The European Union, France and the attacks on the Roma: who’s next?

Members of the Roma community in a camp in Lyons, 2010

When, in 2007, the European Union opened its membership to Eastern European countries, it only left the door ajar. As Renault or other European corporations had welcomed the entrance of Eastern European countries into the Union, seeing the potential for reserve of cheap labor, the promise of a “we stand together European citizenry” of these new members did not apply to the Roma, who are European citizens. In eight European Countries including France, the Roma have been under work restrictions, with only 150 types of work or “métiers” opened to them. Moreover, an employer who would like to hire a Roma would have to pay a monthly 700€ (about $900) flat tax on salary, a huge deterrence to employment.

This summer, despite the recent formation of a French socialist government, which includes a few Europe Ecology ministers, under the presidency of François Hollande, the policies of removal of Roma camps from some sites in France, a practice started by Sarkozy and opposed at the time by one François Hollande, have been reenacted under the aegis of Manuel Valls, the minister of the interior.

These removals triggered a series of criticism, including from other members of the government such as Cecile Duflot (Europe Ecology) who pointed out the counterproductive nature of such actions that push already stigmatized population toward more precariousness.

Martine Aubry, socialist mayor of Lille, one of the cities where Roma were evicted, was reported to be furious at M. Valls for having engaged in this action without any consultation with her or her administration.  She also emphasized that it was a serious breach in the work that her city has done to welcome the Roma. This work included construction of camps, with three more being built when the police dislodged the Roma from unofficial sites.

M.Valls claimed that the camps were unauthorized and therefore unlawful, adding that the law of the republic had to prevail. However, the laws have consistently ignored the reality of life for the Roma community and have targeted them as scapegoats by describing a surge of Roma population that would occur if they were to be `unleashed’.

The `surge’ of Roma in France amounts to 15 000 people. That number has remained stable for years despite the politics of expulsions, according to anthropologist Martin Oliviera, a member of the European Observatory Urban-Rom who works in a suburb of Paris. He adds that the Roma are not nomadic, as the cliché supports. He emphasized that their vocation is not to gush, or spill, westward “as if Europe was slanted.”

The politics of exclusion, on the other hand, are slanted. They are part of a capitalist framework that has evolved to a new neo liberal order that plays out to build (or to generate) the “vulnerable” that becomes the “filthy” as the politics of exclusion grows, and the French socialists are themselves entangled in this. The impediments to living and working for the Roma are in place. Unquestionably, various critics forced the government to make a gesture: the tax on salary was removed and the number of Métiers authorized increased. But it is too little and will not produce the real support that the Roma need.

So now, many are being rendered vulnerable under the same framework. Many are in the streets with no sense of belonging. This is not about charity for the Roma. It is about living in resistance to an order that we have allowed to be ours.


(Photo Credit: Libération / Jeff Pachoud / AFP)


Who’s in, who’s out, who’s counting?


Maps and tallies tell stories. They tell something about what’s going on, who’s in, who’s out, who’s where. They reveal more about the mapmaker and the list maker, the cartographer and the accountant.

Over the weekend, police in three major provinces of South Africa were accused of `fiddling’ with the statistics to make it look as if they, and `we’, are winning the war on crime. Like all modern wars, the war on crime is a statistical phantasmagoria, and so to win the war, one must play the numbers. The police played. Charges include stockpiling, burning, hiding dockets generally; ditching dockets of crimes on the increase; failing to register crimes with a low chance of prosecution; reducing serious crimes to lesser charges; and cover up.

Meanwhile, the police in Los Angeles are fiddling as well. The LAPD online crime map `omits’ close to 40% of serious crimes committed over the last six months, serious crimes that are actually reported elsewhere by … the LAPD! The Department officially reported 52,000 serious crimes between January and June of this year. The map shows 33,000. 19,000 crimes went missing. That’s a lot of missing numbers. That map has some pretty big holes.

From South Africa to the United States, and beyond, some numbers are abandoned, others are abducted.

