Lehrveranstaltungen von Urmila Goel an der Europa-Universität Viadrina in Frankfurt/Oder

Wintersemester 2004/05: Virtual Ethnicity - Ethnic Identity Construction in the  Internet

Romanians in Germany:  www.romanians-de.org

reports by Luana Martin



Entering the section with the most recent discussions in the forum, I stopped to read the titles. One of the first mentioned was a question that caught my eyes: “Would you go back in Romania, for 1000 euro per month?” What came as a surprise, was the fact that the first message was posted on September 2003. So, is it really a recent discussion?

Why would they place a certain amount of money as a reason to go back? Are money such an important issue? Reading the discussion, you cannot reach other conclusion, yes, money are very important for them, maybe for some of them the most important. Some see money as a means to fulfil their dreams, some need them to help the family back home, some have them, some would like to have more.  But the question one asked, was if it is all about the money, if being Romanian is for sale.

The debate started as a page in an IT manual, they were discussing what Romania has, or better said had, to offer when it comes to finding a job in their field of interest: SW engineering.  Than the discussion focused on reasons why, or reasons why not. They were arguing about criminality, about  politics, about health system, about many reasons they found not to go home. Among all these arguments, on the other side, there were the parents, friends, the homesickness, the mountains, but also the hope that somehow Romania will change, maybe due to people like them. Some are in Germany, never wanting to go back, some are still longing for home, some are home, never wanting to go back in Germany, their adoptive country.

Besides the conflict of opinions, which is more and more obvious the more the discussion goes deeper, I could see also a sort of generation gap. There are the teenagers, still longing for their talking to complete strangers in the bus, and on the other side, the “grownups”, wanting all the private cars to be safe, and properly parked.

The more the discussion goes on, the more the tension grows. They seem to look for more and more reasons to sustain their points. It turns now somehow in an archive of personal experiences. They all have personal reasons to think in a certain way, and they all question each other’s point of view

Next, from questioning each other, they turned to questioning the purpose of the whole discussion, and the purpose of their being there, on that forum. What does it mean? A sort of going back home? What does this discussion mean? A sort of finding reasons both for the others and for themselves for being away from home? What is the purpose of this talk? It is just the pleasure of talking?

It might be, but in the same time it might be not. Some ask very specific questions, in order to find out very useful information. For example, all of a sudden from discussing the Romanian life style, the subject turned into, where  on the internet can I find jobs in Romania. Can’t they just get away from this  pragmatic way of being?

Besides the gaps in age, and in opinions, this discussion has a huge gap in time. From September 2003 going on on a regular basis, it suddenly stopped, at the end of February, to be rediscovered in the 3rd of February, 2005.

And with a simple “cool down, man, this thread is one year old ” the discussion started all over again, having more or less the same people involved.

If looking at the discussion from the point of  view of the appearance, I can say for sure that it has ups and downs, judging, not from the tone of voice, but from turning the letters into bold when they get angry.

So, would they go back? One answer is sure: DEPENDS



 This week, on Romanians-de.org, the first thing one can see on the front page is a charity action, organized by the members of the forum.

First there was posted a message about a 36 years old Romanian, in need for a new prothesis for his left leg. Even though he studied law, Cristian Costras, together with his wife are also painting and presenting their works on an art web page www.decorative.ro. The man is asking for help, but he seems rather sceptical about the actual help he will get.

His message is introduced by one of the users, who motivates his initiative saying:

“The reason for trying to help this man is very simple: we like to do good things especially in certain moments - on Christmas, for AIDS campaigns, or when huge waves hit Asia. I donated money for all, and now, when I got this message I realized that smiling to a stranger on the street in Christmas time, donating money for foundations dealing with AIDS or Asia, means donating some goodness to a stranger. A complete stranger, not even belonging to my people, to my nation. This time I would like to donate some of my money and my smile (no matter how forced it may be) to an identifiable person, with a transparent name and biography. And more than this, one who’s Romanian.That’s why”.

Starting from that day, the 27th of January 2005, the whole charity campaign went on, most of the active users trying to give, to help, to organize, to solve.

