Why are all Romanians vampires?
July 20, 2009Posted by on
Romania’s reputation: background
Romania elicits the image of a corpse, a body lying on the ground, with two vampires feeding on it: Dracula and Ceausescu. Both these figures still determine the image of Romania today. In addition, this picture hardly improves, given other negative images influencing this perception: orphans, people sick with AIDS, Roma or other Romanian emigrants who turn up as criminals in the West. (…) The Romanian image is one of the worst and most unjust of all the industrial nations. (excerpt from a statement of nation branding advisor Simon Anholt on Money Channel, Dec. 2006)
The fact that Romania has an image problem is beyond question. It is an issue that has been periodically repeated in the past years, a fact that has been strengthened with the help of mass media and confirmed by external audiences at regular intervals through international surveys.
The Agency for Governmental Strategies (ASG) has conducted several studies and surveys in order to draw a comprehensive image about Romania and Romanians abroad. The most recent surveys were conducted in two countries of extremely high relevance for Romania: Italy and Spain. The reason which lies at the ground of choosing these two countries for in-depth perception-studies is as follows: in both countries Romanians constitute a large minority of immigrants and also in both countries Romania’s image in mass media is preponderantly reflected in a manner which can be situated somewhere between negative and strongly negative. This fact is considered a constant threat to Romania’s nation-image, not only in these two countries, but, by extension, in others as well.
‘Hola! Soy Rumano’ : Romania’s image in Spain
The May 2008 survey conducted by ASG in cooperation with Mercury Research had following targets: identification of concrete modalities of representation of Romanian national specific and nation-image in Spain, as well as measuring Spanish perception associated with the presence of Romanian immigrants in their country.
Concerning the general opinion about immigrants in Spain, Romania scores as follows: 43% negative opinion, 32% good opinion, 18% very negative, 3% very good opinion, being outdistanced only by the Roma population in terms of negative perception. In the category of most liked immigrants Romania is on the bottom of the list, with 4%. For the question ‘which nations do you associate with the Roma residents in Spain’ a comparatively large majority of 65% indicated Romanians (Comparatively: 3% Spanish people, 3% Hungarians, 2% Bulgarians, 1% East-Europeans, 1% Russians; source ASG)
Concerning the nation-image, spontaneous statements about Romania reveal following associations: poverty, misery, delinquency, economic problems, backward country, unemployment, famine, also connections with Roma people, Dracula, communism and Mafia. It is relevant to notice that no single positive attribute can be seen in these statistics:
In the category of notorious Romanian personalities respondents indicated Ceausescu, Dracula, ex-gymnast Nadia Comaneci and Romanian football players who performed in Spain, like Hagi or Gica Popescu. 67% of the respondents could not name any Romanian personality.
With respect to Romanian people, spontaneous associations highlighted aspects which are rather similar to the nation-image: delinquent, poor, miserable, beggars, not trustworthy, dangerous, Gypsies, or simply ‘bad people’. Among the positive characteristics there can be noted ‘hard-working’ and, in light of the above-mentioned features, ‘normal’.
Concerning the role of mass media, 67% state they have read in the last six months articles or news about Romania, while at the same time 91% have never spoken about Romania with Romanian immigrants, and only 3% have searched on the internet for information about Romania. 62% indicate television as main source of information about the country.
Confronting the outcomes of the surveys with other data, it is relevant to give an overview of the situation of Romanian residents in Spain in order to interpret and correlate the information. According to ASG, by 2008 Romanians represented the main community of foreign immigrants: 702.000 people, which makes 17% of all the foreigners in Spain. Out of these, 448.000 are employed (an equivalent of 22% of all the working immigrants), while 99.100 are unemployed (also as a result of the global economic crisis which affected Spain). Besides these, 154.900 persons are inactive (representing children, housewives, elderly people, etc.) The Romanian population in Spain is very young, with a gross activity rate of 77,9 %, much above the national average of just above 50%. The majority of Romanian workers are concentrated in the constructions field. Concerning schooling, the percentage of Romanian children who attend school is 100%. The contribution of Romanians to the Spanish economy can be estimated, strictly in terms of salaries, at 8.000 million EUR, representing 0, 71% of Spain’s GNP. It has been determined that immigration has a highly favourable impact regarding the contributions to the income taxes, respectively for the Spanish health insurance system.
