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The Profile of the Community

Bacau County, a region of North East Romania, is one of the country’s counties with the highest rates of temporary migration abroad from rural areas (Sandu 2004, 3) and is one of the regions with rural communities of religious minorities (Sandu 2004, 11). Situated 20 km away from the county’s main city, on the shore of Siret River, Cleja is a commune consisting of three villages—Cleja, Somusca and Valea Mica, which together include around 7,000 inhabitants. Cleja alone is divided into three parts: Buda, Alexandrina and the centre of the village, Cleja. However, villagers often speak of the two “sides” (“parti”) of the village, orienting themselves by the two Catholic churches that can be found there—one in the centre, dating from 1906, and a newer one, built between 1990 and 1993. There are two other Catholic churches in Somusca and Valea Mica, as the Cleja commune is homogenous with regard to religious affiliation: around 94 per cent of residents are Roman Catholic, a percentage slightly lower than that noted in the 2002 census (out of 6,864 residents, 6,716 were Roman Catholics [97.8 per cent] and 113 Orthodox).4

Beyond the idyllic image offered by articles in mass media, Cleja appears as “a village with a controversial past” (Turcu 2010): in discussions with local residents, they frequently mentioned attempts at the Magyarisation (maghiarizare)5 of the region. This refers to nationalising efforts that were undertaken in order to strengthen Hungarian ethnicity in the area; these efforts employed tradition, language and religion as cultural tools in order to shape identity construction. The residents, who often speak of themselves as Romanians, when asked to respond to these attempts, offered the following comments:

... Csangos are everywhere around the village, however, there are also Hungarians settled here, in Cleja, who married right here, in my village. there are two. A Hungarian woman and a Hungarian man who married people from our village and I can’t say that they are Csangos, or mixed families. there are not many marriages between Roman Catholics and Orthodox; but we can’t really say that they are all Csangos, or speak of “us, the Csangos in Cleja”. We are a part of them, but I can’t say the whole community is Csango because in 1995 here, in Cleja, Hungarians came in minibuses, and they said: so now is time to officiate the religious Mass in Hungarian and to do so and so. But the church does not accept their version and people here overturned their minibuses and threw stones at them and said “we are not Hungarians!” So they prefer to say they are Csangos, but never Hungarians. (Priest, in his 40s, resident of Cleja)

The priest here refers to the concentrated efforts undertaken by Hungarian authorities in the 1990s to consolidate Hungary’s influence in the area. This systematic attempt at altering the cultural identity of the area is known as Magyarisation. At that time, Hungarian foundations were established in the area and they started various activities in order to encourage locals to learn the Hungarian language and to also officiate religious sermons in Hungarian. Their attempts to do so were not well received by the locals. This can explain why so many of the inhabitants of Cleja prefer to say they are Romanians, and not Csangos. Although both younger and older persons speak of themselves, or rather of the commune’s profile, in terms of Csangos, the census in 2011 recorded for Cleja 6,226 Romanians, 146 Hungarians and only 148 persons who declared themselves as Csangos.

Currently, Hungarian is taught as an optional language in schools in Cleja. Parents choose this option for the children in order to obtain some benefits, such as funds for the children to go on trips in Hungary. Apart from that, parents are aware that speaking Hungarian is an advantage that opens up more opportunities in case their children decide to migrate to Hungary:

It all started in ‘95, and it was then approved in 2000; there were various Hungarian language teachers, but this year there is a lady from the village. What happens is, children apply in May, we receive their requests at school for the coming school year, and parents state on their behalf whether they wish for their child to study Hungarian language as their mother tongue. When it comes to exams, they can choose, because we are not a minority here, in the area. If we were considered a minority, then they would have to take a [Hungarian] language exam, but in the current situation, they may opt for Romanian language, so this would be their second mother tongue (...) Parents receive small grants yearly and have opportunities for going to Hungary. (Teacher, resident of Cleja, 35)

The teacher here refers to the advantages that locals can acquire by collaborating with local NGOs that encourage learning Hungarian by children in school. By accepting Hungarian classes, parents can receive small amounts of money for their children’s education. Moreover, trips to Hungary for young students are organised annually, and the children who are learning Hungarian in school are welcome to attend them.

Knowledge of the Csangos dialect was in many cases helpful to those who migrated to Hungary. This is the example of a local resident from Cleja who had his first migratory experience in Hungary, followed by migration to a different destination. Some knowledge of the language when reaching a new country is helpful and allows the migrant to better adapt there: “I lived there [in Hungary] for around six years, but I really enjoyed it, and you know why? Because I know Hungarian in a way [he refers to the Csangos dialect], and I understood everything they were saying” (male, 55, with migration experience in Hungary and Greece).

With regard to work opportunities outside international migration, approximately 350 persons in Cleja commute from rural to urban areas for work, most of them to Bacau, the county’s main city. Over 50 per cent of the population is employed, and the main areas of activity are industry, construction, agriculture, forestry (there is a forest near the village), and transport services. According to the mayor, there are about 30 stores in the village, many of which belong to returned migrants or to members of migrants’ families. In the village centre there is a textile factory where part of the employed women from the three villages work.

In terms of infrastructure, Cleja is well connected to the city of Bacau, and there are only problems with some of the roads of the villages within the commune (unpaved roads). There are five schools and five kindergartens in the commune, attended by about 1,300 students. When it comes to links with other countries, along with connections made through Hungarians’ visits (some of the Hungarians that came in the 1990s also eventually established there), Cleja is also twinned with a French village6:

...and in 2010 the twinning took place, but it was as early as 2002 that we were asked whether there were children willing to learn French. We teach French in schools and this is how the twinning happened. There are youth exchanges every year, French students who come here, and local youth who travel to France. This happens through projects that are submitted to the ministry and if you win, you actually submit a project for them [the French] and they do the same for you. (Teacher, resident of Cleja, 35)

The “twinning projects” (“infratire”) mentioned above denote the reciprocal character of the collaboration between schools. The Romanians apply for an exchange, as do the French, and following the success of the applications student visits to both countries take place. The connection with Hungary referred to earlier in this section and the exchanges described here that involve connections with French schools have played an important part in the building of migration paths abroad. Since exchanges with France have been taking place for at least ten years, students who have been involved in the programme and who are now adults, already have a direct contact with foreignness.

This can be a significant factor in their orientation towards migration as a strategy. Another factor worth mentioning is the creation of a “culture of migration”, understood here as “‘changes of values and cultural perceptions’ determined by previous migratory experiences within a given community that has a considerable migration history” (Horvath, 2008, 773). This happens by means of indirect experience or gathering of information on what migration entails in the short and long term. This exchange takes place between those left at home and returning members of their families, or through the observable effects of the phenomenon at community level.

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