The de-institutionalization of hospitality – or integration from below

Root Event

5. Werkleitz Biennale 2002 Zugewinngemeinschaft
The de-institutionalization of hospitality – or integration from below

While Europe, since 1989, has dismantled its bulwarks against communism, it now believes it is threatened by an internal enemy 1 . The danger coming from outside has changed and is now no longer called communism but immigration and organized crime – a change that, without exception, affects all countries with which EU accession negotiations are being held. The enlargement to the East apparently demands the ideological construction of countries that are regarded as foreign by all states of the old continent as well as the appropriation of the institutional practices of European hospitality.

In order to become a full member of the European Union, all candidate states must oblige themselves to establish a secure border to the East, which thus becomes Europe’s new Eastern outer frontier. The migration movements of former communist countries that were hitherto undesirable and regarded as coming from outside Europe, have now, due to this immigration policy, turned into inner-European ones and become acceptable migration flows. Creating borders to guarantee an increased freedom of movement is one of the biggest paradoxes in our times.

It is also an irony of history that the people who were locked in behind the Iron Curtain for half a century (between World War Two and 1989 not only migration movements, but any sort of travel abroad were highly restricted in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe) and persecuted in their countries by totalitarian regimes (and thus ranked high in regard to their right to seek asylum in the West) are precisely the ones who are preparing themselves to participate in the coordination and unification of “fortress Europe’s” immigration policy. In the countries of the former Eastern bloc, the legal measures against illegal immigration and “false refugees” were stepped up. In Bucharest, Sofia and Warsaw talk is of bringing the procedure for granting a visa for ‘countries on the negative list’ in line with the regulations planned according to the Schengen Agreement. The negotiations on introducing new visa requirements for Ukrainians, Russians and Moldavians indeed draws a new borderline, a new Iron Curtain: the borderline of electronic data processing. 2

While in regard to the problem of migration a politics of ‘barriers’ has been established in the official discourse in Europe, the migration movements towards the West have in reality been developed from below through the revitalization of private and anonymous hospitality. Various kinds of spontaneous and individual social integration have indeed replaced institutional integration in an informal way and thus hailed in the de-institutionalization of hospitality.

Using three examples of integration from below, which I recorded during my research on Romanian migration movements 3 (from 1989 up to the lifting of the visa requirement in January, 2002, in Germany, France and Italy), I would like to point out these new forms of sociability between migrants and the local population. What makes them special is predominantly the unregulated linking of mobility, social integration, labor and re-settling, i. e., of hospitality (right of access) and law of hospitality (right of residency).

Connections between Romania and Europe

The Romanian migration movements that could be observed in the 1990s along the German borders as well as in all of Europe can only be understood against the historical background of the migration of Aussiedler (ethnic German emigrants) from Transsylvania and Banat, two Romanian regions in which the proportion of ethnic Germans is very high 4 . During the time when Romanian citizens were locked up in the communist bloc, the emigration of Romanian-Germans was the only legal way to leave the country and therefore became “the ideal model of migrating to foreign countries” for a large part of the population.

The occasional holiday and family visits of ethnic German Romanians to the old homeland – a highly esteemed and very desirable right allow- ing unrestricted travel – fuelled the emigration fantasies of the Romanian society for a long time. It is therefore no coincidence that Germany became the most popular country to emigrate to in the first years after December 1989, not only for ethnic-German emigrants but for other Romanians as well. The Germans from Transsylvania and Banat passed on an entire ideology to their fellow citizens in terms of “how and to where one must emigrate”. Their migration behavior, their connections, their personal experiences (e. g., in regard to their exclusion within German society), their success (especially in material terms), their destinations in Germany, their ideas about Europe etc. – this entire anthropological complex of the migration of Aussiedler influenced the emigration intents of hundreds of thousands of Romanians who in the early 90s wandered through Europe.

The advantages of belonging to two countries at the same time became noticeable after the fall of the communist regime. As a result of the change of government in Bucharest and the altered politics vis-à-vis the Aussiedler in Berlin, Germans who were born on Romanian ground may retain both nationalities. In this way, they don’t loose their property in Romania and can exercise their rights (social rights, working permit) in Germany. The fact that in the Schengen area they are regarded as Germans and in their native country as Romanians significantly altered the migration movements of Romanian-Germans.

