Thursday 3 March 2016

Emigrants as national assets in a borderless world

Professor Neagu Djuvara told me, when I met him last week, that his generation, of whom he is one of the last survivors, went abroad to study and to return, whereas young Romanians today leave Romania and do not want to come back. This he describes as tragic.

He has a very good point. Romania is now an emigrant country. Most Romanian emigrants will not come back though more and more do, including the Prime Minister, Dacian Cioloș, who for years worked abroad as an expert in rural development. But what perhaps Professor Neagu Djuvara does not understand is that emigration means something very different in the age of smartphones and Facebook from what it did when he went to Paris to study in the 1930s.

A couple of days after I met Neagu Djuvara  I was invited to a conference on the Romanian diaspora at the Cotroceni Palace in Bucharest and heard Kinsley Aikens, a world authority on diasporas, talk in a much more cheerful  way about migration. Which is as
well since more of us are living abroad. 150 million of us lived in foreign countries in 1990 and by 2050 he estimates the number might be three times that.

We no longer live he said in the information age but in the networking age. Groups of individuals are connected to one another in all sorts of creative ways. Emigrants are not lost to their country but national assets in all sorts of ways. Cities and regions are linked rather than countries. The Romanian diaspora will enrich Romania and emigrants no longer ever really leave their home countries. ‘Where you are from is less important than where you go back to and whom you trust’.

I wondered as I heard him what future countries have, if any. Kinsley Aikens started his career in diasporas working as an adviser for Hilary Clinton, whom he hopes will be US President. I remembered that Hillary’s husband Bill has spoken about his belief in “the ultimate wisdom of a borderless world.” He did so in a speech he gave in Australia on 10 September 2001. The next day borders suddenly became much tighter.

The future of Romania in the next fifty years lies to a large extent with the so-called ‘repats’, Romanians who have lived and worked abroad and then returned. But emigrants who do not return to live in Romania still play an important part in Romanian life. In the December 2014 presidential election very large numbers of Romanians spent all Sunday queuing outside embassies in foreign capitals to vote, because Victor Ponta's government had not provided sufficient ballot boxes. The diaspora’s angry tweets and Facebook statuses were given the credit for the surprise victory for Mr. Iohannis. One young woman called up her parents and told them she wouldn’t be sending any more money home unless they voted for him.  

The entrance last summer of a million migrants into Europe has shown how very insubstantial borders are, but has now led to them becoming tighter. Schengen has been suspended in many countries, though Romania still seeks to join. Will Bill Clinton be proven right about the wisdom of a borderless world? Or Neagu Djuvara who predicts a Muslim conquest of Europe?

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