Following the whole discussion one could see the history of this action.

First they decided to form a commission of minimum 3 members, to verify each other in order to eliminate doubts. But don’t they know each other enough? Would anyone lie about such things?

They opened than a bank account where they will collect all the money. At the beginning the donations were openly made, but they felt it is better to make them private, to keep anonymity. Having a German and a Romanian bank account, still seems to be not enough. There are also users from Italy wanting to help. But, why users from Italy on Romanians-de.org? Do also the users from this site visit the Italian version, or only vice versa?

Another matter of knowing and trusting one another was a question raised by one of the users: “And who will guarantee for all this? How will I know if they will really buy that prothesis?”. Are they ready to believe in such things? Are such things to be trusted? How far can scepticism on the internet go?

Moving one step forward, they started to look for a dealer in order to get that prothesis. But some other problem came up: who will do this? Who speaks German good enough?

“I would, but I don’t want to start with the wrong foot because of my “accent””.

They also tried, besides collecting money to expand this campaign also to other sites they use, on some sites linked with Romanians-de .org, or on some private web pages.

Could this mean that most of them are users on more than one site, that they are not entirely devoted to this one?

All this campaign could be a little bit about helping, but also a little bit about community, a little bit about Romanians. As a conclusion, I decided just to quote  Cristian Costras’s answer for the people who helped him:

“For you…

when I posted the message on the net, I didn’t believe that I will get an answer. But now I realize, striking as it may be, that you succeeded in changing my opinion about Romanians (and also about people in general), you, those who left the country, of all people. I believe that the trust you have in yourselves and in the others is a lesson to be learned. By everyone. By us, living in Romania, in the first place.

I would like to thank you, but I don’t know how





Who are they?

I don’t really know who is behind this label of webmaster. There is indeed an item called About Us, where one can find information about when the site appeared, why, but nothing about who created it. So who are they? They say that anyone who wants to help maintaining and developing the site could contact them at webmaster@ro-de.org. So, if anyone could help, maybe the most important are not the webmasters, but those who help, maybe the users. Indeed, some of the topics in the forum indicate some users as moderators of the topic.

Hence, I’ve taken a look at the users: Most of those who posted more than 1000 messages have joined the site in July 2002. Those who are most active, Man, Decoder and dcip, avoided to reveal their location, not mentioning anything, or giving answers like: “location-somewhere here”, or “citizen of the world”. They post between 6.90 posts per day and  1.53 posts per day. The most active user claims to be a writer, but most of the users claim to be whether engineers, or  programmers, or senior software specialists. Most of them claim to live in Germany, but there were some accessing the site from Romania, and some who were living in Germany for a short time.

Most of the users of this site posted less than one message per day, and a huge number didn’t post at all. They are only observers, they use this site just to read, just to see.

 What are we supposed  to see:

When we access the site “they” want us to face a  page, almost without colors, but with a lot of titles. It is for me more or less like reading a newspaper.

There are features emphasized with bold letters in the menu bar, maybe these are the most important features, maybe these are the items they want us to see, maybe those are the most visited pages: Consular information,  New discussions in forum, Photo Gallery. From this menu bar you can access the forum and also a page with IT news. These are the most updated parts of the site. One can find new information and posts every day.

But, most of the space in the front page is taken by the news and information. When looking closer to this news, what can we see? We can see –about what: “Basescu President”; we can see- by who: by dcip; and we can see –when: 14.12.04. Now that we see all these, we can raise some questions: the question of updating the news, or better said, the question of why putting outdated news on the homepage. Are they still important, and if yes, for whom, for us, for them?

And then comes the question of who posted these news. Dcip? Who is he? A user, a manager, the webmaster? Questions that lead us back to the idea of who hides behind the name of webmaster. We don’t know. But are we supposed to know, or is this just part of the “world wide web”’s anonymity?


ABOUT CHANGES  IN romanians-de.org

 Looking for changes I have decided first to take just a look.