Their coming and going from and to Romania and Germany combines vacation with doing small businesses, relief activities and retirement, and sometimes takes on the form of a permanent return. They always return to their places of origin, even if these are not historically Saxon regions. This is true of cities as well as villages. Starting in 1989, vacations turned into alternative migrations. This type of migration movement particularly applies to retired persons. They spend the winter in Germany and the summer in Romania. They prefer travelling by bus.

These population groups that commute, so to speak, between Romania and Germany and regard both countries as their homeland, represent Romanians’ best capital in terms of social mobility. Each year, the German consulates in Romania issue approximately 180,000 visas for Romanian citizens, which is about three times as many as the other EU member states. France is second with between 50,000 and 60,000 visa issued. According to the German consulate in Timisoara, two thirds of all issued entry permits are visiting permits (for short visits) that can be obtained through an invitation by a German citizen. These invitations mostly stem from members of the Aussiedler community. Each trip these German migrants make to Romania inevitably leads, upon their return, to a number of invitations extended to their Romanian friends, neighbors, and others they are “obliged” to.Within the strict framework of a “visiting permit”, meetings with friends do of course take place, but the vast majority of these invitations serve to mobilize tens of thousands of people who have no other chance to move about in the Schengen area. While at the beginning of the 90s “visitors” turned into political refugees, the situation today is totally different. Some Romanian migrants who reside in Italy, Spain and France, where they perform more or less fixed-term jobs, arrive in these countries from Romania with a German visa. There is a silent agreement in these networks to not get the German friends, who enabled the visa to be issued, into trouble. The agreement is aimed at “staying clean in the computer” 5 (referring to the computer system of the Schengen states). This entry strategy can be found in every example that was investigated, whereby in the case of Germany it has reached an extent unsurpassed by other countries.

Under the conditions of a European politics which aims at reducing immigration to zero, and the unbridgeable gap between the former exile and the wandering Romanians after 1989, the Germans stemming from Romania have played an important role for the Romanian migration movements, namely that of a non-existent diaspora. Due to their readiness to share with others the institutional advantages and to offer possibilities of immigration, they have established a first connection between Romania and Europe.

Business strategies

Even if one does encounter the “classical” representatives of the wandering migrant – the entrepreneur, the student, the trainee and the pensioner – on the travel routes between France and Romania, they are characterized by great discretion. In the case of France, however, a very special type of wandering migrant is central, one who combines outsiderdom, mobility and very active travelling between the two countries. The combination of these three factors has, as opposed to the wide-spread opinion, resulted in unprecedented social integration, especially where no one would expect it: on the street. And that is where the source of the largest economic success of the migration movement seems to lie.

Some migrants, who as outsiders had to secure income as fast as possible, have made a living in France by collecting various things and in some cases have even become modestly rich. On the one hand, they trade with second-hand clothes, used automobile tires, diverse kitchen appliances from bulky refuse and other commodities, and on the other, they earn money directly by begging, cleaning windshields, selling street newspapers, reselling metro tickets, playing street music, as well as – since recently – break- ing into parking-ticket vending-machines and other more or less legal activities. The Roma are most likely the first Romanian citizens whose migration movements between France and Romania are based on collecting the most diverse commodities, more or less successfully.

But collecting for commercial purposes is not only reserved for wandering Roma. Between 1993 and 1995 they faced competition on these parallel markets from wandering non-Roma who, in lack of other income, also entered these markets. The Roma from Cluj as well as the seasonal worker from Oas (a region in the north of Romania), each with their own strategy, take up this money collecting business, one of the most worthwhile and consistent France had ever seen until 1993: the sale of street newspapers. The special feature of this “press of precariousness” (press de la précarité) 6 is not its quality as a paper, but the status of the vendor; the money paid by the buyer is understood more as a donation than as the purchase price. This is further underlined by the fact that the vendor is in many cases allowed to keep the newspaper.

