Vlad III

For me Romania is a land that I would dearly love to visit.

Of course, I first heard about the country as a school boy with a keen interest in geography. Then later through Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. Which, I might add, is not a popular book in Romania because the character of Dracula was based on Vlad Tepes, an important character in Romania’s history.

But Romania seems to suffer a bad reputation.

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Why has Romania got such a bad public image?

The Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta has defended his country after a wave of negative reporting about it in the UK and elsewhere in Europe. Why does it have a bad public image?

Of course, it had to be Romania.

You could almost sense the relief for some when, in the midst of the horsemeat scandal, the finger of blame was pointed at abattoirs in an eastern European state.

Now it made sense. Cue stock footage of Gypsy horse and carts and knowing references to organised crime.

Except, of course, there is no evidence that any horsemeat left Romania labelled as anything other than horsemeat.

But slurs about horsemeat are just the latest in a long line of public relations problems to have hit Romania.

Students and young professionals from Romania talk about living and working in the UK – and whether they plan to return home

The country’s Prime Minister, Victor Ponta, has this week been forced to launch an all-out charm offensive over fears about a flood of immigrants when the EU opens its labour market to his country, and neighbouring Bulgaria, on 1 January 2014.

Headlines such as “The Mafia bosses who can’t wait to flood Britain with beggars”, “We want to get into your country before someone locks the door” and “An immigration calamity looms” have incensed Romanians living in the UK.

On Friday, the country’s ambassador to London, Ion Jinga, claimed such “alarmist” and “inflammatory” coverage could lead to Romanians being assaulted in the street.

He argues that all the Romanians who want to work in the UK are already there, on work permits or self-employed.

In an article in the Times, the Romanian prime minister strikes a more emollient tone, inviting Britons to come and enjoy a “strong pint” in Bucharest’s Old Town or a “quiet holiday” in the sleepy Transylvanian villages beloved by Prince Charles.

Improved job rates in Romania mean that “Britain can rest assured”, he writes.

This argument cuts little ice with Migration Watch chairman, former diplomat Sir Andrew Green, who says the presence of a settled Romanian population in the UK is a “pull factor” that will encourage more to make the journey.

The press has seized on a report by Migration Watch claiming 50,000 Romanians a year will travel to the UK when working restrictions are lifted.

Migration Watch’s chairman cites events from 2004, when the government grossly under-estimated the number of migrants that would travel from new EU states such as Poland. The government said there would be net immigration of between 5,000 and 13,000 a year. In fact, 2011 Census data showed the Polish population alone had risen in England and Wales from 58,000 in 2001 to 579,000 10 years later.

Romania has been trying to reshape its image for some time. The government has launched a number of advertising and PR campaigns in recent years aimed at improving the country’s perception abroad.

In 2011, it launched a global “Why I Love Romania” poster campaign, trumpeting the achievements of famous Romanians such as tennis player Ilie Nastase, gymnast Nadia Comanenci and scientist Nicolae Paulescu, who discovered insulin.

Last year, it launched a campaign to attract more tourists to the Carpathian Mountains, which was much mocked in the Romanian press.

Did stories about horsemeat play up to prejudices about Romania?

And a Romanian ad agency, GMP, has produced tongue-in-cheek ads hitting back at, so far unfounded, claims that the UK is considering a campaign to deter Romanians from coming to the UK.

The proposed Why Don’t You Come Over? campaign in Romania features slogans such as “We speak better English than anywhere you’ve been in France” and “Charles bought a house here in 2005. And Harry has never been photographed naked once.”

Map of Romania

The campaign slogan is: “We may not like Britain, but you will love Romania.”

Ronnie Smith, a British business consultant based in Romania, says the UK “ought to be ashamed” of its coverage of Romania but he does not believe the country’s government has the resources, or the will, to respond effectively.

“There is not a rebranding campaign. There should be but there won’t be, not to the extent that’s needed,” he says.

Romania’s image problem may even be traceable to the late 19th Century, when travellers returned from Transylvania with tales of a strange, forbidding land, says Dr James Koranyi, a history lecturer at Durham University.

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