Thursday, September 30, 2010

Roma and their plight in France

The month of September brought with it a series of disturbing articles coming out of France. President Sarkozy, playing to the extreme right, has taken on the task to deport Roma, in the past known as "Gypsies", back to Romania. This article from earlier in the week on Huffington Post, compares Sarkozy's actions to Vichy France, where during WWII, the Vichy government deported gypsies and Jews to the death camps as they partook in the Nazi ideology. Even more current, is this article about how the EU is taking France to court over the expulsions, although they stop short of saying France is discriminating against Roma for "lack of proof."

An EU Justice Commissioner likened the expulsions to war-time deportations, which Sarkozy called a "disgusting" assertion. The Justice would later apologize for her hyperbolic remarks, but clearly, the analogy isn't too far off.

I wrote a paper about human security for a class, targeting Europe's Roma community given their plight. Human security is a fairly new concept in international affairs, anchored in the thought that "everyone should enjoy freedom from fear, freedom from want, and freedom to live in dignity." Using this proclamation as a framework, it's clear that the Romani people do not enjoy human security. Far from it.

Expulsions are nothing new to Roma; Italy has done similar, forcefully evicting them and tearing down what little means of housing they have to live under. The leading NGO in Europe that deals with the issue of discrimination against Roma is the ERRC, the European Roma Rights Centre, which is following the situation in France closely, and monitors all instances of inhuman treatment perpetrated by the people and the government's of Europe.

Currently, Europe is in the 5th year of it's Decade of Inclusion campaign, an effort to integrate Roma into society among the majority population. From my research done last fall on this, I learned through the Open Society Institute that the campaign has not gone well. First there's the issue of Roma not wishing to integrate, for obvious reasons, and then you have the issue of the majority population not wanting Roma to be integrated, for discriminatory reasons. So you have a stalemate, and a situation that is not improving.

During my research I also found an example where for Slovakia, if it were to put it's Roma population to work in meaningful employment, the country would see its GDP increase several percentage points. It's a stunning case study that underscores the cost of discrimination. With that said, once the change to a free market system went into place in 1990 across the former Soviet republics, the Romani people had a difficult time keeping what little employment they had under the Soviet system, which was made up of rudimentary work requiring rudimentary skills. A free market economy requires more in the way of skills and education, something Roma lack very badly. As a result, unemployment among Roma all over Europe is rampant, requiring them to find other ways to get food, clothes and other necessary items needed to live. This then perpetuates the trope that Roma are nothing but thieves, something that Sarkozy has eluded too in his comments to justify the expulsions.

Plainly put, the Romani people need what the Jewish people finally received in 1948 - a homeland they can call their own. Their roots are in India, but the difference between Roma finding a home and the Jews finding a home post-WWII boils down to the U.S. Had the U.S. and Truman not pushed for a Jewish state, there might not be an Israel today. So the question becomes, who with a sizable influence, with support from the U.N., can find some way to create for the Romani people, their own homeland, whether it be in India or elsewhere?

Otherwise, how does the cycle of discrimination end?

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