The first page looks just the same as I new it. At a first glance I have to admit that there have not been big changes. The same menu on a horizontal bar, the news in exactly the same place. The only things changed are the titles, the titles of the top news, the title of the “site of the month” (integrationsbeauftragte.de), the titles of the discussions in the forum. The site is, at a first glance, just the same.

 I will reach now the subject of aesthetics , the topic of the site’s appearance. If I had to draw an image of the site before seeing it, I would have sad: It has to be in red, yellow and blue. In this one can read my way of being influenced by stereotypes about the web-design, and about the fully coloured, commercial look of most web-pages, and besides, maybe one can see in my way of perceiving the site of a Romanian Diaspora as  one “dressed” in Romanian flag, maybe a natural reaction of one being away from home. I have to admit that the appearance of the site didn’t meet my expectations at all. The site is mainly lacking colour, with the exception of the site’s logo: a butterfly joining the colours of both flags, the Romanian and the German. Analysing this logo in relation with the site I have discovered that indeed this is a good way of representing something called the Romanian teenagers living in Germany. There have to be two flags since there are two countries in the story, and besides, the people here indeed seem butterfly-like, they are people looking for a change, and people that adjust to this change. To conclude I would say that the lack of colour made me raise some questions, maybe this site is not about the colours of Romania, or about the colours of Germany, maybe it has no colours because it needs no colours. It seems to me that the main aim of this site is not to present a full picture of Germany, not to be a tourists’ guide for Romania, but to be a means of communication, of meeting people, of discussing, debating.  It is true that they have also a coloured part, the section of photos, but it seems to me that the purpose for this is not to promote something, but to share some small insights of the present and past life, that this is part of people’s communicating, part of sharing thoughts.

Related to the appearance of the site, one can say that it can be somehow hostile. Could be that this site is not dedicated to other people, than those involved in it. What if you are not a Romanian, and you found this site accidentally, trying to get some information about eastern Europe? You probably get the feeling of unfriendliness, mainly because of the language and than because of the site’s appearance. So it is clear, that this site has a target audience to refer to. A target audience which is satisfied with this appearance, an audience for whom so less colours are enough, an audience which looks for something else in this site.

But what do they look for? I could simply say that they look for exchange of information. But what kind of information? What kind of debates do they prefer? This is where the real changes come into discussion.   I’ve been circling the keyword of changing, searching for them in  the colours, in the topics, in the names and menus, but I just didn’t realise at first that the distance which separates me from this changes is actually bigger than the distance which separates my eyes from the screen. The changes are not in appearance, but in people, in attitudes. Coming back to their favourite topics of discussion, one of the most debated was the Romanian policy, fact that comes somehow natural, since Romania just had presidential elections.

I can say that the policy of their mother-country was always one of the favourite subjects, but in what policy is concerned there has been a change in attitude. Before the elections, problems were discussed calmly, analysing and assuming a state of being of their country. A change occurred during the campaign, when all the debates were leading in the same direction, when all the participants seem to have had the same political views, when there has been made some sort of a propaganda. I could call it some kind of election fever. After the campaign, it came again a change. Now when the situation is somehow clear, when the results came as they expected , the tone of the debates changed again. They seem to be now more critical, watching every move of  the man they have chosen as president, considering and reconsidering their choice.

Another change in attitude can be seen in those who are adapting to the status of  a member of Romanian teenagers living in Germany. It seems to me that the newcomers find it rather hard to communicate at the beginning, maybe due also to the fact that the people here in the site are in fact a group of close friends, talking, chatting almost every day. So, at the beginning one can feel like a foreigner among Romanians, but the situations seems to readjust rather quickly, they seem to adapt very fast. This could be eased by the face-to-face meetings which seem to be increasing every week. The percentage of  invitations to meet somewhere in Germany has increased unimaginably, leading to the idea of using this site more like some kind of telephone, like a means to set up meetings with friends.

There is also an unchanged thing which I find important: am article named “The paradox of being Romanian”, which is still in the top of the most read articles, and still highly quoted. One could find lately, among all kinds of practical advises, here and there, an article about foreigners in Germany, or about the “generation from outside”.

