This Wheel’s On Fire

In 2007 the French people mistakenly elected Nicolas Sarkozy president. Now, in a transparent attempt to strengthen his 2012 re-election bid, by scooping up Gallic rightists who ordinarily cast ballots for perennial presidential contender and flaming bigot Jean-Marie Le Pen, Sarkozy has decided to whomp on the Roma.

Specifically, he has publicly condemned what he claims are “the problems posed by the behaviour of some of the travelling people and Roma,” ordered the dismantling of some 300 Roma campsites his government has declared “illegal,” and apparently approved the deportation of all Roma who cannot properly produce ze papers.

The government has said that Roma and Gypsies from outside France—many, including those kicked out of the Saint Etienne camp Friday, are from Romania—that commit crimes will be expelled back to their countries of origin.

However the top French official for the region said that all Roma without proper papers were being ordered to leave France.

“It is clear what I did this morning was in line with presidential instructions,” Loire region prefect Pierre Soubelet told journalists.

“There have been recent instructions to ask Roma to return home. There is no future here for Roma whose papers are not in order.”

Sunday the Roma responded by twice blocking a major highway in Bordeaux and a bridge over the River Garonne, seriously snarling traffic at the close of a major holiday weekend.

Tying up traffic to protest government dunderheadedness is a peculiarly French institution. French truck drivers, for instance, routinely close the approaches to the city of Paris whenever they Feel The Need. In this, therefore, the Roma have proven themselves to be quintessentially French. So Sarkozy should be instructed to return to his bunker, where he can continue to fret over his lost popularity, while the Roma should be permitted to remain.

Down in the polls or no, Sarkozy, of all people, should know better than to play to the occasional French penchant for discriminating against, even demonizing, the non-French.

Sarkozy’s own father was a displaced Hungarian count who, despite fighting in the French Foreign Legion, was for decades officially regard as a “stateless person”; he did not receive French citizenship until the 1970s.

Sarkozy’s mother was the daughter of a Jewish surgeon born into the Sephardic Jewish community of Thessaloniki. Though he converted to Catholicism upon marrying, he and his entire family, including Sarkozy’s mother, were forced to flee Paris when the Germans rolled in during WWII, hiding out in a small farmhouse in Correze to escape arrest by the Gestapo. Some 57 members of Sarkozy’s family on his mother’s side were extinguished during the Holocaust.

It was the prolonged French anti-semitic persecution of Army Captain Alfred Dreyfus that convinced Hungarian journalist Theodore Herzl that Jewish assimilation was an impossible dream, spurring him to found the Zionist movement. And it was the extreme anti-semitic ex-terminationalist writers of France, who poisoned Europe from the late 19th Century through the Holocaust, that moved writer Ron Rosenbaum, author of Explaining Hitler, to fulminate in a series of columns for the New York Observer that the realization of Zionism, a homeland for the Jewish people, should more properly have been carved out of France, rather than Palestine.

Apparently Sarkozy decided to go after the Roma after 50 people who weren’t even Roma assaulted with axes a police station in Cher, as a reaction to the police shooting and killing a 22-year-old man.

Assaulting police facilities is also quintessentially French: see, for instance, the storming of the Bastille.

The axe-bearers were what the French call gens du voyage, or “travelling people.” This community consists of French nationals, who, like the Roma, choose to live a nomadic lifestyle.

Sarkozy rushed out to opine that the axe-wielding “highlights a certain kind of behavior” in the Roma and travelling-people communities, and vowed to address “the problems posed by the behaviour of some of the travelling people and Roma.”

While The National Federation of Associations In Support of Travelling People estimates there are approximately 400,000 to 500,000 “travelling people” in France, only 15,000 to 20,000 of them are Roma.

The French Human Rights League condemned Sarkozy for engaging in racism:

“The President of the Republic has stigmatised Roma and ‘travelling people’ in a racist way, by creating an unacceptable amalgamation of a few individuals with entire communities, and announcing plans for ethnically targeted evictions of illegal settlements.” The group added that these communities were “scapegoats for deficiencies of the state.”

According to the Human Rights Lea-gue, those deficien-cies include the failure to allocate sufficient numbers of living areas desig-nated specifically for “travelling people” in France, in accordance with a law adopted more than ten years ago.

A group of associations for the protection of the rights of Roma and of “travelling people” published a statement accusing the government of using the recent riots as a “pretext” to impose tightened “policies of repression to demonise the primary victims of racism in France,” namely the people who choose a nomadic lifestyle.