In Rangoon, Aung San Suu Kyi is a guest of the State, in Insein Jail. She counts. Sunday July 5 marked the 5000th day of her incarceration.

In Uttar Pradesh, or UP, in India, Roma counts, too. She’s Number One, the first woman in the state to be charged under the National Security Act. She’s accused of consorting with Naxalites, of being a terrorist, a dangerous woman. There have been no incidences of insurgent violence where Roma works and lives. There has been “a silent revolution”. Women from over 500 villages have occupied over 20,000 hectares of forest land and have established farming cooperatives. Without committing an act of violence. But Roma is a member of the National Forum of Forests People and Forest Workers, she has worked and lived with tribals in UP for twenty some years, she is a writer, a researcher, an activist who calls for democratic dialogue, a woman who supports tribal women, social justice, peace. She says she has lost count of the number of accusations and arrests. She has never been successfully prosecuted.

In Zimbabwe, Jestina Mukoko, director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, is also counting. Having been abducted and disappeared last year, she now counts the number of times the government of Zimbabwe lies in order to keep her in prison or under the formal threat of imprisonment. At the end of June, state prosecutor Fatima Maxwell admitted that indeed Mukoko had been abducted by state security agents, and that the abduction was illegal. According to government testimony, at least three rights were violated: the right to liberty, the protection of the law, and the right to freedom from torture. A week later, State Security Minister Sydney Sekeramayi denied it all, said no rights were violated. Jestina Mukoko is counting the lies and mapping the spaces where rights used to be. Some are abandoned, some are abducted. We keep trying to count, we keep losing count, we keep counting.

We are in a map of the countless. In Iran, for example, journalist, feminist Zhila Bani Yaghoub was arrested, along with her husband, Bahman Ahmadi Amooy. They were taken to Evin Prison. Yaghoub has written about, and for, women’s rights in Iran for years. The Nobel Women’s Initiative expressed concern “for the safety of Zhila, her husband and the countless other Iranian activists and protesters currently being detained in Iran.” Countless. The numbers are countless. Not because they are so many, although they are many. They are countless because the tally is forbidden. How many lives lost, how many acts of violence, how many rights lost, how many mourners?

Mairead Maguire, Cynthia McKinney, Derek Graham, were among a small boatload of 21 people and humanitarian aid, toys and building supplies and medicine, headed for Gaza, epicenter of the countless. The Israeli Navy took the boat and hijacked it to Israel, where the crew and passengers were detained, mostly in Ramle Prison. Two days later, Maguire, Graham and McKinney were deported. According to Maguire, “Gaza is like a huge prison, but—because its borders are closed. The sea pass into Gaza, which has been closed for over forty years by the Israeli government—we are only the seventh ship to get in to the port of Gaza that tried to break the siege.…And also farmers—fishermen, who try to go out without—in about twelve miles to fish for their families, are shot up and have been killed by the Israeli navy in that area. So, Gaza is a huge occupied territory of one-and-a-half million people who have been subjected to collective punishment by the Israeli government…. It is also tragic that out of ten million Palestinians of a population, almost seven million are currently refugees out in other countries or displaced within their own country, particularly after the horrific massacre by Israeli jet fighters after just earlier this year. Twenty-two days Israel bombarded Gaza, Gazan people, civilians.” 40 years, seven ships, twelve miles, 1.5 million people, 10 million Palestinians, 7 million refugees and displaced persons, 22 days of bombing. Countless. Not infinite, not insuperable, not unimaginable. Simply imprisoned, behind walls and barriers. How many abductions, how many abandonments?

In Ramle Prison, Cynthia McKinney met African women refugees, women who had “arrived…in a very difficult way”. Those countless women wait to be counted. In immigration detention centers around the world, countless women and children and men wait for the fog of their war to dissipate, for the fiddling to stop, for a new set of maps and tallies, and cartographers and accountants.


(Photo Credit: CJP)