On the 21st of March in the Palace of Westminster Romania took stage with a barnstorming unprecedented event: ”Reimagining Romania: what have we been getting wrong?”.
Chaired and hosted by Bob Blackman MP, Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Romania the event presented and debated Romania through the eyes of three British nationals - historian, Dr Tessa Dunlop, journalist Paul Kenyon and artist/curator Peter Harrap - all of whom share a unique love story with Romania. The conversation was moderated by Aura Woodward, previously Executive Director of The Prince of Wales’s Foundation Romania and had as a special guest the British Ambassador in Romania, Andrew Noble.
With over 1 million Romanians living now in the UK, and Romanian being the third most spoken language in England, the event focused on challenging common British misconceptions about Romania, looking at the narrative about it, the immense changes which took place since the fall of communism and yet the continued lack of understanding and failure to update the popular image of Romania.
Present at the debate was the Romanian Ambassador to the UK, Laura Popescu, Mr Giles Portman, His Majesty’s Ambassador to Romania in succession to Mr Andrew Noble, the director of the Romanian Cultural Institute in London, Catinca Nistor, three Romanian MPs, members of the UK Friendship Group in Romania’s parliament - Simina Tulbure, Cristina Pruna and Valentin Fagarasian. They were also joined by Adrian Pascu-Tulbure, Romanian born conservative councillor in Hammersmith and Fulham.
It is difficult to capture the passion and diversity of opinions during the 90 minutes of debate (the photos captured do more justice) which sets a start to the acceptance that Romania today is a different country to the one portrayed until recently in the British media, just as the over 1 million Romanians in the UK are a gain for Britain, who now as a country understands their value and contribution, and a loss for Romania, struggling to stop the exodus of its citizens but also to bring a part of its migrants back home.
Gone are the days when shocking images from Romanian orphanages made headlines, yet they are still embedded in the memory of Brits. British charities in Romania have contributed massively in the past 25 years and continue to do so, changing lives, educating a new generation of social workers and continuing to work for the benefit of the people left behind. The Romanian civil society has changed dramatically too and is very much alive.
Gone also are the days when the focus of the British press and TV shows such as those presented by BBC Panorama, BBC Newsnight, Channel 4 was on the migrants who do not contribute, but relied on taxpayer's money, did not integrate and caused issues and nuisance in the neighbourhoods where they live. Little was told about the doctors, nurses, carers, about the Romanians who kept Britain building in the past years and continue to do so with so much hard work and dedication. Those days are now behind and slowly, as the effects of Brexit started showing, the Romanian workers are wanted, needed, and welcomed.
Very few are the stories of Romania and of Romanians in the UK seen from Britain which still stand the test of time. Brits fall in love with Romania after they visit, and want to visit again, Brits who work in Romania want to remain and many did, and yet Romania still does too little to promote itself and to story-tell the beauty of the UKcountry and its people which has so much to offer. The Romanian UK diaspora has yet to make its voice heard and falls behind in understanding its strength and potential through integration. The Brits are better ambassadors of Romania than many Romanians tend to be. British MPs with Romanian constituents understand better the value of the Romanians living in their constituency than many of their Romanian counterparts. Romania’s officials could learn from the Palace of Westminster debate and use it as a starting point for Reimagining Romania and its relation with Romanians abroad.
‘Reimagining Romania’ came on the eve of both a Ministerial visit to London as well as a delegation from the UK Friendship Group in Romania’s parliament. It was an evening to remember and if used productively by some of the Romanian born attendees and British nationals with an interest in understanding and uplifting the Romanian community in the UK, it can lead to actions and future events.
It was an evening with Tessa Dunlop passionately addressing the audience in Romanian and English; Andrew Noble showing how British diplomacy still shapes a better future in other countries; Paul Kenyon whose investigative journalist role brought him many times to Romania and Romanians; Peter Harrap raising awareness on the need of much swifter cultural interactions; Bob Blackman MP chairing and hosting this meeting in the Palace of Westminster, and Laura Popescu listening to the stories told from a British perspective. Then having so many professionals debate, engage and exchange views and ideas after the event, at a pub just opposite Downing Street, is certainly a gain for the Romanians in the UK and Romania.