The Czech Republic is one of half a dozen or so EU countries that has given citizens of the Union's two newest members - Romania and Bulgaria - unfettered access to its labour markets. So far there's been a trickle, rather than a flood of Romanians and Bulgarians arriving in this country. That's partly because for skilled professionals, the standard of living is not really that much higher here than at home. But some have come, nonetheless - including Silviu Dascal, a 26-year-old IT consultant from the Romanian city of Arad. He's now working at a large American IT firm just behind the National Museum. Over coffee in the museum's bustling café, Silviu told me about his childhood in Ceaucescu's Romania.
"I was born in 1980 in Arad, a city in Romania very close to the Hungarian border. For us childhood was like a fairytale. I would not say, as far as I remember, that you could feel something like a totalitarian regime, like the ones I see on documentaries on the Discovery Channel and all the other channels on TV. OK, we felt a little bit more that it was not quite free, but I wouldn't say it was so totalitarian as people say and that everybody did not do anything because of fear. There was of course an amount of fear and so on, but it was sometimes exaggerated in my opinion."
You were nine when things changed in 1989, when those television pictures of Ceaucescu and his wife being executed were shown around the world. Do you still remember those images?
"Yes, I actually remember them very clearly. At the time of the revolution I was at my parents in Arad, and I remember one time Ceaucescu appeared on television, his first appearance, when he said a lot of rioters and crooks had appeared on the streets but that this problem would be solved very quickly. A few days afterwards I remember people on the streets - I was watching them from the balcony. I remember my parents were very scared. Everybody was moving from the cities to the villages. They were afraid that the Securitate would have its retaliation. Which didn't happen, and Ceaucescu was overthrown. I remember going to Hungary with my parents, by car, and seeing food shops for the first time, and it was quite interesting. We received an infusion of Western society through Hungary. It was also my first contact with video games, so it was quite interesting."
Maybe those video games led to what you do now, as an you're an IT consultant. I have to say Silviu that your CV is extraordinary: you speak several languages fluently and are learning several more. You have various diplomas and all sorts of impressive qualifications. You're an extremely highly qualified, skilled worker and have chosen to leave your country to come here to the Czech Republic. Can you explain why that is?
"Yes, actually I do speak a few languages and I know a few things. Why would somebody with my qualifications want to leave Romania? I wanted to leave Romania first of all because I have a lot of studies, as you mentioned, but all were done in Romania. My goal is to follow an executive MBA programme, and I will not be accepted only with these references."
So you have to get experience from another European country.
"Yes, definitely you have to have experience abroad. You must prove to yourself that you're not only good in Romania, but that you are good everywhere. There is this mentality - and I can support it - that education in Romania is not always done correctly. You pass let's say not by your own merits. Of course, this is my personal opinion. So I wanted to throw this shadow away. I wanted to have more light on my diplomas because they will not shine enough if they are not backed up by an external one."
I'm fascinated by this phenomenon of leapfrogging, where skilled professionals like yourself from poorer, newer EU countries like Romania and Bulgaria, which joined on January 1st, are thinking that they would ultimately like to work in rich EU members like Germany or Britain, but they're not going to go there straight away. They're going to spend some time in between, somewhere like the Czech Republic. Is that something that you're consciously aware of doing?
"Definitely. I'm a leapfrogger myself. And there are two main reasons for doing that. One of them is money. My goal is to ultimately go to Dubai or Switzerland, because these are the new Meccas of the IT industry. But I don't have the money right now to support myself. I don't want to go there and be a dishwasher. I can be a dishwasher anywhere. I want to be respected for my profession and I want to do something I like. I don't want to do something I don't like, like writing CDs every day. I consider myself as a skilled professional and want to be respected as one. The second reason is, like I told you, with my studies. If you have a lot of qualifications from Romania, they will say - oh we know what Romania's expectations are, what do you know about IT? You don't know anything. These are the two main reasons why people are leapfrogging. They choose the Czech Republic so often because sometimes life here is cheaper than in Romania. You would be astonished, but my city Arad is the third most expensive city in Romania, because of the western influences and so on. For example there are more than 20,000 Italians living in Arad - a town of 200,000 people. So the prices there are quite high. Sometimes I find the prices here are lower than in Arad. This is the main reason why some people are choosing the Czech Republic. And another thing: from Arad I can go in two directions, Bucharest or Prague. OK, Prague is something like 900km from Arad, and Bucharest is only 600. But by car, it's quicker to get to Prague than to Bucharest."
I remember speaking to a Romanian friend several years ago about when Romania would join the European Union, and he was extremely pessimistic, saying it's not going in 2007 I can tell you, more like 2010, 2020, we're so far behind. And yet your country joined on January 1st. Are you surprised Romania is now a member of the EU?
"I'm not surprised. One of the things I left behind in Romania is politics. I had quite a developing career in politics. I knew - all the facts showed that Romania will join the European Union. What I'm surprised about is the fact that a lot of people are very happy with the EU but they don't know what it is. It will be very interesting to see in the next period how things develop."
You seem very happy in the Czech Republic, though you've only been here since May 2006. Do you miss Romania?
"Yes. I would say I miss it, yes. But here in Prague there is a big
and growing community of Romanians. I find myself at home here. I speak
Romanian 50 percent of the time and the other 50 percent is English...OK
maybe not 50 percent English, maybe 45 percent English and five percent
Czech, because now I'm learning! I miss my country, it has a lot of
culinary specialties that I can't get here. But this is normal. This is a
globalised world, and it's a factor you must accept. As for being Romanian
- maybe I'm more Romanian here than I am in Romania itself."
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