So, it seems to me that what is unchanged, but maybe more often expressed lately, is the fact of being away, is the fact of “being with nothing special, but still completely changed”, is being worried about the destiny of Romania, but being also relieved by the fact that this destiny is not necessarily yours, being part of a lost generation, but  part of a generation hoping to return, is laughing at jokes about Romania, but finding yourself somehow in them.



 I could say that the site www.romanians-de.org, through the simple fact that it exists, strengthens somehow the bonds Romanians living in Germany have with their mother country.

The most obvious link is the use of the Romanian language. Wether they perceive the site as being useful, or they see it as means of entertainment, they always use Romanian language. Why is that? They all live in Germany, they could always use German, but still they don’t. Couldn’t it be also because of a certain need to speak Romanian, or because of  missing somehow their mother tongue?

But there is more about this site than speaking Romanian language. I think that it is also a means of communication and of getting information. Does this bring people closer together?

As a means of communication, if taking a look to the chat rooms or forums, we could say that, to a certain extent, this site functions as a telephone line. People chat, exchange ideas, settle meetings, talk to their friends or families, or get to know new people who would identify themselves with the same group, the group of Romanians living in Germany. Maybe this is a little bit more than a telephone line, if we take into account the fact that people here could also see each other.

As a means of getting information, it could also function as a bound to the mother country, since most of the news presented here are related to Romania. On this site one could find links to the most important Romanian newspapers, which they could read daily. Analysing the discussions on the forum, and the answers to some opinion pools, I could say that people do read the news almost every day, they are well informed, they do keep themselves up to date with everything that happens in their mother country.

More than this, also a strong link to Romania could be also the section “The site of the month” – in which they mention LiterNet, a site for Romanian literature, promoting the Romanian writers, having a cultural agenda, and a cultural magazine. 

There is also a calendar for events, through which people can organise meetings to celebrate Romanian holidays, or  to celebrate the holidays in Romanian way.

So, why the “father” Internet? Because the internet seems to contain most of the media inside, it is a phone, a newspaper and a TV in the same time. So, on the site www.romanians-de.org, one could find Romanian people to talk to, Romanian newspapers to read, photos of Romania. That is why, to a certain extent, one could say that this site is a link to the mother country. But is it really? Does it really strengthen the bonds to the country itself, or just the bonds among the people living outside the country? Because at a closer look, one can see that a great amount of information about regulations for foreigners living in Germany, means to get visas, study programs and scholarships, in brief, things concerning only the Romanians living in Germany.

So, this site is indeed a link between Romanians   and their home country, or it is more a link among the Romanians all over the world? Could it be a sort of a “Virtual Romania”?



 This time I will focus on the most colourful part of the site: the Photo Album.

In this section one could find two parts: PHOTOS and EVENTS. Among the “Photos” there are items like:  Romania in pictures, Europe, Oktoberfest, Globetrotter, Germany in pictures vol.1, Germany in pictures vol.2, Macro.

The “Events” seem to recollect images from several meetings between members of this community,  organised football games, friends spending time together.

Why is it so important to picture your world, and which one is your world? Which world did they picture?

The Photo Gallery contains as many pictures of Romania (101), as pictures from Germany (119) or from all over the world.

Being myself a Romanian living in Germany I will take some time to explain my personal experience when visiting this section of the site. First of all I looked through the pictures from home. Even though I am very anxious to discover the new culture I am living in, to discover everything that’s different here, I couldn’t help missing my home when seeing such familiar places. I’ve read some comments upon some pictures. I wasn’t the only one missing home when visiting this section.

Then I looked with curiosity through all the pictures from Germany, and I said to myself: I have a nice new home, I’m lucky. So, which one would be my home?  Am I a bee, or a butterfly? I would define myself as a bee with butterfly wings.

Which one is the home of all Romanian teenagers living in Germany, since they pictured both, Romania and Germany?

