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Excerpts from Romanian media regarding Sri Lankan workers’ issue from Ditrău/Gyergyóditró, Romania

Conflict in Ditrău/Gyergyóditró, Harghita County (with Hungarian ethnic majority), regarding the employment with legal forms of two Sri Lankan citizens at the local bakery, keeps stirring the spirits of locals in the small village, writes Transparent News.

At the suggestion of the assistant priest of the community, during the Sunday mass on the 26th of January, people took the issue of the two “migrants” into their own hands, threatening the hosts of the two foreigners and forcing their employer to relocate them in a nearby town.

The angry people, created a Facebook group called “Migrant free Ditrău” and around 2500 people joined as members (considering the population of Ditrău is of around 5000 inhabitants). On this group, people were spreading hateful messages against the two foreign workers, a lot of them expressing thoughts like: “these are only men, and men have needs”. Part of the population was also scared that this would only be the beginning, and that more foreigners would come and steal what is rightfully theirs.

Talked into by the local priest, people gathered in a form of protest at the church, then went to the city hall, to enter a local council meeting, and utter their demands. They also had a community meeting on Saturday, February the 1st where they discussed the subject, but they did not reach a consensus.

Joy to those who come, Blessing to those who leave – hungarian words on a gate from Ditrau Foto: Peter Lengyel/totb.ro – posted by transparentnews.ro

At the pressure of the locals, the owners of the bakery went through a back and forth process, first saying that they will remove the foreign bakers from the line of production and give priority to qualified workforce from the locality, which drew the attention of many businessman from the country which offered to employ the two migrants. Also, following claims that the people were overworked, the Territorial Labor Inspectorate decided to check out the business. Afterwards, the owners changed their minds, and said that the two Sri Lankan will continue to bake bread.

In the Romanian mainstream media, there were also voices of reason, but people from Ditrău seemed to be more sensitive to the hateful messages, very much influenced by the Hungarian propaganda against migrants.

Romanian journalist Cristian Tudor Popescu says that “the attitude of the inhabitants from Ditrău is the very essence of Orban’s propaganda from Hungary. They are not afraid of culture, maybe the bacterial culture. They are afraid they bring diseases. In no way does the word “culture” means what we regularly understand. “Culture” here is about raping women. […] “Culture” is about habits from which we must protect our women and children. People were responding to a subject of national interest in Hungarian, so I can only consider that these are the ones who want the immediate removal of these laborers who mind their own business and work very well, according to the bakery owners, in a place the Hungarian minority did not want to go to work. These people did not come here out of pleasure. They came here because they are very poor and because the wages here are considerably higher for them.”

Romanian journalist Ovidiu Nahoi states that the case in Ditrău is far from being closed. “This dissatisfaction exists, it is there, and if it got an extreme right answer, it was because the local population was indeed bombarded with such ideas, by means of the Hungarian media, but also by the Hungarian media from Romania, both firmly gripped within the iron fist of Viktor Orban and his men”.

Former president of UDMR/DAHR (Democratic Alliance of Hungarians from Romania), Marko Bela stated that “we failed the test. We are responsible for asking for tolerance for ourselves but we allow the intolerance of our community. It seems that slowly, the voices of reason are gaining ground in the case of the bakers from Ditrău. But let’s wait for the end! I am sure, though, that if the statements of DAHR and of the Roman-Catholic church would’ve come faster, we wouldn’t have to assist, to the undoubted satisfaction of being schooled about tolerance on the Romanian news stations. […] We are responsible when there is no sight of a lost migrant, but we allow the public opinion to be shaken day and night with this subject, first of all from Hungary, and we do not try to convince our own community that it is all a political SciFi. […] We are responsible, because we allow such a story to produce huge moral and political damages, both internally and externally. […] We keep quiet, because we are afraid of losing popularity. We are afraid that after an article, such as this one, we will be shown our place with unqualifiable language.”

