Many hardworking, educated Romanian professionals outside of the pre-reform network experience a double status-based discrimination today: national discrimination based on structural deficiencies and implicit EU discrimination that fails to acknowledge the political reality in Romania.
On national level, the combination of being hardworking and well-educated seems somewhat unfortunate as it is seen as a form of ‘intersectionality’ of two aspects of discrimination, something like being black and female in a conservative society. Add ‘disabled’ to the above-mentioned traits and you have social science graduates.
As a consequence of their inferior status in Romania, these citizens have automatically become second-class citizens in EU society, in that we, as nationals of the new Member States, are subject to formal and informal restrictions, both nationally and EU-wide.
Many Romanians are victims of nepotism left by communism: for many Romanians, networking is another synonym for nepotism or, in the best-case scenario, a cover for it.
As the value of EU citizenship is grounded in rights that go beyond those offered by the Member States, discrimination in the European Union is often defined as the exclusion of third-country nationals and minorities from EU citizenship. As a citizen of a new EU Member State, however, I would betray my fellow Romanians if I didn’t seek to add second-class EU citizens to this list. This category highlights the continuing problem of rewarding less meritorious citizens with material wealth and public recognition, which leads to a somewhat disadvantaged group of people such as teachers, doctors, etc.
In Romania, substantial economic inequalities among equally capable persons can be understood primarily by network membership. Many Romanians are victims of nepotism left by communism: for many Romanians, networking is another synonym for nepotism or, in the best-case scenario, a cover for it. Its perception is encapsulated by the idiom, ‘Same Mary, different hat!’, the same product in new packaging.
But the truth is: the rest of EU citizens are not doing very well without connections either.
EU networking or national nepotism?
Some may wonder what communism has to do with our contemporary debate. A lot! In a society that never passed a lustration law – which would have limited the ability of former communists to hold positions in government– and only condemned its communist crimes 17 years after the Revolution.Could democratization have proven appealing to the CommunistParty elite faced with the opportunity to enhance their privileges during the political transition? The inclusion of those formerly in power undermines the principle of equality before the law by diverting public resources towards old power networks. In contemporary Romanian society, the winners are not necessarily as hardworking and well-educated as those excluded from the political process, but belong to the ‘state rent-seeking’ established elites.
Many hardworking Romanian youth attend challenging programmes at European or U.S. schools. Most of them lack connections to local power networks and end up waiting tables for first-year students who inherited access to the ministry, Commission or national parliament.
Networking allows connections between people with common beliefs, values and skills. Elites get to filter each other across a long-term process of common socialization. Romania was one of the last two members to join the EU club. Brussels addressed the issue of securing respect for and protection of minorities, while failing to consider structural obstacles faced by majorities: lack of access to public resources outside power networks. The educated and hardworking people are mostly disenfranchised; Romania is a society in which the process of social advancement was for decades only possible with good connections, rather than good education and hard work.
Proving discrimination at EU level against young, educated Romanians is a ridiculous endeavor, given the number of Romanians already working in European institutions and international organisations. Looking at the question of access and transparency (with a number of notable exceptions) tells us a slightly different story. Brussels unquestionably trusts Romanian politicians and high-ranking civil servants to welcome the so-called young representative Romanian elite. Good connections are still more important than a good CV. Many hardworking Romanian youth attend challenging programmes at European or U.S. schools. Most of them lack connections to local power networks and end up waiting tables for first-year students who inherited access to the ministry, Commission or national parliament.
Article 14 of the European Convention for Human Rights (ECHR) prohibits ‘discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, color, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status’. This addresses more the experiences of the old EU Member States than of new Member States like Romania. Consequently, as a citizen of a new Member State, I am concerned that this concept may be heavily under-defined. It fails to identify and eradicate a main form of discrimination at local, national and EU level: status-based discrimination. This form of discrimination undermines equality under the law by limiting access to public resources strictly to power networks.
Losers under these circumstances are soldiers, academics, doctors and street-level bureaucrats such as teachers and police as well as pensioners from all these professions and more; all are condemned to a monthly income of only 100 to 200 Euros. Graduates of social sciences tend to dissolve through assimilation in other job categories, as there is no market in need of their skills. Good jobs continue to exist at national and EU level alike. Who gets these jobs? Overwhelmingly, the networked elite. How can one tell the difference between nepotism and networking? Maybe an East-West expert group could underline differences in light of diverging historic legacies.
The 2009 presidential elections divided Romania into roughly the 51 percent who chose continuity of the status quo and the remaining 49 percent who cast their votes for the project ‘A Romania of Common Sense’. The project, initiated by the left-leaning PSD party, sought to promote meritocracy through equalization of opportunities. Although this vision lost to the status quo, the narrow margin demonstrates that it spoke to the discontent in Romania by channelling their energies towards the recovery of dismantled values, in line with the European life and glued together by ‘common sense’. The implications are that as long as public money travels to the pockets of the networked elite, educated hard-working Romanians cannot afford to experience life as citizens of the EU, in its most basic form. Complementarily, Eurobarometers and European days, flags and anthems fall short of making up for the EU’s failure to recognize basic rights of the discriminated, infringements legitimized as networking.Tags: Commentary