Maria-Luisa Guevara is a nom de guerre of a Romanian activist for housing rights, workers’ rights of non-European workers and progressive issues in general. She is part of the Socialist Action Group (GAS), a Marxist-oriented grassroots organisation in Romania. She also does field work for the Common Front for Housing Rights, one of the grassroots organisations on housing in Romania. Maria-Luisa Guevara talks to Vladimir Mitev in the context of a project to get to know the different faces of Romania in the 2024 super-election year and how they see the evolution of Romanian society.  

Maria-Luisa, first of all, can you give us a kind of short biography. How would you introduce yourself? What did you study? What are your most important projects?

Well, I would start with my name, in fact, my nom de guerre – Maria Luisa Guevara. I took it as a pseudonym about 12 years ago for a project at university and it’s stuck with me ever since. I was born in Bucharest in 1990, just after the Revolution, and until I was 13 I lived in Bucharest and for a few years in Bărăgan, in Ialomița county. When I was 13, I went to France with my parents, who were economic emigrants, and there I studied from 7th grade until I finished my university degree, which is about 10 years. In 2013 I went to Northern Ireland and worked there for a year and then moved to London. I studied political science, economics, but also environmental science, physics, chemistry, biology. So I have a wide range of subjects that I can cover and that interest me on the professional side. 

Unfortunately, I don’t work on themes and values that I identify with. On the contrary, I’ve had more contact with private companies and corporations and that’s why it’s very difficult for me to combine the professional side with my personal beliefs. But that’s capitalism, we have to pay our bills. And honestly, I don’t identify myself with the work I do at work, but rather as a political and social activist. In the sense that in Romania I’ve been involved in several left-wing organisations that are more or less successful. It’s quite hard for us here too. And now, most recently, I started volunteering at FCDL, the Common Front for the Right to Housing. 

It’s a subject that touched me personally and our family when I was in France and, obviously, when the opportunity arose to come and work on this subject here in Romania, I wanted to get involved. And there’s another topic that I’ve been working on for a few months, but I haven’t managed to start the project for real yet, which is about platform workers, such as those working on Uber, Glovo, Taz, Bolt. The idea started a couple of years ago and has now evolved to include migrant workers from Asia and Africa who are increasingly coming to Romania. And in the next few months we are going to start a project together with other comrades, but for now I can’t say more, because we are still at the stage where we have to see what we can do if we can unionize these people, if we can start at least an NGO, a foundation through which we can help them somehow not to be so exploited or at least to know their rights. And that’s it for now. 

It seems to me that more people who go from our countries to Western Europe are socialising there, if I am not mistaken to the right. For example, lately, the Romanian AUR party and the Bulgarian Renaissance party are influential parties in the diaspora. I have read the opinions of some Romanians who go to France and discover that the French are left-wing and these Romanians are proud to be right-wing, to be anti-communist.

Alas, yes.

But interestingly the first observation I heard from what you recounted was that you socialized, if I understand correctly in France, to the left. I wanted to ask you how that happened. How do you explain it? I find it interesting that at a time when most Romanians or people from Eastern Europe could go straight in the other direction, you went straight left? You didn’t have a problem with that?

Maria-Luisa Guevara (source: private archive)

Yes, it’s very interesting that yes, Romanians who emigrate to the West usually go to the right. My case, indeed, is a bit of an exception. I think it helped that at that time, in 2005, 2006, 2007, before Sarkozy came to power, the left was still very, very visible, very accepted, very popular. I remember when I was in high school, high school students would go out and protest against neoliberal policies. And automatically, to evolve in a leftist climate, without wanting to, you start to be sensitized to these things. But that wasn’t the only reason. I think the values my parents passed on to me also helped a lot, in the sense that although my father was anti-communist in theory, in practice he was not at all. I mean, my parents always opened my mind and taught me to show solidarity with vulnerable people, with poor people, with those who are victims of the society we live in. 

We had a very hard time in France. We went through very hard times and it came naturally to me eventually to understand that being left-wing means being human, being empathetic and understanding that we are oppressed by the current economic system. Then also on the intellectual side: when I started university and Political Science, the faculty where I was was right-wing, mostly very bourgeois, very aristocratic and I remember that I was not at all at peace with the ideas there. I still didn’t have the vocabulary and I still hadn’t read any left-wing texts, but I knew that I didn’t agree with what they were teaching us in college. 

