I just spent a weekend in Timişoara, the largest city in south-west Romania. Those aware of the country’s more recent history may know it well. It is the place the revolution against the Communist regime started in 1989. Across from the impressive orthodox cathedral that looks towards the old town, our tour guide pointed us towards bullet holes still visible in the facade of the apartment buildings across the street.

However, the reason for my visit is that Timişoara has been named the European Capital of Culture (alongside two cities in Greece and Hungary) this year.

It is easy to see why. Some call it Little Vienna, so much do some of the buildings resemble the Austrian city, showcasing the shared historical architecture remaining from the Habsburg empire times.

While accurate to an extent, such a catchline should not distract from the city’s uniqueness or all the other influences that make it what it is. Stand in the middle of Piața Unirii – Union Square – and you can see it. Baroque buildings beside art nouveau architecture; a Serbian orthodox church near a Catholic cathedral.

There is a reason for this, my tour guide told me. It is because the square was constructed by a large variety of architects and influences: Russian, German, Serbian, Jewish, and more.

Beyond architecture, this hotpot of diverse heritage is present throughout Timişoara. Look closely at what is the oldest pharmacy in the city and it still has signs in four languages. Only a short distance away, the Romanian Opera is side by side with the Hungarian Opera and the German Opera. The latter two share a building – they even have diplomatically divided up the window space to equally share posters of upcoming events in each venue with passers-by. Nearby, a statue erected after the revolution has names inscribed on it. It is not the names of revolutionaries, but just a list of people living in Timişoara at the time the statue was created; the diversity of names meant to represent the diversity of the city.

Still, while there does seem to be a vast amount of influences in what is a smallish city (Timişoara has just over 300,000 residents), it is not the only city or country hugely influenced and enriched by immigration.

Looking at my birth country, Germany, one of my favourite examples is the doner kebab, which has become almost just as much of a national dish as the bratwurst (so much so that claims it was invented in Germany have stuck despite counter arguments that similar dishes have existed longer in other countries). Whether it was invented or adopted, the reason the hugely popular food exists is because of the increase in the Turkish population in Germany, which happened as a response to a severe shortage of workers in Germany in the late 1950s and early ‘60s. At the time, Germany needed workers and Turks answered the call.

Of course, the doner kebab isn’t the only way German society has been enriched by migration, but it is a fun (and tasty) one.

Here in the UK, talks about immigration have very much been part of our everyday news cycle and, unfortunately, hardly ever for the positive ways in which it has shaped and continues to shape the nation for the better.

Things we see as the backbone of our society, the NHS for example, were very much built through immigration. The Windrush generation was a huge part of the labour force in the early years of it.

I almost hate myself for once more using food as an example, but even this nation’s much beloved fish and chips are said to not have been a standalone British invention. Instead, it assumed that frying fish this way was the adoption of Portuguese, Jewish and Dutch practices, while chips are said to have French roots. While combined here, the dish is far from 100% British – it might not exist were it not for migration.

Just like beloved food, every single person likely has roots somewhere else. In fact, millions of people in the UK pay money to discover them. According to previous research by YouGov and Ancestry, one of the big providers of DNA ancestry research, nearly five million Brits used DNA testing to seek out their genetic ethnicity. When it comes to results, the more diverse the better it seems, judging by the few people that have decided to share their findings with me.

Yet, instead of celebrating the ways that immigration has positively contributed towards our society, for so long migration has been viewed through a negative lens. Worse, politicians in our country have turned towards demonising it.

Throughout their time in office, the Tories in Westminster have turned towards blaming migrants for problems caused by their own actions and policies. During the cost-of-living crisis, a decrease in quality of life, closure of public spaces, and the visible impacts of an overstretched and underfunded health system, Conservatives have continuously decided to point the finger away from themselves and, in an attempt to distract, turned it towards immigrants … and for so long, it seems people were buying it.

Like other issues – Scottish independence and Brexit for example – UK society’s view on immigration has been highly polarised, often due to political point-scoring employed by politicians on the matter.

Still, there seems to be some change in attitudes, at least in Scotland, and that I am glad to see. According to research for Migration Policy Scotland and the Diffley Partnership released last week, almost three-fifths believe immigration has a positive impact on the country, while the number of people wanting lower immigration levels has dropped from 58% in 2014, the year a similar survey was last conducted, to 28%.

However, while such numbers are a welcoming change, there too needs to be a change in how those in power talk about migration. Because the fact is migration is, and will continue to be, a massive and vital part of our society. To talk about the future, those at the helm need to embrace more rational and constructive conversations around migration instead of fuelling division without providing solutions.

Back in Timişoara, diversity is being celebrated by the city as part of being named the European Capital of Culture 2023. According to representatives, the region currently hosts over 30 cultural communities, and “this cultural palette is the added value of the city”.

This year, all residents are urged to "Shine your light – Light up your city!”. It is a play on words: in 1884, Timişoara was the first city in continental Europe with electric street lighting (something people here are very proud of).

But the slogan also refers to the future. It is “an invitation to a double mobilisation” for residents. For them “to shine their inner light” through their morals and values, but to also participate in changing their city for the better through everyone contributing towards it.

Timişoara has and continues to recognise that diversity is a good thing. It invites open conversation from everyone on what the future should hold. That, I think, will only be a good thing.