Empty villages


“Miss, in this village there is no one you can talk to, it is only old people and the children. Everyone is abroad. Our mayor is 56, he was the youngest to run for mayor…”

In summer the number of Mercedes, BMW and Audi triples

This was the first thing the people from a Romanian village in the Southern planes told me when I went there for fieldwork in May. So, I went back to the village in August when there are holidays in Spain and Italy, and all migrants return ‘home’. In August prices go up in the village, the number of cars triples (there are only Mercedes, BMW and Audi) all with Italian, French, Spanish numbers, depending, of course on the country where the migrants work. And there are around ten weddings every Saturday. Migration in the Romanian rural areas has become a mass phenomenon over the last 17 years, so intense that one can speak of a culture of migration; in other words, migration has become the thing to do, and to a certain extent a ‘rite of passage’ to adulthood. As a result of migration the rural areas have been almost entirely reconstructed.

Houses as symbols for capital and prestige

In spite of the infrastructure which deteriorates every day, the number of houses, one bigger than the other is continuously increasing. These houses have a two-fold significance for the migrants. Firstly, they constitute a kind of investment – however which promotes more migration, for the mere support of the house itself. Secondly, they represent symbolic capital; i.e. their status in the village.

When migrating abroad people experience on the one hand a downwards mobility – when comparing themselves with the population from the destination, and on the other hand an upwards mobility in relation to their countrymen. To maintain their position, migrants need to exhibit their income, and therefore many times they adopt a conspicuous consumption on goods that are not actually necessary, but which can increase their symbolic capital – therefore the houses need to be bigger and just as well the cars and the weddings in the village.


Migrants often admit that they work and save an entire year abroad for one month in Romania. The construction of houses is a main reason for migration. Tudor, a 29 year old man from a village in the Northern hills of Romania who is a construction worker in Spain told me: “Under communism one could buy a house, a flat, nowadays, how can we do it, so we must go abroad and work to build a house.”

Nonetheless, once they start building the houses, and because of their ‘massive’ projects, the construction of the houses becomes very often an objective in itself that concentrates all their financial efforts. This creates a vicious circle – they migrate to build the houses, that they continuously need to feed money into, and because there are no places of work in the home community, or rather it is believed not to be, they need to work abroad in order to support their investment.

What you have read so far is a brief story that complements the photos. Now let’s look to the future.

… but for whom?

Based on current practices of the migrants, we can notice that there are two groups of migrants – those older than 50 who are already starting to return to the home communities. The second category are the younger migrants who when interviewed mention the idea of returning one day to their villages, however who also buy flats at the destination. Moreover, they start living a dual life, having two homes, enterprises either in Romania or at the destination, or even businesses which combine the two locations and enforce the frequent movement between the two homes. At the same time, in the last couple of years, the return even in August has faded more and more in the Maramureşan villages. To conclude with, are we confronted with a genuine prospect of return or an eternal reference to the Romanian ‘home’ in which are left only the houses?

To see the entire slideshow check the web site.


Text by Oana Ciobanu
Photos by Diana Duta, Larisa Sitar, and Madalina Zaharia

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