Romania has never won the Eurovision Song Contest and few from their community in Malmö expect their entry It’s My Life to break that trend on May 18th.
This year’s Romanian contender features the lyric “It’s my life and I know it’s not forever.” That’s a sentiment that many of the 2,151 immigrants from the country can identify with when assessing their situation in Malmö.
Speaking with The Local, many said that Sweden had given them the chance to earn a better living, but that barriers remain.
“It doesn’t matter what job you have in Sweden, it is well paid in comparison to Romania,” says Daniel Melciu.
Melciu, 26, knows better than anybody the pros and cons of swapping his native Timisoara for Malmö. A trained mechanical engineer, he came to Sweden in 2009 hoping get into a prestigious technical university. Four years and several part-time courses later, he has yet to be accepted.
Melciu earns a living by driving a truck, which he says is rewarding financially if not mentally.
“Had I stayed in Romania I would earn 6,000 kronor ($920) a month as an engineer. In Sweden, a truck driver will make 17,000 kronor minimum so it is big difference.”
He said his degree from one of the biggest universities in Romania had not been enough to get into his college of choice, and that so far the extra courses he had gotten under his belt had not yielded any results.
“It’s frustrating,” he said.
(Editor’s note: Melciu found out a few days after this article was published that he had been accepted to Chalmers Institute of Technology.)
Melciu says he wasn’t in the least bit surprised to learn that a compatriot in Uppsala revealed to The Local that putting a fake Swedish surname on his CV saw him called in for interview, when previous job hunts had proved fruitless.
Discrimination, Melciu says, is something Romanians are used to.
“Romanians have a bad reputation. I’ve experienced it myself on the road as a truck driver. At times, the Swedish drivers have said ‘What are you doing in our country?'”
He credited the high level of competition in the transport industry for fuelling some of the discontent, and recognized how companies use foreign-born workers to cut costs even at home.
“In Sweden now we have drivers from the Philippines who are willing to work for as little as 3,000 kronor a month. They are the new Romanians!” laughs Melciu.
Despite his uphill slog, the 26-year-old remains a strong advocate for emigrating to Sweden. His two younger brothers have recently joined him in Malmö. He may not have fulfilled his ambition – yet – of getting his master’s and working as an engineer, but sticks to a rounded outlook on his situation.
“Life is not only work. If you are a good person and respect the laws of the land and others, then your nationality is not so important. That’s what keeps me going.”
As for Eurovision, Melciu says the annual pop fest is big news in his native country but doubts he will find the time to watch how representative Cezar gets.
“I’ll probably be on the road.”
Alex Budai, 30, will be taking a much greater interest in Eurovision after deciding to volunteer on the event for a fortnight. A native of Bucharest, he couldn’t resist the pull of getting involved in Malmö 2013.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Even though I’m no fan of Eurovision I want to be there for the experience.”
“At our first meeting the volunteers were told this is the fourth biggest event in the world. I am likely to be working in security as the organizers are taking no risks.”
Budai moved to Malmö with his girlfriend in 2008 after graduating from university in Bucharest. He works as a personal care assistant, which he combines with his studies, but stops short of recommending his countrymen to follow in his footsteps to Sweden.
“Now it is much harder to come here as there are a lot of restrictions to even get a personal ID number compared to a few years ago,” he laments.
“Italy and Spain are better locations for Romanians as we are all Latins and can adapt more easily there.”
He may not be entirely sold on Sweden but certainly has no plans to return home in the near future.
“When I go back to Romania I feel like a foreigner. People still have the old communist mentality and there is so much corruption. What’s really crazy is that the price of food is more expensive than Sweden.
“I was probably a bit idealistic when I arrived and even though things aren’t perfect my situation is a lot better here.”
Like Melciu, Budai is also anxiously waiting to see if he will be accepted at a Swedish university to further his studies. It’s a wait that both hope won’t drag on for as long as those who are still waiting for that first-ever Romanian Eurovision victory.
By numbers: a snapshot of Malmö’s Romanian population
– 2,151 Romanian-born residents living in Malmö
– Romanians are the 11th largest nationality group living in Malmö
– 475 Romanian-born residents have moved to Malmö in last three years
– 168 Romanian-born people who have left Malmö in last three years
– 22,079 Romanian-born people living in Sweden
– 5,507 Romanian-born residents have moved to Sweden in last three years
Figures from Statistics Sweden (Statistiska centralbyrån -SCB)