It’s not about us versus them. It’s about us all, together.

A migrant’s role in society. A Bulgarian perspective.

How does a migrant impact society? How do you see yourself as a migrant in Austria?

This whole idea as a migrant… I don’t see myself as migrant in that sense. I do have this strong sense of migrant identity if you wish, whatever that means. For example I find the question “where are you from” very difficult to answer. Because I’ve lived here for 12 years now but I don’t consider myself as an Austrian. But I’m not really a Bulgarian either. Because I haven’t lived there since 12 years. But I still have a strong connection to my family and so on. I lived in Tunisia and then one year in London…Once you start expanding your zone it becomes very difficult to say where you are from. So I don’t’ know if I’m really a migrant in that sense. And I find that interesting because I think it’s true for many people and once you sort of start to also get integrated more in the new places where you live, you don’t think of yourself so much as being so different from Austrians.

Of course I compare different cultures, that’s normal but I guess I have a little bit of them all in some way. And in terms of impact I mean I think this also leads me to think that somehow migrants can be just as impactful as people from the place and who have lived in the place for a long time. It can be just as valuable just as engaged, just as big contributors as anybody else. In that sense for me I don’t even want to compare it because I find it so illogical that people should say “but what is the value of a migrant” although for sure it’s a problem, I think, that’s what you are trying to show that migrants have such a big value, but my logic is also in a way everybody is a migrant somehow and that’s the point. We can all be valuable.

So how do you see your personal impact?

What we are tying to do at the impact hub is to try to foster this community of people who care about making a difference through their work and who care about doing something good in the world, who care at least to make the world a little bit better than it is. So in that sense we all try to contribute to people connecting with each other. We try to help people develop their ideas further. Me sitting and actually talking now, we try to engage.

We all contribute to making an impact here locally.

What do you think of this term integration, as a concept. How media deals with integration, how the community deals with it, etc.

There are some aspects of integration that I like and some that I don’t. One thing I don’t like, is that it is this perspective of us and them. You know? There is this juxtaposition. We are like this and they are like that. Whoever “they” is. And this goes both ways. As I said, I’m Bulgarian and I interact with the Bulgarian community through the Folk dancing I do. They also have a very strong sense of us versus them. That’s already the wrong kind of approach. I think that we are all human and we need to coexist with each other . It’s not about us versus them. it’s about us all together. How do we make this work? There are things I need to change and things you need to change in order for this to work. This is the one part that is already making things difficult.

Because you start with this way of looking at it. Integration is unfortunately not a collective exercise. It’s like we have to integrate you with us, kind of thing. It’s not a shared project and I think that’s what makes it difficult.

Last year I attended the press conference of the new integration report of Sebastian Kurz, which took place at the Impact Hub. It’s a difficult topic but I see what they are trying to do as well with the whole topic of integration. For example, what they are currently doing, the classes for people to understand better the culture in AT, which per se I find this a good initiative in a sense, I don’t know how it was for you, I’d be curiosuto know . But when you come here, you don’t know how things work. That’s perfectly normal. But for example when I went to Tunisia, I didn’t know how things worked, I didn’t know that women were not supposed to go to the coffee shop and sit there. I didn’t know. And it would be fine that someone takes care of that. In that sense, such an initiative is ok. It’s just I think you have to find to have this as a collective project now as in “I teach you how to do things here” a more integrative process.

And this is what I don’t like about this integration discourse. It’s not collective. It’s us versus them.

Of course, in every group you have people who mess up something. And we’ve seen this a lot and of course this gets reported when somebody messes up. When somebody steals, hits somebody whatever. And this happens everywhere. It’s not just refugees, it’s not just Austrians, it’s not just eastern Europeans, everybody. But of course then you profile it like that and that’s the problem. This is what Andra fights against a lot, this profiling and it’s true. Of course. Because then you are singling out people when you shouldn’t. And unfortunately that’s the problem with this whole integration approach. It has some good intentions, it has intentions of educating people. But in my opinion this whole teacher-student approach to teach you about the culture, is not the best for this purpose, I think.

I’ve lived in so many places. I believe firmly to the idea that being a foreigner, has a very different meaning from country to country. I lived in Tunisia, in India, it’s so much easier to be a foreigner in those countries, of course it depends on what kind of foreigner. But I had the impression that it was so different. In Tunisia it was great for me to be a foreigner. I had the time of my life. Because I was interesting for them and they were interesting for me. We could really learn from each other. Because I was very open to what was happening there and they were interested in why I came to Tunisia and why didn’t I go somewhere where things are better and so on. In India the same. It’s great to be a foreigner. You feel like a super star. People taking photos of me and so on. Really, it was great. And also in Bulgaria for example. It depends as well, I cannot speak for refugees, of course, but in Bulgaria people also have a lot of prejudice but for example if they see a foreigner and that person can say, let’s say one sentence in Bulgarian, they are the most amazing person ever. WOW, why do you speak Bulgarian? Amazing! But here it’s like you cannot order this and that, or you cannot explain to me your situation in German, it’s a problem. It’s not that easy, it’s a very different thing. There is a lot more pressure to be better, to speak better. Even for myself when I came here, I didn’t speak any German. And it took me a long time to learn German. Because I was scared as well. Because if I didn’t speak it perfectly then I should probably stick with English because then at least I know what I’m saying and I don’t have to feel bad about myself. Cause I would always have this expectation that I should be really good or not try at all. Because it was so embarrassing. And that’s not the case in other countries. People are much more tolerant. And there is also prejudice everywhere on different issues. But still. It’s different to be a foreigner here. In Austria, it’s not an easy place to be a foreigner.

What are other things you don’t like and would like to change to make a greater impact?

When we say community it should be one community and that is, I think, not happening. If we make it so that people really see it as a learning process and not as an intrusion, like this is my space and now some people are coming into my world, so to say, but rather as an opportunity- that would help, I think. To turn it around a little bit. To not just see it as a challenge but as an opportunity.

The Celebrate Migration scarf from Younited Cultures symbolizes more of a “WE” aspect of this whole migration-integration discussion, we as a community and not us vs. them approach. That’s why I wear it. Because all these colors are integrated together and the whole concept is that we stop seeing people as being so different from us but rather see them as part of the community.