Csaba Asztalos, president of CNCD/NCCD (the National Council for Combating Discrimination) says that “the story from Ditrău is a consequence of hate speech”. He added that “the Hungarian community in Transylvania is connected to the regional media from the connection it has with Hungary, where we very well know that a constant element of discussion is the antimigration discourse. As such, the source of fear in Ditrău – and not only – has this explanation […]. We saw the discourse, we saw the statements of the people in Ditrău and it is the same antimigration discourse in western Europe: we want to keep our culture, religion, we don’t need them, although one of the workers, with legal forms, is of Roman-Catholic faith, which is dominant in the locality.”

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Alba Iulia regretfully announced that the priest of the parish in Ditrău, Biro Karoly, got involved in a conflict which exceeds his duties, and his position is not that of the church. The Archdiocese invited the people involved in this conflict to be humane, reasonable and to manifest the Christian tolerance and also try to keep the peace. Also, they stated that the role of priests in the service of the community is to calm emotions and tensions and not increase them in intensity and to lead towards dialogue instead of hate and division.

Some publications, such as erdely.ma published the messages conveyed by the people, that the real conflict was not against the two foreigners, but against the owner of the bakery, who doesn’t appreciate the local workforce. People formerly employed at the bakery stated that they were getting paid the minimum wage and they were forced to work overtime for which they never got paid.

Yet, Press One journalists, went to the scene, and found out from the owner of the bakery, that they “also have a baker from Hungary, but that seemed to be no problem for the villagers. The two Sri Lankan are a huge scandal in the area”. The main issue is that the community makes no difference between migrants and a legal form worker. To this you must add the color of the skin, there is no nicer way to say it, but nobody wants to say this on the record.

– “We learned of these migrants from Budapest. From there they announced yesterday that they filmed a group at the bakery. We heard as many bad things about migrants, that we don’t want them. I heard on the news, at all the stations, but mostly at the Hungarian ones” – said a 75 year old from Ditrău.

The mayor of the locality, Puskas Elemer said that “unfortunately, the people of the village confuse the migrants with these workers. […] Mass media, mainly Hungarian media has a lot of interviews and news about migrants revolting and attacking and doing all sorts of things. With bombs, attacks. The people find out and believe. And now they think that those that come will do the same. I only know what I saw on Facebook. The people are afraid that they will get attacked and that they’re children will be attacked. Which is stupid. The people want them to go, even if the bakery has a problem with not having workers.”

The priest in Ditrău, Karoly Biro, does not regret being at the middle of the racist incident against the bakers from Sri Lanka. He stated that: “I took notice of the statements of the Archdiocese, I will be held responsible and I take responsibility for all the facts I did by my conscience and not in the name of the Archdiocese.” He also stated that he does not regret his doings, but he will take full responsibility.

The Romanian Ombudsman, Renate Weber, took notice of the events unfolding in Ditrău, and opened an investigation into it. “The aggressivity of the people is hard to understand. We saw in the media but we were not notified and we will open our own inquiry at the scene. […] I believe that, on one side, it is about lack of information, but, on the other side, I believe that those persons were victims of a misinformation. Remember that when the issue of the mandatory migrant quotas was being discussed, we only had the exceptions presented to the public, and this can cause fear.”

The National Police also took notice, Inspector Gheorghe Filip stated that “a case for hate incitement and discrimination was opened at the Harghita County Police Inspectorate. We must first clear out exactly what happened and how it happened and identify the people responsible of the deeds. For now, we have no suspects and it’s possible to have a suspect, two, ten, more or none. It is important to clarify all the causes, all the means, all the details and all aspects related to this case”. According to the Romanian Penal Code, the punishment for this crime is jail from six months to three years or a fine, depending on the judgement of the court.

The National Council for Combating Discrimination also took notice. Csaba Asztalos stated that “following the statement and the intention of the owner of the bakery to change the place of work of the two Sri Lankan bakers from the production line to the ovens, I suggested to the Board of Directors to initiate a procedure to act on our own initiative, which will happen on Monday morning (03.02.2020) under the aspect of a supposed discrimination based on race, citizenship and religion. We believe that the two employees have the right to work and not accept the hate incitement from their employer, meaning that they should not suffer because of the attitude of the inhabitants of the locality”.

Stefan Varga

Foto: Peter Lengyel/totb.ro

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