According to such statistics, the impact of Romanian residency in Spain does not justify the largely negative perceptions about Romanians and Romania. The reason could be found in the more unilateral propagation of negative acts associated by mass media with Romanians, mass media which is seen as major information source, and which influences to a large extent public perception.
A second key example that offers a relevant feedback concerning the Romanian nation-image is Italy.
‘Piacere di conoscerti’: Romania-image in Italy
Besides Spain, another important source for Romanian nation-image reflection is Italy. By 2008 the Romanian immigrants minority in Italy amounted to 1.016 000 people, making it the largest minority in the Peninsula. An ASG survey conducted in March-April 2008 amongst Italian citizens focused on the perception of Romania and the Romanian community in Italy. Due to its constant media-presence, Italy plays besides Spain a crucial role in propagation of image-related data which have a great potential of influencing the overall nation-image Romania has on the international stage.
Concerning the general view about immigrants, Romanians are credited with 35% negative and 18% very negative opinions, 35% good and 4% very good opinions; Romanians rank behind African and Asian immigrants and ahead of Roma and Albanians in terms of positive perception.
For those who have travelled to Romania, 34% have a good impression about the country, 17% express a bad one, 5% a very bad one, and 2% a very good opinion; 33% have no opinion at all.
39% of the respondents can’t associate Romania with anything, while the top of the list comprises attributes like: very poor people (9%), Dracula (4%), Roma, Gypsies (4%), communism, Ceausescu (2%), and Romanian immigrants (2%). The only aspects which can be put in a category with positive attributes are tourism (‘I would like to visit Romania’: 2%), and ‘girls, beautiful women’ (1%).
Same as in the Spanish case, when being asked to associate Roma people with a nation, 38% named Romanians (compared to 9% Slavs, 6% Albanians, or 3% ex-Yugoslavians). Regarding the degree of antipathy Romanians receive 9%, occupying second position (coequal with Serbians and after Albanians). 55% of the respondents think that Romania’s image in Italy changed into worse after the arrival of Romanian immigrants to Italy.
In the category of notorious Romanian personalities the first position is occupied, as in the Spanish case, by Ceausescu (24%), followed by ACF Fiorentina football player Adrian Mutu (6%), Dracula (4%), one Romanian singer performing in Italy, Ramona Badescu (3%) and ex-gymnast Nadia Comaneci (2%) . 59% of the respondents have seen news about Romanians on television in the last 6 months, 47% indicating television as main information source in this respect.
Both surveys show a clear negative attitude towards Romanians and especially Romanian immigrants, a lack of knowledge concerning Romania, a stereotypical, out-dated image and a heavy reliance on mass media as source of information and opinion former.
Especially in Italy the perception has grown more acute with several acts of violence performed by Roma=Romanian (!) individuals. Utter generalizations stemming from individual delinquencies acts are promoted and perpetrated, with the Italian mass media as a pioneer in this sense. There has been a whole intoxicating anti-Romanian propaganda in mass media, with Italian authorities promising to issue severe laws for expulsion, re-introducing visas for Romanians and even suggesting Romania’s exclusion from the European Union. Due to the hostile atmosphere created by media, the public opinion has developed an unsympathetic and generalizing attitude towards Romanian immigrants but also towards the entire Romanian nation.
