France: Discrimination Against Roma People, Labeled as “Thieves”

Chez les Rroms (gitanos) par jespel sur Flickr licence CC Attribution NC-ND 2.0 Generic

(This article is a translation of the original article in French on Global Voices en  Français.)

On August 15, the television channel France 4 rebroadcasted a documentary entitled: “Who is afraid of the Gypsies?” produced in 2009 by John Paul Lepers. Le post writes [fr]:

…  A documentary that may prove to be invaluable during these troubled times when politicians have decided to subject the itinerant community to public ire.

Many preconceived ideas that are anchored in us since the beginning of times (us the sedentary people or the”gadjes” as they sometimes call us) make us believe that they are thieves, vilains who are dirty and poor.

It is true that they are different from us and that in the name of their freedom, they ignore some rules of our society. But does the State itself respect the law that concerns this issue? Is the Besson decree that stipulates that all towns of more than 5,000 people must provide land to host the itinerant community ever respected? What about it 10 years later? Merely 20% of the cities apply the law and the others break the law with the outmost impunity.

While the destruction of camps and expulsions of Roma announced by president Sarkozy and interior minister Brice Hortefeux are in full throttle with the silent approval of the majority of the public opinion, some doubts start to creep in even from within the UMP ( the ruling party) and some bloggers who do not usually venture in these debates cannot help but express their outrage.

Bienvenue chez les roms, a blog published in the newspaper La Tribune de Genève, found musicians in Hungary who happended to be named Sárközy, and shares with us some witty tidbits:

It is a common name with the Roma in Hungary, I won't speculate that our Sarkozy is of Roma origin but it's not out of the realm of possibility. In fact, I identified a musician who plays in a band called the devilish Romas. What if our Sarkozy was one of them? A devilish one who forgot his origin, his sense of rhythm and his songs  and only leaves us with a noisy cacophony on top of having an identity crisis but focusing his attacks on Roma people.

Bah by CC feigns to be naive :

I saw the Roma on tv. They did not look like how Hortefeux described them at all. They did not own big German cars.  Hortefeux has history of confusing arabs with Auvergnats, maybe his acumen on this issue is not that good,..unless the mistake was intentional ? Either way, the Roma on tv looked like they were quite miserable. They had old RVs in wich they slept on lots they were not supposed to be stationed on.

The usual themes of dernier des blogs are ” photos, digital culture, sci-fi and comtemporary art”. But the author expressed his anger that the higher sphere of the State took aim at such an easy and vulnerable target as the Gypsies. In an article on owni entitled the biweekly news on the Roma, he provides an in-depth analysis on his blog [fr]:

There is another issue. It seems to me that these nomadic populations are saying much more  about us, that they are the grain of sand in the well-oiled machine. They used to be the oil that allowed the machine to function since the Roma were often the vectors of innovative technology, of know-how or just manpower for critical seasonal work in the agricultural business. While they might be as well-integrated as they have ever been, their way of life remains at odds with the modern world. This status, instead of being considered as a thorn in our side, ought to be valued immensely, because it tells us an awful lot about ourselves ( we the sedentary ones).


I would not be able to theorize it properly, but it seems to me that the “itinerant” people are always at the crossroads of the theme that are trending in the digital world: landscape, travels, memories, surveillance, profiling, intellectual property ( no patents or copyrights but secret handicrafts and musical know-how) and in all these themes, we can find the production and utilization of objects.
Originating from India where they were forced to be nomads because of their impure work albeit useful ( greasemen and taylors..) the Roma people still specialized in the same profession thousand of years later. But in a few decades, I feel like they are not given their  space in society anymore and it seems to be linked to our relationship with objcets.
Cars have replaced horses ( that were critical to the Roma economy). We don't sharpen our knives anymore, we don't refill our pillows or repair our chairs, we don;t fix anything anymore but we throw them away and the objects are designed to be disposed anyway because the industry has a vested interest in us buying 5 similar objects than a single one if repaired properly. Maybe the problems of the Roma people  is with marketing and design.
On august 4, The website La voix des Rroms started an online petition to ask equal treatments for Roma and the itinerant community addressed to the French population at large. Meanwhile, the countries of origin of the non-French Romas displayed contrastingly different attitudes.
Romania warns against “populist behavior” and “xenophobic reactions” that their deported citizens may encounter at the border.  Laurentiu Mihu and George Lacatus, on the blog Robin-woodard explain the reality of the problem [fr]:
While the dismantlement of the Roma camps accelerates, some large shopping centers do not hesitate to have guards follow the Gypsies in their aisles. Worst, they are sometimes forbidden from entering stores.  The daily newspaper România libera reported seeing such events in Rouen and La Rochelle.

Elena B.  a Romanian with Roma ties lives and works in Rouen. She says: ” Before, we were free. Now, as soon as we enter a store, they suddenly realize you are Roma from Romania and they track you until you leave the store. »

She understands sentiment of the majority of French though: ” At first, Roma only stole food and French people tolerated it. Then some went overboard and started stealing to make a sale later. On top of stealing food, they now steal expensive stuff. Now, we are not allowed to taste the sample products anymore.»

On the other hand, Bulgaria seems to be indifferent to the fate of their citizens in Western Europe says Le Courrier des Balkans:

When do Bulgarian seem to care about the issue of the Romas ? Only when the Bulgarian fringe of this minority becomes a problem for another country.

Immediately, the average Bulgarian citizen who believes that Bulgaria is aching because of the Ottoman reign and the larceny committed by Romas will react thusly:” See, now europeans know what Roma people are up to. They ought to stop bringing up their human rights and whatnot” … the real problem is, the Bulgarian government does not behave any differently than the common Bulgarian person.

Are “insertion village” the answer? Café Babel investigated in those supposedly paradise for Romas and is reflecting the skepticism of many:

The members of the EU mentioned the issue twice during session focused on community integration. Yet nothing concrete came out of it. It's worse and worse. At the parliament, everyone spoke about it. They show they care but no concrete measures are ever taken. The strategy must include a text specific to the Roma situation. It is quite urgent, actually. »

Between political wishful thinking and the harsh social reality, Roma people are always caught in no man's land. One of their representative think it could last another decade.

Maybe it's Italy who can show the way, far from the xenophobic clichés. Café Babel adds :

What is the Italian equivalent  to the insertion villages made in France ? None. But something is happening there. The Mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, who was the first to hire a Roma in his team and the city of Treviglio is oft cited as a model of integration

Image Vignette : Photo jespel sur Flickr licence CC Attribution NC-ND 2.0 Generic


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