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Why did Andrew Tate choose Romania?

We look at why self-appointed crusaders, white supremacists and ultra-misogynists drift to Romania and the Balkans, and what they actually find. 

February 24 2023, 14.41pm

Andrew Tate, former professional kickboxer and strong contender for Most Toxic Man on the internet, moved to Romania in 2017. He was facing several sexual assault investigations in the UK, and by his own admission, appeared to have considered Romania more appealing. 

“I’m not a rapist, but I like the idea of just being able to do what I want. I like being free,” Tate claimed.  “Romania is a beautiful place… there’s no feminists, there’s no open homosexuality. […] No homosexual agenda,” he said in a now-deleted clip.

Fast forward a mere five years, and it is in Romania where he stands to face serious charges, including human trafficking and grooming women into prostitution. A far cry from the traditional society unspoilt by “woke Western values” that he hoped to find. 

And in the end, it was not the homosexuals or feminists that did him in. Nor was it beefing with Greta Thunberg or the Romanian fast-food chain Jerry’s Pizza, whose takeout box in one of Tate’s videos was falsely rumoured to have alerted the authorities to his presence in the country. 

“The feeling is, Andrew Tate thought he could get away with stuff,” Romanian journalist Mircea Barbu tells The Lead. “He says that Romania is a country where you can get away with stuff. He bragged about the fact he can drive over the speed limit here, and the police won’t stop him.”

Although Barbu is careful not to jump to conclusions before the trial begins (the opening is currently scheduled for May) you get a feeling that Tate’s boasting helped start the investigative avalanche that led to his arrest in late December.

“Given the fame of the Tate brothers, the Romanian justice system and Romanian prosecutors will try to build as strong a case as possible,” he adds. And they may well have a point to prove.

Why Romania?

Romania is the largest country in the Balkans, Europe’s southeastern peninsula often mockingly portrayed in both mainstream news coverage and commentary as corrupt, underdeveloped and crime-ridden. It is the kind of place where “women get raped and like it, too”, as the Balkans’ most famous academic  export, Slavoj Žižek, once said in mockery of Western perceptions.

“In the late 1980s, Romania was the second poorest country in Europe after Albania. Romania began to develop in the 2000s and it has become a remarkable economic power, ranking among the most powerful in Eastern Europe,” explains Sorin Cucerai, a Romanian philosopher and political commentator.

“Yet stereotypes change slowly.”

Most countries that were socialist or part of the Soviet Union-led Warsaw Pact spent at least five decades in either relative or complete isolation from Western Europe as their economies became centralised and largely insulated from global markets.

 After the fall of communism, the same countries were cast – in some cases overnight – into fiercely free-market economies and, in the case of Romania, membership of both the European Union and NATO.

Between rigid socialism and free-market bonanzas, these countries arrived into the 21st century with abundant character and fascinating political transitions, but severely lacking in stability.

This last bit combined with the often lacklustre performance of the judiciary and the police  not only inspires derisive and simplistic media coverage, but also attracts individuals like Tate.

“Romania still has weak institutions, and a problem with corruption. If its institutions do not work properly and they are also corrupt, this creates ample space for human exploitation,” says Cucerai.

And while most Romanians see foreign right-wingers as an unwanted or negative presence in the country, there are those who find these worldviews appealing.

“From the conservative perspective, including the far-right here, global institutions and people supporting globalisation and integration and so forth are the enemy. If you’re a foreigner but you’re fighting against globalisation then you’re a friend and you support the cause,” he says.

“While I’m angry, just like most Romanians, that the Tates came to exploit Romania, I’m also angry at the Romanian police who arrested the Tate brothers and haven’t arrested many others who engage in illegal activities,” Cucerai concludes.

Webcam mafia 

The webcam and video chat industry is a key source of income for Romania's criminal and underworld circles. Activists who fight against the exploitation estimated that the industry raked in 180 million euros in 2021, with around 70% of the ventures operating illegally.  

“In such an industry, which is barely regulated and where women enjoy minimal or no legal protection, violence against women and abuses are not really a surprise,” says Victoria Stoiciu, a political scientist and activist who has followed left-wing and progressive movements in the country for years.

She says she’s surprised that the authorities conducted what seems to be a thorough investigation on Tate’s activities, when they “often tend to turn a blind eye to sexual violence, due to misogynist and patriarchal stereotypes and mentality.”

Despite the economic progress Romania has made over the last ten years, poverty remains high as economic mobility continues to be limited to the political as well as urban elites.

