For several weeks the Sarkozy government has been embarrassing France by pursuing a repressive crack-down on Romani campsites in a move that is widely regarded as an effort to troll for far-right voters concerned about illegal immigration.  --  This week "Viviane Reding, the European commissioner for justice and fundamental rights, said her office would launch a legal analysis to determine whether France’s actions complied with E.U. law," the Financial Times of London reported Wednesday.[1]  --  "I expect that all member states respect the commonly agreed E.U. rules on free movement, non-discrimination, and the common values of the European Union,” she said.  --  "In its legal review, the commission is expected to focus on whether the French measures were proportional, and whether they have breached the prohibition in the Charter of Fundamental Rights on 'collective expulsion.'"  --  The new Sarkozy government policy has become the object of intense criticism from "international human rights organisations, the Catholic church and even members of the governing UMP party," Ben Hall and Joshua Chaffin reported.  --  On the website Rue 89 a few days ago, commentator Hugues Serraf offered some non-politically correct ruminations, translated below, on the issue that give a flavor of the debate in France.[2]  --Mark]





By Ben Hall (Paris) and Joshua Chaffin (Brussels)

Financial Times (Paris)
August 25, 2010

Paris has heaped pressure on Romania to improve the lot of its Roma community and curb migrant flows to the rest of Europe while France’s own policy of deporting gypsies has come under fresh scrutiny in Brussels.

In a sign of rising diplomatic tensions over France’s clampdown on Romany migrants, François Fillon, French prime minister, wrote to the European Commission on Tuesday urging it to ensure that E.U. aid to Romania was used to integrate its 1.7m Roma minority.

“France doesn’t have the judicial means to force the Romanian government to spend these funds in housing and educating its population,” Pierre Lellouche, Europe minister, told Europe 1 radio.  “But Europe can, and that is why the prime minister wrote to Mr Barroso [Commission president] today.”

. . . (see link for full article)

In its legal review, the commission is expected to focus on whether the French measures were proportional, and whether they have breached the prohibition in the Charter of Fundamental Rights on “collective expulsion.”




By Hugues Serraf

Rue 89
August 20, 2010

Like everybody else, I'm stunned by the latest moves of the government, from that affair of depriving someone of his nationality to the grotesque collective condemnation of France's gypsies (the gens du voyage, 'people of the journey,' as we have learned to call them euphemistically now that les Noirs have become des Blacks.

Like everybody else, I don't like a president in trouble trying to reestablish his standing by appealing to what is worst in human nature, and at the risk of legitimizing a xenophobic discourse to the deconstruction of which he has for a long time now -- no, it's true! -- contributed.  Hey, black and Arab ministers and the CFCM [Conseil français du culte musulman], that's him, isn't it?

Like very few people, on the other hand, I'm begininning to get annoyed at the sterility of the chorus of indignation raised by the dismantling of the shanty towns [bidonvilles] set up just about all over France by Romanian and Bulgarian Romani.

I'm obviously not talking about calling into question the right of these Europeans to move freely about inside the Union, and therefore to visit Paris, Lyon, or Marseille if that's what they want to do:  what's more, as a federalist of the radical kind myself, I would find it rather logical to suppress or shorten the period of transition during which the citizens of the new member states cannot work in neighboring countries. 


But clearly the question is to know whether it is desirable, for a country like ours, to see re-established, outside our cities, the settlements made of cardboard and corrugated iron that it took us decades to get rid of (the last French shanty town closed "its doors" near Nice, in 1976).

A shanty town is not a "camp," a term nevertheless adopted at the same time as the euphemisms mentioned above in order better to evoke both the brutality of the police interventions and the so-called reminders of those famous "darkest hours of our History."

No, a shanty town is a space where entire families cohabit with rats in disgraceful conditions.  A shanty town is the absence of basic amenities, water, electricity, sanitation, heating in winter.  A shanty town is unhealthiness and disease.

Like the mayors of Bordeaux (Alain Juppé, UMP) and Montreuil (Dominique Voynet, Green Party), we're tempted to say no, absolutely not, to the simply unacceptable idea that hundreds of families can live in such conditions on land belonging to French communities, in squats or vacant lots.

According to the latest news -- but these are figures that it's fashionable for us to throw around, without either sources or a concrete basis for them -- about 300 of these encampments are supposed to have already been counted, accommodating between 15,000 and 40,000 people (here, too, figures are generally a lot of very hot air).

From the side of super-nice people, who demand that the evacuations and the destruction of the shanty towns cease, we are obviously hearing what it is that ought to be done:  furnish "real" housing for their inhabitants.

I agree completely.

But, once again like Voynet, one is tempted to answer:  "And where are we going to find this real housing?  How do we invent it?  Who should we eliminate from the already long lists of those who are waiting, in Bordeaux and Montreuil, for a low-cost apartment to be available?

But above all, are we deciding that from now on all the Bulgarian or Romanian Romani who get off a Eurolines bus at the porte de Bagnolet will immediately get an apartment paid for by public money and Médecins du Monde, provided they wait for a few months under a highway overpass until it's been built?


Beyond the question of housing, that of the lifestyle and values of the Romani is also a problem.  Because these latter people -- and I refuse to consider these factors from the moral point of view -- care about as much as for their first diatonic accordeon when it comes to acquiring the most obvious signs of Western European civilization, from a savings plan for retirement to a temporary job in some big state-owned enterprise.

O.K., perhaps they'll end up, stuck in low-cost housing and coached by an army of specialized educators, by resembling us enough to dream of that version of the terrestrial paradise for themselves as well as for their kids.  But in the meantime, it's more likely that we'll see them prefer to massacre "O Sole Mio" in the metro, steal copper from worksites, beg on pedestrian shopping streets, and play at Oliver Twist with tourists on the Champs-Élysées.

The Romani, because they have nothing to do with what counts for most of us in terms of social and economic success, which is their most absolute right and should be defended, endure the same ignoble ostracism in every European country. 

And if the destruction of shanty towns serves in France to drown out the noise of the Bettencourt-Woerth affair, the massive expulsions that the Swedes and Germans are organizing at the same time show clearly enough that the problem is much more complex.

To the hearts of gold for whom the practical side of things is never legitimate, since it necessarily requires them to interest themselves in what the hearts of stone suggest, we have an ardent desire to ask the the following question:  once your indignation is gone, what exactly are you proposing, in the real world?

Translated by Mark K. Jensen
Department of Languages and Literatures
Pacific Lutheran University
Tacoma, WA 98447-0003
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