From a village boy in Romania devouring literary adventures to the first non-Danish regional councilman, Narcis George Matache has always been hungry for a challenge.
Photographs: Alex Flutur - www.instagram.com/creative.flutur/
Text: Michaela Medveďová
You may know him from the posters. Narcis George Matache is the man running for reelection to the Regional Council of North Denmark.
After all, what else could have become of a child that was so interested in the politics section of his grandfather's newspaper?
Hungry for more
And it wasn't just newspapers - Narcis has always loved adventure books. "When I was small, I had this crazy idea to live in every country in the world for a year. Then I found out there are more than 200 of them. That caused a little spell of depression," laughs Narcis.
The wanderlust never left his soul. When he turned 18, the then village boy from Eastern Romania decided to go and see more of the world. "I wanted to experience new things. I was curious to see if the worlds presented in books match what I had imagined. I was hungry for adventure, for diversity. Just very hungry for more."
He looked at where he could study in English - but also where he could afford to study. The finger on the map landed on Denmark - and specifically Aalborg. "In the beginning, coming here was purely an economic decision. My parents dropped me off at my new apartment, put a few essentials in the kitchen, and said: 'Good luck, here's the money, survive.' And drove back to Romania."
His Danish beginnings were dark, cold, and lonely. Back in 2009, there were only about 300 internationals in Aalborg. "There weren't many opportunities for us. Nobody was prepared for English speakers in the city. The school did not see us as a long-term thing. For them, it was just another political project, and they thought: 'They are going to change their minds again in a few years.'" Narcis felt they did not invest adequately in English, good teachers, top-level skills, or connecting their international students with the job market.
From a Danish nightmare to Spanish respect
Narcis was not impressed with his first year in Denmark. "I didn't click with anything. I hadn't evolved as a person yet. As Europeans, we are home in every one out of the 27 states. From the first minute I entered Denmark, I was home – but at the time, I didn't feel like I was." All of this made him long for a change in the air.
Erasmus in Spain changed everything, prompting the natural introvert to be more sociable and changing his outlook on Denmark. "People there had such respect just for the idea of me being a Danish student. Denmark had a great image, and it translated into how people treated me. If I had presented myself as Romanian, it would have been completely different." So Narcis felt he should return to Denmark and understand why others value the country so much.
Now that he has lived here for over a decade, he can say it would be hard to find a better society with a better quality of life - even when talking as a non-Dane. Yet, most internationals don't know the system and end up being excluded from it. If they don't organise, participate, and aren't a part of the decision-making, they don't exist. "But the system doesn't discriminate. On the contrary, it ensures that anyone who organises in Denmark can obtain influence and change their status."
He rejects the word integration, so focused on the word inclusion. He recognises he can never become "Danish" and debates the very concept. "Are you Danish when you celebrate traditions, speak the language, and eat the food? I'm never going to be that. Or are you Danish when you adopt the values and ways of organising? I want to be able to achieve my full potential in Denmark without having to adhere to the idea of becoming Danish.
"Having international candidates helps change the danish perception, too. it sends a clear message: They are here to stay."
An Aalborgenser on a mission
Denmark has indeed changed in Narcis's eyes since the cold, dark, lonely, unhomely days of a decade past. He realised it at a panel debate in Brussels, where he presented the Danish social system. "I spoke about Denmark and Aalborg with so much passion. I realised I grew attached to this place. I cannot become Danish, but I did become a local, an Aalborgenser. I have roots here."
In October, a book came out detailing how Aalborg became multicultural. Narcis was one of the key people behind the change. No wonder.
When he came to Denmark, no organisations in the city accepted non-Danish speakers. So Narcis decided to start European Youth North Denmark, showing other associations what they have to gain by adopting English. Quickly making it the most prominent organisation with loads of support, others wished to follow the same recipe. Fast forward to 2018, and every organisation started to include non-Danes. While trying to raise awareness that internationals could be a voting base and should be included, the idea of the International House North Denmark was born.
Behind all of this are demographic changes that put pressure on the city. For example, the number of internationals in Aalborg rose from 300 to 22,000 – this seems to be the case throughout Denmark.
"After a whole year of recruitment, I managed to have 14 local and one regional non-Danish election candidates in different municipalities outside of the North." The math is simple - if more internationals vote, more parties will be interested in the group and campaign towards them. "And because this is Danish politics, a promise made in the campaign is something you need to keep," smiles Narcis.
But for that, internationals need to be interested in voting. So often, they don't realise they have the right to vote in local elections - and many feel like they have no one to vote for. "Putting international candidates on posters helps show that running for office is not just something reserved for the Danes. It helps them realise that we internationals don't just work in services. And after a few years, others will maybe take a step towards running, too."