Taking into consideration also the feedback I had received on the Forum, I would say that the answer depends on the personal experience of everyone. It depends on  the people they found here, it depends on their age and their flexibility and adeptness   which, in my opinion, decrease with age. The answers I’ve got vary  from: “No, Germany could never be named home, at least not with everything that home means”, to answers like “Yes, Germany is home, because it is normality now”. So it depends only on you to transform the place you live in in your home, whether by adapting to the new world, whether by recreating part of your home in this new environment. But I could say that even those who could be called bees, adapted here, they miss home, but do not feel any need to go back. So could it be that there is a butterfly in everyone that left the country searching for something different? Are we all, more or less butterflies?

In the end I would like to quote a message which somehow shows the way we transform ourselves from bees in butterflies and from butterflies back to bees, and so on. It somehow shows why it is difficult to choose which world to picture, and why it is maybe better to picture both.

“1. At first it is nice, because it is a different world

  2.Then it is bad because,...... it is a different world

  3.Then it is nice again because it is a different world which doesn’t bother you anymore

  4. And then again it is bad because,... it is the same world, and you are tired of it, and you would like a new one

It doesn’t matter if you call this world Germany or any other name”

I think it is all about memories. Isn’t this all they pictured there, memories?



 This time I decided to focus my research on questionnaires. I paid attention both to the answers and to the questions, which led me to the conclusion that the site I am researching is for its visitors, first of all, a useful one, and only secondly a means to identify with the same ethnic group. I couldn’t help noticing the pragmatism of most of the problems raised here. For example more than 90% of the respondents to a questionnaire about the way this site is perceived, answered that they are interested most in the useful information here, and only 30% were most interested in speaking Romanian.

From another opinion pool, focusing on Brain Drain and Labour Migration from Romania the results showed clearly that the principal cause of migration is related to job and career opportunities, higher salaries, higher quality of life.

Among the positive elements of migration they mentioned the cultural and intercultural aspects, but most of all the work environment. The negative side of migration consists for most of the respondents of  the feeling of being a foreigner, the feeling of not “belonging”, the isolation from their family and also cultural problems of integration and adaptation. The best answer they found to all these problems is, not going back home, but maintaining a link with the country of origin, link in which online communities play a very important role.

In a small section of the site, named “Questionnaires”, one could easily see that only 20% of the questions are referring to ethnicity, to belonging to one group ore another, the other 80% raising problems like visa procedure, papers needed and job difficulties.  The answers show basically the same thing: that even if life away from home is difficult sometimes, the opportunities Germany has to offer concerning work and life standards are stronger reasons to live here, even if as an emigrant.

20% of the respondents find Germany an excellent place to live, 40% find it a good place to live, and 37% find it a wrong place to spend your life in. More than 25% of the respondents don’t want to spend here the rest of their life and more than 15% would rather choose another country to leave in.

Still, most of them maintain a strong link to their home country, 27% of them going home once a year, and 24% more than three times in one year. 70% of the respondents said that they read daily Romanian newspapers on the internet, and more than 80% would like their children to learn Romanian language (40% would like to teach their children also Romanian history, or the basics of Romanian culture). Most of the respondents bring with them from Romania books, music, traditional food, and only a small percent come back only with memories and impressions from home.

As a conclusion I would say that the people involved in this site are, and they also define themselves as a Diaspora, they speak Romanian language, they read Romanian news, they feel somehow different from the people here, and in the same time they feel somehow related to their home country. I would say that even if most of the problems raised are more pragmatic than related to deep feelings of  integration or alienation,  these problems also contribute somehow to the idea of a group, these problems are some of the things that bring together the Romanian teenagers living in Germany.


I will concentrate this time on the interactive part of the site, The FORUM.

The structure of the Forum contains five main topics: Useful Information, Chat, Other chatting, Locals- local meetings and local information, and Administration.

In the first topic, the Useful information, one can easily find information concerning  how to get a green card, about the German citizenship, about family, insurance,  finance, jobs and students. In the last topic, about Students, there are useful information about how could one get a scholarship in Germany, about the student visa, about some Universities here.

The second topic, Chat, is the most interactive one. It was created specially for initiating conversation, and receiving feedback. There are a lot of documents having attached some opinion pools, to make it easier for you to give a feedback to what you have read.

