Bucharest is hot and noisy. The bus inches through the rush hour traffic. I notice a car literally wrapped around a lamp post, which causes some consternation amongst my fellow passengers. Traffic police whistle at the slow moving convoy. I learn later Joe Biden is in town, staying across the square from us. On TV news he talks of Romania’s importance to the UN. A Romanian colleague comments : ‘We’d rather have Biden than the Russians‘.
I ask at the desk for a recommendation for dinner and we eat pike’s roe and sheep’s cheese followed by cabbage stuffed with goose and pork and duck. Everything is good and goes well with the local red wine. The old town has been remade – there is construction everywhere. It feels like Bucharest is re-writing its history to make it cleaner. At the red and white brick church we can hear the priest saying mass through a loudspeaker. People cross themselves vigorously as they pass by.
We pile on the mini-bus. We are leaving Bucharest and driving 300 miles south to the Black Sea town of Constanta. This has been the main seaport in the country, as well as a holiday resort.The hotel receptionist advises visiting the Casino on the front. In the brochure she proffers it indeed looks like an impressive building, although not a Casino anymore.
Once we reach the outskirts of the Bucharest, the roads quieten, we bump along the motorway. The landscape is flat and green.
We are here for meetings and workshops with our Romanian partners in the next phase of the Silver Stories project. This EU funded Leonardo project is on its 2 year course to establish and refine methodologies for working with elderly people. Goldsmiths is the evaluation partner. Digital storytelling is being used in a multifaceted way : as a training tool for professionals who work with the elderly; also as a means to reach those who are older and isolated, or have Dementia; or want to use the technologies around them but don’t know how. Our hosts are to show us their approaches to the storycircle and application through the comprehensive network of libraries as training centres, throughout the country.
We hear inspirational stories from local women who have taken part in the project to date: One of whom has written 6 novels since being introduced to computing and how to use the simple software on offer. In Romania you are seen as ‘old’ at 60 and many living in the provinces are very isolated. Other participants told us how they could now keep in touch with their children working abroad as now they know how to use Skype. Many of the groups, which were brought together through the project are encouraged to keep in touch with each other via Facebook. The digital storytelling was just the beginning of a new technologically enhanced social life.
One morning before beginning our workshops at the library, I see a sign on the corner of a street, detailing the number of kilometres to Roma and Londra, while the km count to ‘Uniunea Europeana’ is zero. We are in the middle of the EU elections and it is felt keenly here. Although the roads are a mixture of new and smooth and rutted and pot holed, Provincial Romania doesn’t look quite so refreshed as the capital. We see some workers scraping off old yellow paint from lamp-posts and repainting them. One of our Romanian hosts tells me the mayor is doing this before the elections, but there is too much corruption here. ‘There are free buses for people with a pension under 900 lei a month, but he is fiddling money elsewhere in the city’s budget.’
I see children in the touristy harbourside cafes doggedly trying to sell their roses to us and others who are eating by the water; while other kids work their way down the lanes of stationary traffic asking for change.
All the while Europe is gearing up for elections. Feeling the urge to gorge on news, I see Nigel Farage stating his arguments on Euro-news, while I dip into a Channel 4 news package on my phone. It features a UKIP rally in Croydon where the steel band, hired to ‘create a party atmosphere’ packs up when the members realise who has hired them. My family was forced to move out of Eastern Europe to UK in the early part of C20th because of the rise of anti-semitism there. I don’t feel that this entirely defines me, but UKIP rhetoric forces me to put this part of my history centre stage. I am in Mittel-Europa as a member of a project which tackles the increasing and international phenomenon of an ageing population and celebrates how approaches in 6 European countries might be used in tandem and how methodologies can be shared and improved upon.
But there are contrasting views on the idea of a European identity. Mila Moshelova discusses how foreign policy within EU countries has difficulty in ‘identifying and integrating common interests … this further impedes the emergence of a European identity.’ i And along with these ideas on foreign policy, there are long standing arguments over the nature of European identity and how EU funding for culture and educational projects tries to create a European identity that doesn’t exist, indeed Meinhof contends that with
‘European identity’ scholars are fishing for something that in fact does not occur naturally.ii
And yet, there are other ways to measure feelings of ‘European-ness’ : through action.Favell (2005) contends that our cross border behaviour, such as buying property abroad, handling a common currency, looking for work in a foreign city,…buying cheap airline tickets,… joining cross-national associations—and a thousand other actions facilitated by the European free movement accord is as much about being European as EU regulation.
‘These ways of being European (that can all be counted, or interrogated for meaning), are notably also enjoyed by many who overtly profess themselves to be Eurosceptic or to have no European identity at all. Thought of this way, we may indeed discover ‘social identities’ that are genuinely transnational, if they turn out to be rooted behaviourally in new forms of cross-national action and interaction.‘iii
In this sense perhaps the Silver Stories project falls into the category of ‘European action’ : collaborating across borders, sharing ideas, facilitating new understanding through this local and cross border work : Potentially encouraging convergent ideals and finding identity in coherent goals. For me, this confirms why the EU is important. Why it matters. It’s not just about EU quotas and being ‘told what to do by Brussels’ but about collaboration.
Claire Levy is a researcher at CUCR. email@example.com
For more information about the Silver Stories project go to : http://arts.brighton.ac.uk/projects/silver-stories/about-silver-stories
i“European Identity in a Transforming Political Space: Eastern Enlargement and its Challenges”, Nouvelle Europe [en ligne], Saturday 15 February 2014, http://www.nouvelle-europe.eu/node/1791, displayed on 13 June 2014
iiEds. Hermann, R. Risse, T, Brewer, M. 2004 Transnational Identities : Becoming European in the EU.Rowman and Littlefield. Oxford.
iii Favell, A. Europe’s Identity Problem. In West European Politics, Vol. 28, No. 5, 1109 – 1116, November 2005