Having international candidates helps change the Danish perception, too. It sends a clear message: They are here to stay.
A lot has changed for Narcis since he started reading political news as a child. But his interest in politics was here to stay, too.
At 13, he became a member of a political party. At 14, he ran a campaign for the mayor of his village. And after his return from Erasmus in Spain, which helped him reevaluate Denmark, Narcis discovered he had the right to vote and be politically active.
But finding a political party in Denmark that would accept him without Danish skills was not easy. Only Social Democrats said yes - but that they would not hold meetings in English. "That worked with me. It was the first step. They were all surprised about the 22-year-old boy coming in, "he laughs.
Surprises kept coming - in 2017, he became the first non-Dane in history to run for regional elections. Of course, people were puzzled and asked him why run when Denmark wasn't even his home. But at the same time, he had a lot of support, and from Danes as well. They were stopping him on the streets, recognising him easily - as the first non-Dane to run, Danish media had a curious interest in him. "They liked that I was promoting voting rights, trying to achieve inclusion, speaking positively about Denmark. They said they could see I understood what Denmark was about."
Unfortunately, when the final votes were counted for the 2017 elections, Narcis missed a hundred to be elected.
But three years later, someone on the Regional Council had to step away from their position. So Narcis took their position, becoming the first non-Danish Regional Councilman, inheriting the focus on psychiatry and the special sector.
After the new term begins, he would like to open a new committee for the digitalisation of the healthcare system. "The age group in the Regional Council is quite high. Unfortunately, very few people understand the new digitalisation changes in the healthcare system, which took many of them by surprise during the pandemic. That's problematic. We are the ones supposed to be governing the healthcare system." He would also like to focus on regional development, culture, and climate.
The November 16 election is what lies between him and his visions.
A new age
The reelection campaign has been keeping him busy. He runs the Danish, English, and Romanian campaigns simultaneously and focuses on different minorities with a dedicated day from October to November 12. Luckily enough, in a pool of almost 400 candidates running for 41 spots, he doesn't have any competitor for the non-Danish vote.
But Narcis can see his message of political involvement has reached much broader. People are already writing to him about the preparation for the election in four years. He believes that by 2030, there should be a non-Dane on every local and regional council. With every campaign like his, there is a shift in perspective. "Denmark tries to ignore it, but we are a melting pot. I am not influenced by Danish culture alone. There are 155 cultures in my city. That's who an Aalborgenser is nowadays - someone that already went through this cauldron of cultures that has created a new persona. A New Age man."
The international nature of his twenties is also reflected in his home. Narcis met his wife Monika after she moved to Denmark from Poland and was looking for a place to stay. Ten years later, they have a very cosmopolitan household. "It would be hard to see this as a blend of cultures, though. It's more that we both became global-minded. But my English has deteriorated a bit. It evolved into a strange spoken English that has influences from Romanian and Polish. So I can say it's European that we speak at home," laughs Narcis.
His wife has also travelled the world. Sometimes, they would meet at the same event. "We were like a power couple. Once, we were at a climate event in Paris, where we were both invited for different reasons. All the prime ministers and big shots were there. And we got onto the stage and fist-bumped."
However, Narcis feels he has done all the travelling he wanted to. Nowadays, he finds peace in gardening.
That doesn't mean he's done with challenges.
Very recently, the couple welcomed their first daughter. "It's a perfect way to mark a new decade of my life. It pushes you to be different, to feel new things. Like a snake shedding its skin, I think I will emerge out of this experience a different person."
"Welcoming our first daughter is the perfect way to mark a new decade of my life. it pushes me to be different, to feel new things."
Fear of time
Right now, internationals represent half a million people in Denmark. By 2030, it could double. "Denmark needs to learn to live with this multiculturalism. They cannot take back all the decisions they made in the past and say that we need to go away. If they decide to make life harder for this half a million, it will just push them into politics, into making changes from within the system."
Narcis believes that someday, we will see internationals in national politics. "At some point, all of us involved in politics, we will get citizenship. Then we will have access to run for parliament. If we're there, we can also be ministers. And then, maybe in 2050, we'll have the first prime minister who is not Danish."
It seems that Narcis and his mission of making internationals more involved are unstoppable, that he will accomplish what he wants: to leave a mark on the world, something that would live on after him.
"My biggest fear is time. The fact that it passes and I am not achieving enough, doing enough. But I can honestly say I haven't wasted any of my decades. On the contrary, everything I have done has pushed me in a certain direction."