Here they have subjects like Polemics, Hobbies, Culture and religion, Software and communication, Small talk, and also Small talk auf Deutsch.

I have searched a little bit into detail those polemics, especially one discussion about avatars. Here, everyone creates an avatar for the others. What struck me the most here, in this section, was the fact that each discussion had something from home, either a name of a character from a Romanian novel, either the smell of  Romanian wine, or the song of a Romanian singer.

In another article they name themselves as being part of s “Emigrants’ Generation”, a generation of young people leaving the country hoping to find somewhere else a better life. It is a sort of the American Dream. They miss home, but the opportunity to earn decent money and to live a decent life is stronger. They are part of the “Generation GO”. Indeed, sometimes they feel like Oblio, and that is why they need this site, to identify themselves with some other “Oblios”. But I do have this feeling that they prefer to be a Diaspora, to be a group linked just through a web page. They find it the best possibility to have both, am opportunity to a better life, and also the opportunity to be a Romanian.

The topic Other Chats,  concerns subjects like, Announcements, Advertising, Requests, Jokes, Gossip, but also a title, Missing Home. Reading this last topic, I have got the feeling that Romanians abroad are more Romanians now that they have ever been, having the feeling of belonging to their country more now than ever. It seems to me that Romania looks a little bit different from outside. Even though they are aware of the difficulties back home, the images that most clearly appear into their minds are those memories of the things they were once fond of. They  seem to feel different from Germans, they seem to find it hard to live far away from home, they feel nostalgic about what was good (and maybe also what was bad) home, but still, they think it’s better this way. Germany became for most of them home, and now they have to split between two homes, not knowing yet which one is more home to them.



First of all, the site contains an interactive part, which brings people together in the same chat room, connects them to each other, makes them communicate.  This should be the basic part of the site’s structure, even if it is not at all the largest one. It contains a Forum, It gives you the possibility to open an account, or to send an essay or some documents. It also gives the possibility of feedback, meaning that it opens a room for discussions  and it offers a chart with the best documents.

Than, the site contains another section, an informative one. It offers News, Agenda, Links to other sites and their news, Useful information, in order to keep people up to date with everything that happens in what Romania is concerned.

The third part is related to the background of the site, it opens some polemics on different subjects, personal messages, a photo gallery, some opinion pools, some statistics concerning the site, and then some organising problems like a  list of members, rules for using the web site, and a section, About us.

In this section, “About us”, they explain the idea of the site, how was it created and why. In few words, this site came out of  a need of communication, out of a need of information, a need of being connected to people who identify themselves through the same group, the Romanian teenagers living in Germany.

On the Home Page they mainly advertise the elections that are to come, and also offer some links to other similar sites, some studies about the migration of Romanian students, and also news about cultural events taking place in Germany, which are related to Romania somehow.

I can say, that I believe that this is the best choice I could make. I become more and more interested in this site. I find it very useful and very alive.  I started to be one of them.


I have decided to choose exactly my case, a site about romanian teenagers living in Germany.


Because, being my country, Romania is what I identify myself with. This way it will be easier for me to understand what  „us“ means and to compare „us“ with „them“. Maybe this comes easier since I understand now perfectly what means being national, what means feeling somehow different from the others.


First of all because I am here in Germany and I can form my own opinion about being a teenager in Germany .

Then I wanted to choose an European country, since integration in the EU is such an important issue for Romania. We want to be Europeans, but can we? Are we? How different is being  European than being Romanian?

 Does life in Germany suit the Romanian lifestyle?

And most I would like to know how the others perceive us.


Because for teenagers is easier to adapt to a new lifestyle. I think for a teenager is easier to change his view, maybe to acquire a new identity, an European identity . Do teenagers here, in Germany lose somehow their Romanian identity?


Because it appears to be very complete, including from top news to small talk about Romania.

And than, it had something that got me interested, an essay about the paradox of being  a Romanian. Is it really a paradox?  


© Urmila Goel, www.urmila.de 2004