An illustration of such generalizations is the statement of Walter Veltroni, former mayor of Rome, who declared that Romanians register the highest degree of criminality in Italy, a statement which was supported by allegations of Milan’s vice-mayor, who claimed, according to Mediafax, that Police statistics show 90% of the crimes in Milan as being committed by Romanians; one Parliament representative called Romanians a nation of thieves, rapists, and criminals; an example of media exaggeration is the Il Giornale newspaper from January 28, 2009, displaying a first page title in huge fonts: Troppi criminali romeni. Hanno il record di reati in Italia (Too many Romanian criminals. They hold the record for the most delinquencies in Italy), or a 2006 article in Italy’s Il Tempo daily which called Romanians “The most violent, dangerous race, willing to kill for a handful of change (s. Claudia Cristescu, Romania, Brand of the year 2008, source: http://www.cadranpolitic.ro)
However, there are certain facts that contradict the mass of allegations. According to statistics provided by Caritas- Idos and the Italian Ministry of Justice regarding criminality among 5 categories of immigrants in Italy, Romanians occupy the last position with 0,27% detainees, being outranged by Algerians, Tunisians, Moroccans and Albanians.( These statistics were shown and analyzed by Romanian journalist Miruna Cajvaneanu during a talk show on Italian channel RAI TV, January 2009)
Such statistics are confirmed by other studies which go beyond Italian borders. According to a Eurostat study on criminality (crimes recorded by the Police) conducted for EU-27 (in the field crime and criminal justice), Romania registers 0,54%, for total crime, which means a decreasing trend in all categories involved: homicide, violent crime, robbery, domestic burglary, etc. and registering similar or even lower percentages of delinquency compared to other countries in the region and in Europe.( Comparatively: Bulgaria 0,95%, Czech Republic 0,57%, Slovakia 0,32%, Poland 0,75%, Hungary 0, 50%, Germany 0,16%, France 0,31%, UK (England & Wales) 0,90%, Sweden 0,75%, Finland 0,70%. Source:http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/pls/portal/docs/PAGE/PGP_DS_CRIME/PGE_DS_CRIME/TAB69767076/TOTAL_CRIME.PDF)
Such studies confirm the fact that the negative reputation does not rely merely on concrete facts. The fact that there regularly happen individual acts of delinquency by members of the Romanian community or Roma population (which, as mentioned earlier, are equalled with the Romanian nation, according to statistics) cannot be denied. But the dimensions of these acts are greatly influenced by the media selection of information presented to the public.
Perception about countries depends to a great extent on the political/economic/social context and also on the in-group’s self-determination and its separation from outside ‘threats’.
The book Immigrazione e criminalita in Italia written by Marzio Barbagli and published by Il Mulino, professor of sociology at the Faculty of Statistics, University of Bologna, illustrates from an Italian perspective what he calls a strategy developed by the main Italian political parties, that encouraged anti-Romanian propaganda in order to distract attention from internal problems and to foster feelings of Italian togetherness, which could be used for their own political campaigns.
A large immigrants minority may represent a possible threat to the nationals’ opportunities -for instance in terms of employment chances – and, influenced by media messages driven by the inverted motto good news is no news, its deeds can reach colossal dimensions. Image perception of a country is greatly influenced also by the affective component, that shows the sympathy or the aversion towards that country. Irrational categories are formed as easily as rational ones, and even more easily, as intense emotional feelings act like sponges. Therefore ideas connected to a powerful emotion are more likely to conform to the emotion, especially if this emotion is backed up by wide public or official approval. The fact that Romanian immigrants have regularly ‘benefited’ from an aggressive media exposure in Italy and Spain, has influenced the ‘affection component’ of the image creation process and the possible categorization of the country as ‘enemy’.
Therefore, studies and surveys in other countries less affect-laden are important in order to analyze the balance of perceptions and the recurrence of certain attributes. Following samples are part of surveys conducted between 2002-2006 on behalf of the Ministry for Small and Intermediate Businesses and can be viewed on the ministry’s official site (a similar description appears also in the book Branding de țară. Romania, Sigma, Bucharest).
The first words that came to the mind of Finnish respondents when hearing about Romania were as follows: poverty (11%), Eastern Europe/Eastern bloc/ Eastern (8%), interesting (5), unknown/foreign/unfamiliar/new (5%), Gypsies (4%), cheap (4%), Ceausescu (3%), Dracula/vampires (3%), beautiful (3%).
In the category ‘Describe Romania through one word’ the Swedish answers mentioned low prices, plainness, long dictatorship, misery, poverty, slum, famine, Ceausescu, nature, interesting, old, Eastern Europe, Transylvania, culture, cheap, boring, Dracula, unknown, orphans, or the Black Sea.
