FROM URBAN AREAS TO RURAL AREAS AS A WAY TO SAVE FINANCIAL RESOURCES
Or about returning home
Initially a Serbian settlement, Stanciova was forced to open up to values and cultures others in the 60s and 70s, when many people from the village got jobs at factories in Timișoara. D1, born in Stanciova, worked in Timișoara for 38 years, in a shoe factory, before retiring and returning to the village, first to take care of her dying father, then for good. She still had a flat in Timișoara. This interview revealed a couple of key themes, that in my opinion and valid/scalable at national level:
- the temporary migration (which existed in the communist period, in the post-communist period, as well as in present times)
- the movement from rural areas to urban areas for economic purposes and settling in urban areas for a long period of time
- the inverted migration (or the return home, after retirement) — the official reason is to take care of the parents, although, in fact, the insufficient pension can hardly offer a comfortable life; this accentuates the aging process noticed in Romanian villages.
- the absence of young people moving from urban areas to rural areas, which contributes to the depopulation of villages.
MIGRATION FROM RURAL AREAS IN ONE REGION OF THE COUNTRY TO RURAL AREAS OF BANAT, SEEN AS ECONOMICALLY ATTRACTIVE
Ș.M., who speaks in a strong local accent typical of Banat, has arrived here from the north of Romania in the 90s, looking for work. He had carried out, in fact, an exercise in nomadism, moving from one region of Romania to the other, until he settled down in Coșteiu de Sus. For Ș.M., Banat is a wonderful place full of welcoming people, willing to take in strangers, and E.P., a Slovak who also moved to Coșteiu de Sus from a nearby village, says that the community adopted them. But the adoption comes with a corollary of adaptation which consists of various stages: from taking on the local accent of language, to religious coordination (Ș.M. changes from the Old Rite of the Russian Orthodox Church to the New Rite of the Romanian Orthodox Church, E.P. changes from Roman Catholicism to Orthodoxy). The new identity that the subjects of the interviews display is recent, accepted by the others members of the community and built on the negation of the old one.
MIGRATION FROM RURAL AREAS TO RURAL AREAS, BETWEEN NEARBY VILLAGES/COMMUNES, USUALLY THROUGH MARRIAGE
This was the most frequent and typical form of migration in the researched area. Although initially we assumed that it generally women who migrated, through marriage, to another village or another region, field research has revealed that men also move to the wife’s village, sometimes even taking on the wife’s last name, to show the household they’ve moved into (it is the case of I.P-D. from Crivina de Sus).
Whether it happens as a form of escapism, an attempt to escape the values of postmodern world, or as an abandonment of the original space for economic reasons, or sometimes because of love, migration is in the end about the reinvention of the self, about renunciations, about new forms of culture that the newcomers import or accept, about openness to new, and about what we today call lifelong learning. Moving in space and time forces the migrant to permanently learn, to adapt, to be open to new and be ready to accept both the role he wishes for himself, as well as the roles that the local community is willing to assign to him/her.
This study was initially published in the MOVING FIREPLACES.2017-2018 book.
Photo credit: Iulia Cotrău