While the Roma have given up this sector and have turned completely to begging in France or other countries, or have simply returned to Romania, this market has become the key business of farmers from Oas. In front of entrances to stores, post offices and supermarkets, the Romanians are there, punctually and consistently, and have succeeded in establishing an extremely efficient network and finding their feet in French society. After seven years, every vendor has “his support” in the form of “his Frenchman”, a person he relates to, who encourages and protects him, who guarantees the mobility of the migrant, making his own network available and thus opening up the job market for the migrant. Even though this press of precariousness at first created a stir, because it made an “economic benefit of a social handicap”, it did play an important role in integrating these migrants into French society – if only marginally. Vendor and customer quite evidently make up a team that contributes to the development of a new sociability and individual solidarity outside of any type of institutional structures of hospitality.

Family contacts

No other Western country has attracted as many Romanian migrants as Italy. 7 The tolerant attitude towards – legal or illegal – migrants and the widespread rumor that “Italy issues documents” have directed large flows of migrants towards Italy. In order to acquire “these documents”, the immigration candidates only rarely turn to the Italian embassy in Bucharest. The usual strategy consists of entering Italy, getting by there on jobs without taking care of the required formalities, and then seeking a subsequent “regularization” by the authorities. There is always a group of illegal migrants searching for work and another group who already has work and is attempting to get their documents straight. As soon as the integration in the labor market has succeeded, the readiness to migrate decreases and focuses on vacation periods. At first sight, one gains the impression that “the entire working class” of Romania has been shipped to Italy.

This impression is intensified all the more by the fact that there are specific Romanian immigration centers in Italian cities, like there were working class quarters adjacent to the large industrial complexes in Romania before 1989. In front of railroad stations, Romanian churches, the soup kitchens of Caritas and on the various markets one encounters migrants (sometimes in the evenings but especially on Saturdays and Sundays) that congregate within the community. The majority of immigrants comes from rural regions and is familiar with living as a migrant from earlier experiences. Before they endeavored to the labor markets abroad, these migrants or their parents followed various migration movements within Romania. As they were seasonal workers already prior to the fall of the communist regime and were forced to wander about, this familial and communal habit plays a role when seeking work and is utilized abroad as a direct experience.

Within the context of this labor migration, the large number of women and married couples is remarkable. The statistics confirm this impression: almost half the Romanian workers in Italy are women. Even though family reunion is made attributable for this large number, the unofficial labor market for domestic help seems to contribute considerably to the arrival of female immigrants in Italy. In addition, women are also to be found among the migrants who have entered the country illegally. 30,000 jobs are officially held by female Romanians in the sector of domestic economy. A sufficiently high number to illustrate the significance of illegal migration.

This type of employment within the Italian family, which is generally based on private contacts and a relationship of trust, has furthered the rapid acquiring of social capital that is indispensable for a migration movement. These domestic networks have proven to be a very efficient means of social and institutional integration. It is no coincidence that the first procedure to legalize foreign moonlighters in Italy is associated with law no. 943 from December 30, 1986, that was passed mainly with the aim of giving the numerous domestic helpers that were already in Italy the possibility of obtaining a residence permit. Reasons for this lie in the structures of the Italian family as well as in the system of provisions for old age. This special situation in Italy is most likely the social basis for the Romanian migration movement.

Integration from below

Despite the European “‘anti-immigration policies”, these Romanian migrants without legal documents, but with friends, have succeeded in integrating themselves in the international labor market within ten years. Even if the authorities have apparently learned to live with the provisional and non-institutional nature of their migration 8 , it is still the case that not the state institutions, but the civil society and individual people in these countries have contributed to this unofficial cease- fire. Every migrant has “his employer”, “his Frenchman”, “his Italian”, “his German friend”, who protects him, introduces him to the labor market, teaches him the language and has perhaps visited him in his homeland.

Whether this is spontaneous solidarity or calculated self-interest, migrants and locals have begun establishing a friendly relationship that has cushioned the Schengen regulations intended to discourage migration. This type of social integration from below, which has triggered the migration of thousands of people without financial or institutional capital, questions not only any type of immigration policy but especially its lack. Isn’t it the private hospitality between citizens and migrants and the de-nationalization of the “hospitium publicum” that decisively points the way for a true European immigration politics?