The survey in Germany was conducted by the Agency for Governmental Strategies in 2006, before Romania’s entrance in the EU. It was supposed to show Romania’s position as a country to join a big European body.
According to the survey in Germany, Romania is an unknown country for 46% of Germans, while for those who have heard about it the perception is split: 27% consider it to have a positive image, 27% consider it negative. Positive associations mention hospitality and diligence of local people, nature, culture, Romanian wines, Danube Delta, Transylvania or the monasteries in Moldova, while the negative associations are similar to the ones revealed in the above-described surveys: poor, backward country, underdeveloped, no infrastructure, bad services, or bad quality products.
These studies are of great relevance, as they show the problems Romania is facing in Europe, problems mentioned by those entities towards which nation branding programmes are directed.
These results of surveys in countries with no or small number of Romanian residents is, as seen above, not much different from the key examples Italy and Spain. Perception studies show that for almost 20 years since the fall of communism and the opening towards the West, Romania’s overall image in the world has not improved an inch.
Nation branding expert Simon Anholt says that this problem exists in many transition economies. “Their brand is still strongly tainted with negative imagery acquired under Soviet influence,” he says, “and the majority of foreign publics have not yet updated their perceptions. Communism and its fall-out also exercise a powerful hold over the western imagination.
This is the reason why nation branding is regarded as profoundly necessary step in order to get rid of the classical images, stereotypes and clichés perpetuated abroad. Romania is still associated with communism and Ceauşescu, with the stereotypical figure of Dracula, the post-‘90 Romanian immigrants, the beggars and gypsies. Romanian character is brought in connection with disrespect for rules, bribery, corruption, theft, indolence, or lack of social cohesion. The simple imagery reveals a country defined by poverty, gypsies, orphans, stray dogs, or gloomy hospitals. In terms of events, Romania is known through the 1989 revolution, the miners’ riots in the 90ies and illegal adoption.
The link to reality
There is always a link between stereotypical, out-dated perceptions and actual reality. These aspects of reality may be interpreted in a biased, generalized or even malevolent way, and can also be falsely exploited, as seen in some cases described above, but they are not necessarily non-existent.
After the 1989 revolution, once Romania came out of the Communist bloc, the country registered a constant decline of its image. A slow-going reform, political scandals, corruption issues, on the background of a general disorientation and identity crisis installed after the revolution, are facts that contributed to this process.
Romania is still struggling to catch up with other countries, especially its new EU-‘colleagues’. Statistics regarding economic development show the difficulties the country is still traversing. The unemployment rate for instance has grown to 7,8% in March 2009, compared to 6,9% in the similar period last year, according to Eurostat.
However, to put the problem into a larger context, the unemployment level reached in Poland 11,4% and in Slovakia 10,8%, while Hungary had an increased 8,1% by March 2009, compared to 7,3% in the same period 2006.
With respect to the inflation rate, Romania ranked fifth among the countries with the highest inflation rate in the EU last December, according to Eurostat. Romania’s annual inflation registered between December 2007 and December 2008 reached 6.4%. percent. Comparatively, Latvia was the country with the highest inflation rate, of 10.4%, followed by Lithuania(8.5%), Estonia (7.5%) and Bulgaria (7.2%), while Luxembourg, Portugal and Germany witnessed the lowest inflation rates, with 0.7, 0.8 and 1.1%. (http://www.bucharestherald.com/economics/40-economics/1603-romania-fifth-inflation-rate-in-eu , Bucharest Herald, Sunday, March 22,2009)
As a conclusion there can be said that Romania is still facing big economic, social and political challenges which function as a trigger for the installation of negative perceptions. However, compared to other countries with similar backgrounds, Romania’s image is far worse in comparison to the differences that exist among these states, which might exist, but as statistics reveal, are not decisive. The gap between actual reality and outside perception of Romania continues to widely affect its nation-image, even if the situation in the country may have changed during the years, and certain historical events or social facts may not be of relevance anymore for the current situation of the country. However, internal events and political struggles, even if not widely known outside, can mark perceptions long-lastingly, especially if they constitute frequently promoted media issues such as minority problems, corruption, violence, or human rights violations, as happened in the case of Romania.