Interviewing the Romanian diaspora for the Särö magazine on the return of the far-right

Now-time Us-space (NTUS) researcher Ionut Chiruta researched for Särö magazine how a far-right fringe party was able to enter the Romanian parliament. Chiruta's article explains why Romanian emigrants living in consolidated European democracies sympathised with the far-right Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR) party.

Our researcher Ionut Chiruta teamed up with Särö magazine to shed some light on why a far-right Romania party resonated so much with the Romanian diaspora during Covid-19.

In March 2022, Ionut was approached by Särö Magazine, the communication partner in the Kone-funded project Now-time Us-space (NTUS), to write a piece about the return of the far-right in Romania. In line with the overall research of NTUS, Ionut proposed a piece that would investigate the reception of far-right discourses used to mobilise the Romanian diaspora from Austria, Germany, Italy, and Spain, among the very people who opted to vote for a far-right party in 2020. This endeavour would make a new addition to the literature, journalistic investigations, and the public for two reasons.

First, early in December 2020, the results of the parliamentarian election underlined a surprise for Romanian politics. Before 2020, Romania was the only country in Central and Eastern Europe not to have a party from the fringes elected in parliament. The emergence of the Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR) as the fourth-largest political party contested popular knowledge and bewildered the media. The latter did not pay close attention to its mobilisation strategies and activism in rural areas, diaspora, and on social media. Running on a concoction of nationalism, economic protectionism, and conservatism, with sharp views on banning abortions and excluding sex education in schools, while, at the same time, prioritising the role of Christianity in its political doctrine under the mantra “Nihil sine Deo/Nothing without God,” AUR’s political platform convinced many in an election with a low turnout (33%). Second, the diaspora vote rendered AUR as Romania’s fourth-largest party. In past elections, this electorate voted for parties like the union for the Salvation of Romania, an anti-system and reform party. Therefore, understanding the psychology and discursive mechanisms that pushed these people who live in consolidated democracies to resonate with far-right discourses and support them at the ballot became the main aims of this paper. The topic and aims of the piece resonated with the editorial office of Särö.

In total, Ionut spoke with sixteen anonymised people (ten men and six women) during the interview process, either online or face to face. In the early months of this endeavour, this process was challenging, as most respondents who supported and voted for AUR in 2020 replied negatively to our researcher’s queries. Some told our researcher that because of his job and query they are advised by other friends or family not to engage with Ionut. Yet, some people agreed and even helped Ionut find other people in their network. Throughout March and June, sixteen people from the hospitality business, agriculture sector, and transportation system were convinced to talk to our researcher. Most people interviewed for the piece acknowledged that AUR’s rise was long in the making, as this party was the only one that bypassed conventional media to speak directly with them via social media (Facebook, Instagram, TikTok). There were some who praised AUR for their door-to-door activism in diaspora, especially in Italy, where AUR is welcomed by priests to speak with the parishioners after mass. Nevertheless, one person said that the priest of the parish she attends in Ostia, Italy, refused to allow AUR to speak with the people.

Generally, all people interviewed for Särö magazine were convinced that the Romanian political system was thoroughly corrupt, with institutions that are under the sway of powerful politicians or parties. In the end, most people argued that this mixture of corruption, nepotism and botched institutions forced many to leave their country to search for a better life for themselves and their families, as most lost hope back home. However, an interesting finding uncovered by Ionut during these talks was that some people said that while they went abroad to search for a better life outside Romania, some encountered bad working conditions in Spain, Italy, and Germany. Some individuals interviewed for this piece complained to Ionut that their employers sometimes do not respect their full rights concerning payment, nor do they provide decent working conditions. It became obvious to our researcher that these people who resonated with AUR’s discourses and mobilisation strategies were caught between two opposing forces, thereby becoming vulnerable and receptive to the far-right discourse. The question was, what exactly seduced these diaspora people?

For most people interviewed by Ionut was AUR’s ability to confront corrupt politicians from mainstream parties and to get to see that satisfaction materialise during Facebook-live streams. Others praised AUR for wanting to make politics different and for restoring the sense of pride in Romania with regard to other nations and foreigners. Other people interviewed for this piece stated their support for AUR because of their emphasis on the union with the Republic of Moldova – a theme that few interviewees considered mainstream politics abandoned. Yet, most people talked about preferring to support AUR for their actions and speeches against Covid-19 vaccines and for protecting the rights of the Orthodox Church. Some interviewees told Ionut about flying from Italy and joining AUR’s protests in the squares.

In a nutshell, Ionut loved working with our communication partner Särö and benefited tremendously from their journalists’ feedback across the writing and editing processes. This endeavour is a true symbiosis of how young early-stage researchers based at the University of Helsinki can develop their writing skills in a great environment and have fun.