It is difficult for me to find words to describe the internal turmoil my wife and I have been through since November 2015. Yes, I am a Romanian who lives in Norway; moreover I am a Christian Romanian, married, with a wonderful wife and a five-year-old son, a much-waited gift from God after 10 years of prayers and waiting. If you can imagine two continental plates colliding, then try to picture how it feels to be right in the middle, crushed by both.
First, I would like to ask your kindness in reading this article, as I am not a professional journalist, but just a regular guy. It is not my intention to make general statements or pass on wrongful judgments, but I would like to present the situation through the eyes of a Romanian who lives here, in Norway. If someone feels entitled to pass on judgments, please feel free to do so.
The fear of Barnevernet! Honestly, it’s real. But, I can honestly say I don’t have it. My wife, on the other hand has had it since November, when we read about the case of the five kids taken away from their christian family by Barnevernet . We don’t personally know them, but ever since we heard about their story we are praying for them and we hope and believe that they will get their children back as soon as possible.
Needless to say that for one week after we heard of this case we didn’t close one eye. Our initial thought was to sell everything we own here and move back to Romania. The pain we feel for them is indescribable, and the agony these parents must go through is incomprehensible. We pray that God does not permit us to go through anything like this, as we are not worthy of such tribulation.
As I was mentioning earlier, the past couple of months felt for me like two tectonic plates colliding, two icebergs if you want. This is what I see and feel every time I read articles from both sides of this case. The culture I was raised in, with all its good and bad is drastically different than the culture I currently live in, with all its good and bad. The reason for the recent outcry, stems, in my opinion, from this cultural difference regarding child rearing. A sensible article I found about the case was in the Romanian journal Academia Catavencu.
However, notably throughout this article was the idea that Romanians, comprehend physical discipline as normal in child rearing. Norwegians, on the other hand believe the exact opposite: child rearing cannot and should not include physical discipline. It is not my intention to open a conversation on this particular topic, and I would ask you to please not go there. This is not the goal here. The purpose is to acknowledge this cultural difference that exists independent our individual or group opinions on the topic. In the Romanian culture, physical discipline of children is tolerated; in the Norwegian culture it is not.
I was looking at the faces of many dear friends and relatives I grew up with, spread out in various cities of the world, that went out in the street to protest for this case, and all I can say is that I applaud and appreciate all of you.
Just like you, I also believe that family is of most importance in the life of a child and the separation trauma from one’s parents and siblings is immeasurably greater than the trauma of light physical discipline. Unfortunately, in Norway, as well as in the most of the western world, the family ceased to be valued as a fundamental unit in society. The individual is the ”basic cell or unit” of society and individual interests became preeminent.
About Norway. Three years and a half ago when I moved here I could not have imagined a more welcoming and tolerant people than this … particularly towards eastern Europeans. I was very much aware of the way eastern Europeans are perceived in western Europe, as well as I was aware of the bad reputation some of our conationals were brining to the Romanian name with their impious deeds, presented every day on the news.
Despite my pessimistic expectations, I don’t have the slightest reproach for the Norwegian community we’ve become a part of. I have over 20 ethnic Norwegians co-workers with whom I interact every day at my job, which by the way are fantastic people. My wife is also grateful of the hospitality and enthusiasm the Norwegian community showed toward us. I am not only referring to my work contacts here, but I would also like to mention the other social circles that I am very active in, such as my local faith community.
For all the above mentioned reasons, I feel obligated to point out a thing that may cause some negative sentiments among some Romanians now, but I will take my chances: Norway is not Barnevernet, and those that fail to make this distinction may be accused of the same ignorance displayed by some of the western countries when they portray all Romanians as thieves and criminals.
In general I know Barnevernet works. The idea of a good and effective child protection system should only make us feel safe, right? In that case why is Barnevernet inducing so much fear and terror, particularly among foreigners that live here. I would like to take a moment now and make the first reprimanding note on Norway: I lived here for three and a half years and I’ve never been informed or received any guidance about the rules and laws that apply to the social life here, particularly regarding child rearing. I haven’t heard about these regulations from any foreigners either, nor had I heard this happen to anyone I know.
It is true, there are those that go out of their way to read and get information, but this is not the standard for a country such as Norway. The prophylactic character of the Norwegian culture, the strategizing and planning traits specific to this country, are completely lacking when it comes to informing foreigners about the current regulation on child rearing. The fear experienced by immigrants can be explained, in this case, by a lack of information and guidance, which is becoming a stain on Norway’s good name.
Unfortunately there are cases in which Barnevernet has not intervened or stepped in too late and this resulted in a tragic outcome for the children. Just the other day, a young lady, 13 years of age died of anorexia; in this case Barnevernet should have probably stepped in with counseling and help sooner.
In the case of the Christian family I can see how people became so focused on the letter of the law that they’ve completely disregarded the spirit of it, or any common sense and humanity. I do believe there are many gray areas when it comes to the law of the land and these situations leave room for interpretation. Just to be very clear, from my point of view, as well as from the perspective of many other Norwegian friends, the resources need to be utilized for counseling and helping, and not for a traumatic separation in family.
The declaration of the Norwegian minister for social protection regarding this case can explain the overly zealous efforts demonstrated by the Barnevernet workers: ”Barnevernet should and can be subjected to criticism, and in Barnevernent the ways of operating can differ from one county to another”.
How do I see the Norwegian people and culture? I think they are wonderful people, with a rich culture marked by respect for others and common sense. What, in my opinion, the modern Norwegian people seems to forget is that their culture, that I treasure so much and of which they are so proud, was built in large on the work of the preacher Hans Nielsen Hauge. He lived 200 years ago and started a real spiritual and national awakening. It is important to remember that Norway’s well-respected constitution has no less than two hundred and almost two years and it is mostly based on biblical principles.
How do I see the Romanian people? In the same way, I believe Romanians are wonderful, caring people very passionate about everything they do.
I am in the middle of the two cultures, and on one hand I can understand why some employees of the system ended up taking such drastic decisions like in this case, though I disagree with their actions. On the other hand, however, I have a difficult time understanding a system that ended up being ruled by regulations so strict, that although issued by people they disregard humanity.
I will continue to live without the fear that one day instead of picking up my son from kindergarten or school I’ll pick up an envelope from Barnevernet. Why? Because I know Norway is much more than Barnevarnet, and God is greater than a system.
Claudiu Mihaiu, a Romanian living in NORWAY