“Romania still remains a country where almost half the population lives in poverty and lacks real economic opportunities, making it a fertile soil for such industries. Video chat and other associated activities offer a real chance to many women to access higher living standards and often very good income,” explains Stoiciu.

While sexual abuse of any form is punishable by law in Romania, the public often tends to place most of the blame on the victim.

“The primary reason invoked by Tate for coming to Romania – getting away from rape – has no support in our legal system, the Romanian law punishes rape; but the general attitude against the victims of sexual aggressions is definitively an ally of the aggressors like Tate.”

White Crusader Complex 

Other male “anti-woke” influencers, including conservative and far-right figures, have attempted to establish a foothold in the Balkans over the past several years for similar reasons.

Jordan Peterson famously checked himself into a drug rehab clinic in Serbia in 2020, then came back two years later to hold one of his right-wing self-help lectures at Belgrade’s large conference halls. 

Trump’s former advisor and Breitbart News founder Steve Bannon tried to cosy up to nationalist Bosnian Serb politicians and sell them on his ideology of a “right-wing populist revolt” through his European foundation, The Movement.

Other, more dangerous representatives of the extreme far-right have also been drawn to the region. Notably, the Christchurch shooter is known to have travelled throughout the Balkans, visiting the obscure locations of medieval battles with the Ottoman Empire before returning to New Zealand for his killing spree. He even wrote the names of these locations together with Balkan historical figures on the guns he used.

Violent white supremacist group RAM founder Robert Rundo has been on the lam from US authorities in the region for several years, bouncing between places in Bosnia, Serbia, Greece, and Bulgaria.

While these figures do not share an identical ideology or espouse the same ideas, they fall under the wider umbrella of “anti-establishment” figures trying to tear down what they believe are Western institutions or societal values. 

“The corrupt backyard of Europe”

Yet, as attracted as they are to the place, most figures like Tate were either too radical or too foreign to have their spiel stick, says author and Bellingcat journalist Michael Colborne.

“The key issue here is how privileged Western men view Central and Eastern Europe, and especially the Balkans.”

While Eastern European or Balkan countries could be perceived to espouse more traditional gender roles on the one hand – especially due to the resurgence of organised religion after the fall of communism – the legacy of socialist rule also left women much more economically independent in other aspects. 

Paid maternal leave and childcare are much more common, and most of these countries have already had one or two female leaders – putting them way ahead of countries like the US.

“There definitely is a bit of a colonial or imperial aspect to it, whether it’s far-right influencers going to the Balkans or sexpats going to Ukraine. The motivations aren’t that dissimilar,” Colborne explains.

“They’re deliberately going to these less developed and less stable parts of the world because they think that if they’re from an English-speaking country they’re going to be put up on a pedestal and that they’re a few steps ahead of everybody else.”

To them, the Balkans and Central and Eastern Europe — areas Colborne focuses on in his research on the far right — seem untouched by globalism or cultural Marxism, “or whatever buzzword they use.”

“It looks more like the traditional world that they envision. When Western far-right influencers who live in the Balkans are asked about living there, they talk about the Balkans as a place where there are these small, idyllic towns where people live more ‘naturally’ – both in the general and far-right sense of the word,” he adds.

However, Tate’s one standout ability — to make his traditionalist medley of hyper-masculinity and misogyny so appealing to teenagers that it acts almost like the Disney Channel for future extremists — is what makes him more dangerous in the long term.

Tate’s teachings are, in essence, a gateway drug for misogynist youths, putting them at risk of moving on to other radical ideologues and extreme beliefs

A survey conducted by the leading UK anti-fascism charity Hope not Hate made public in mid-February found that 79% of boys aged 16 and 17 have consumed Tate’s online content.

The poll including more than 1,200 young men in the UK aged 16-24 further showed that a whopping 46% of them had a positive view of Tate.

In their eyes, he is a counterculture figure while it also explains why he has held on to his online supporters even amidst the charges he is bound to face.

Whether Tate personally ends up behind bars or not, other peddlers of rage and discord that social media algorithms seem to favour are all ready to step up and sell their toxic song and dance.

The demand is persistent, and while some personas might disappear, they will not go away any time soon, allowing others to capitalise on Tate’s playbook.

“We should not disregard that many people who barely heard about Tate before might have become his fans after the arrest. Exposure is a double-edged sword,” Stoiciu says.

Yet, the Balkans could be made less appetising to the far right by improving the living standards of those to who they appeal to.

“Misogyny and radical conservatism are often an overcompensation for being at the bottom of the social hierarchy or feeling your social position is at risk. It may sound bizarre to some, but by reducing inequality of wealth and status, for one, we may reduce the support for people like Tate."