Dana Diminescu is a researcher at Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, Paris


1 This tendency can already be observed for quite a while, “based on the political principle of transparency, it accompanies any attempt to rationalize society and adheres – with the help of this principle – to the utopian obsession of keeping all types of behavior under control”. René Schérer, Zeus hospitalier, 1993, ed. Armand Colin, Paris, 17.

2 “After borderlines were for a long time part of landscape sceneries, today they are absent from the geographical maps. Omnipresent and in the form of a data file they suddenly appear in consulates, district governments and on the laptops of police officers at an ordinary highway toll station. The same is true of visa permits.” Dana Diminescu, “Le système D contre les frontières informatiques”, in Hommes et Migrations, no. 1230, March/April 2001, 28-33.

3 Even if Romania now counts as a beneficiary of a regulation that enables free movement within the Schengen area, and the mobility of Romanians, which is the topic of this text, is no longer as conspicuous as it used to be, I decided all the same to explicate these three cases (Germany, France, Italy) of Romanian migration movements between 1989 and 2002 (when the visa requirement was abolished). They are to serve as model examples of migration for any sort of illegal migrant group who has no opportunity for legal migration and along with whom Romania until recently was on the “black list” of third countries that are prohibited free movement.

4 In the 1960s, the desire to leave Romania and emigrate to Germany becomes clearly perceptible. At this time, socialist Romania restricts the freedom of movement of its citizens, no matter which population group they belong to. In the 50s and 60s only a few thousand Romanians succeeded in leaving the country once and for all with the aid of the Red Cross and within the context of family reunions between East and West. Only at the end of the 60s, when a period of political thawing began in Romania and diplomatic relations were again taken up between Germany and Romania, (one must recall the controversy that took place over the treaty signed by Schmidt and Ceausescu in 1978 allowing 12,000 ethnic Germans to leave the country per year against a redemption payment of DM 10,000 per person), were the restrictions loosened, allowing the increased emigration of the German minority. Today, the German community living in Romania is estimated to be 200,000.

5 Cf. Dana Diminescu, “Le système D contre les frontières informatiques”, in Hommes et Migrations, no. 1230, March /April 2001, 28-33.

6 At this point it is appropriate to briefly elaborate on this new type of journalism in order to better understand the reasons and effects of the “undermining” of these so-called “re-integration newspapers” by the migrants from Oas. This special press was initiated due to the intensifying economic crisis and has generated a number of newspapers in France since 1993. The paper Le Macadam, which is sold on the streets by so-called “SDF” (persons without a fixed residence), appears for the first time in Paris on May 11, 1993, and the very next day conquers the streets of Brussels. It belongs to a wide variety of street newspapers with telling names that flood France between 1993 and 1998: Faim de Siècle, Génération Sida, Spectacle d’Ile de France, Sans-Abri, Le Galérien, 10 Balles, Euro Pass, Le Belvédère. Compared to similar papers in other countries, the French model is characterized by a large number of titles on a national, but also local level. All these papers understand themselves as a response to the phenomenon of exclusion and aim at securing a kind income for the homeless via direct street vending. According to an estimate by the Office of Information and Economic Predictions (BIPE) in December 1998, more than 98,000 persons were living on the streets. Abbé Pierre, however, stated in the first issue of La Rue in 1993 that more than 400,000 people in France have no fixed residence. The common denominator of this press is the manner in which the entire cycle from producer to consumer is organized. The following must be taken into account: the limitation of vendors and the determination of their identity (identity card, vendor/peddler contracts, ID of the newspaper), the way the distribution of the newspaper is organized (wholesale distribution or via individuals), the sale in public spaces with the exception of railroad stations and the metro system, the working hours determined by the vendor, the social status of the vendor (persons in desperate straits, homeless, migrants). This activity takes up in part the tradition of door-to-door peddling of newspapers, which is well known to historians.

7 On January 1, 2001, there were 68,000 legally immigrated Romanians in Italy (source: the Italian Ministry of the Interior), and on January 1, 2002, approximately 90,000 (source: Italian consulate in Bucharest).

8 Cf. the excellent study by the sociologist Andrea Rea: “Le travail des sans-papiers dans l’Europe panopticon”, in Actes du Colloques ‘Economie du bazar dans les métropoles euroméditerranéennes’, Lames, MMSH, Aix en Provence, 29- 31. May 2002.