And then, in my third year, I did Erasmus in Scotland, the home of Adam Smith. But there I read the Communist Party Manifesto for one of my courses and realised that everything I knew from the Romanian propaganda, that “damn, the communists are bastards and that it’s because of them that we have problems” and that it’s a horrible ideology, was false. And yet, at school in France, we were told that communists and Nazis are pretty much the same thing. They are extremists. Reading the Manifesto of the Communist Party, I realised, “Wait a minute! These people are saying something completely different.” That is, Communist ideology didn’t seem to be at all what anti-Communist propaganda inoculated me with. And then I started looking for other texts, other opinions, other points of view. 

My journey to the left actually started from anarchism. I read quite a lot of anarchist texts with which I resonated a lot and I did a project at university from which I got the pseudonym Maria Luisa Guevara. The question was how do we feed the world in 2050 and actually, from the research we did in the team we were part of, it came out that we can’t feed the world in 2050 if there is still capitalism. And I was very convinced by what I found and from there, I mean for about twelve years, it was very clear to me that we cannot live in capitalism. I mean it’s an anti-life ideology. And so, little by little, working also in firms and in corporations, where I was exploited, where I saw my colleagues being exploited, seeing also my parents being exploited and my friends, little by little I realized that “No! The left is the only solution.” And I would say that in the last two years I have been very active (by my standards, but in Romania fortunately there are comrades and comrades much more active than me) here in Romania, because I have had even more time and above all I have also found the place where I am, where I can put into practice the ideas and ideals to which I subscribe.

Good. It seems to me that somehow you move between countries, between the corporate world, the anarchist world. From the outside, as you describe, it sounds to me like it’s easy to cross several worlds. And I wanted to maybe ask about that as well, as an introduction – it sounds like you’re very convinced and you discovered right at the time, in your youth, what represents you, as far as political or social conviction. Wasn’t that difficult, being an immigrant, perhaps, I suppose, sometimes subject to peer pressure from your age or from the groups you were socialized in? Could you describe the context in which you existed? Was it easy to find communities of people with similar beliefs? You suggested that it was somewhat difficult economically… So if you could describe a little bit about the context in which you grew up.

Yes. It’s not easy to traverse these worlds and travel between them as you say, but ultimately I think that’s the essence of me as a human being. The fact that I left Romania when I was 13 and learned a new language, a new culture. I’m used to learning. I took from life from zero, everything or being so between many worlds. 

In France, when I say it wasn’t easy, I also mean the economic side. Romanians were very discriminated 15-20 years ago in France. Now maybe less, because there is more emphasis on people of Muslim faith from the far right. You also asked if it was easy for me to find left-wing communities throughout my life in France. It was neither easy nor difficult for me, in the sense that the studies I did led me to a right-wing world, but at the same time my mother worked in a warehouse in logistics and with her, her friends and her colleagues, who were mostly left-wing, we had contact with the left-wing world, with the workers who were trying to organise themselves as best they could. 

Then when I lived in Northern Ireland, their politics were not necessarily left-wing or right-wing. It’s just on the division of whether to stay united with Britain or whether to separate. But most of the friends I had there were somewhat left-wing, although they might not call themselves that, their beliefs and their values were left-wing. But I worked in a call centre, so I was still working class. In London, on the other hand, where I did more office work in corporations, there again I was somewhat thrown into a world of the right, of neoliberalism, of capitalism. And there I found it quite hard to find people who thought like me. 

However, I have a personal satisfaction that among my former colleagues at the corporation where I worked, I kept telling them that we were being exploited, that we were being mocked, that we weren’t being paid enough, that it was abnormal that we were getting such a miserable salary and living in houses full of mice, of all kinds of insalubriousness and our bosses were so wealthy.

And in time, after we all left that corporation, I kept in touch with them and some of them said, “Hey, you know, thanks to you I’m a socialist now.” I mean, even if formally or even if officially, the people I was dealing with didn’t necessarily call themselves socialists or anarchists, still the values they stood for were left-wing. And so, inevitably, I related to them. But here in Romania I found it easiest to integrate into a left-wing group. And I have the impression, because, let’s say, the left-wing bubble is quite small, you automatically get to know people very quickly, because everyone knows each other and you get to know more and more people, you hang out in the same places and, on top of that, it’s not a very closed community. I mean when you’re a new member of the bubble, it seems to me that you’re very welcome, regardless of the little disagreements you may have ideologically. They’re generally very welcoming. 

For example, in France what I noticed is that it’s quite difficult to connect, to join left-wing groups. They are very suspicious, maybe because over the years there have been all sorts of problems of people from the right or far right or security infiltrating these groups. But yes, in Bucharest at least, I find it quite easy to integrate into the left and to know how to make a place for yourself, to find your place in this community.

(to be continued)

See part two:

The text was first published by Bridge of Friendship.

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