One association, La Voix des Roms (“The Voice of the Roma”), accused Sarkozy—who has recently seen already low poll numbers tumble further—of “trying to rally public opinion with easy targets.”

A sizable number of French folks who also “choose a nomadic lifestyle” have thus far not been targeted by Sarkozy. There are those folks known variously as “jet-setters,” “Euro-trash,” and “rich people.”

Sarkozy’s gendarmes cleared out the first of what they had decreed to be “illegal” settlements on August 6. The camp was sited near the city of St. Etienne; police prevented journalists and rights groups from observing the pre-dawn raid.

Half the camp’s residents had left before the authorities arrived. Police ordered 44 of those they did catch to leave the country; another 18, including eight children, purportedly “volunteered” to leave.

The government has since closed an additional 40 camps. The Roma struck back with the Bordeaux blockade after hundreds were evicted from a camp near that city.

A 50-year-old Roma man evicted from a campsite in Montpellier told Midi Libre: “I’d rather die than go back to Romania, because I cannot receive immediate attention from the doctors there. Here I take medi-cines that I cannot find in Romania. I should already be dead in Romania.”

The government has said that people like this man will be deported to Eastern Europe on “specially chartered flights.”

The French, to their credit, did not get involved in George II’s rendition program.

Now this.

As if the evictions and deportations are not enough, Sarkozy has also set the dreaded French tax inspector after what Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux describes as “owners of caravans pulled by certain powerful cars.”

Once he’s rid himself of the Roma, Sarkozy plans to target members of other minority groups, vowing to strip French citizenship from “certain categories” of foreign-born “criminals.” He also talks of heaving into jail the parents of juvenile “delinquents.”

Sarkozy believes he eked out a victory in 2007 through being “tough” on “security” issues. With his “popularity” currently polling in the mid-30s—a record low—he’s decided to go there again. But in doing so, as Nabila Ramdani writes in the Guardian, Sarkozy is stoking the fires of French racism and xenophobia—pouring on the gasoline from the very top of the French government.

[T]here is no doubt that the man currently under greatest suspicion for inciting racial hatred and intimidation is President Nicolas Sarkozy himself. This is the politician, remember, who once described troublemakers from places like La Courneuve as “scum” who should be “washed away with a power hose.” As interior minister, he revelled in his nickname of “Le Top Cop,” sending heavily armed officers en masse towards the slightest sign of any kind of disturbance, no matter how trivial.

As predicted when he became president in 2007, Sarkozy’s administration has been characterised by widespread social disorder, up to and including the kind of riots which broke out in Grenoble, eastern France, last month. Street battles saw shops and cars destroyed by fire, and shots were exchanged between the police and youths. In a separate disturbance in St. Aignan, in the centre of the country, masked gangs stormed a police station after a Gypsy was shot dead during a car chase.

Sarkozy immediately blamed the disturbances on immigrants, announcing a wide-ranging initiative aimed at keeping them in their place. This meant a “war on crime,” with state-issue truncheons drawn to sort out what he described as serious “security problems” posed by “foreign-born” undesirables. Sarkozy, the ever radical rightwing thinker, also said he would withdraw French nationality to any immigrant involved in law-breaking as well as erring French citizens of foreign descent. Welfare payments to immigrants without official papers would be reviewed and minimum sentences for criminals would be raised. By the by, Sarkozy’s police also started razing Gypsy camps, as the president pledged to expel Roma travellers in a manner already being likened to ethnic cleansing.

The primary representative of the French left, the Socialist Party, has been wandering in the wilderness for well over a decade now, so lost that in 2002 the French thoroughly shocked themselves by casting more ballots in the initial round of presidential voting for the raving bigot Le Pen and his National Front, than for the Socialists—16.86% to 16.81%.

This unforeseen Outrage prompted an unprecedented national unity campaign, in which all of the Sane parties in France urged their adherents to cast their votes for Conservative Jacques Chirac, to regain French honor, and to wipe the smirks off the faces of the peoples of the world, who were amused that the French had selected over the Socialists the French equivalent of an American Republican.

It worked: in the second round, Chirac received an unheard-of 82.21% of the vote.

Still, the Socialists have yet to fully right themselves, which is why an ijit like Sarkozy was able to attain the presidency in the first place. Their response to Sarkozy’s war on the Roma is typical: lost in space.

”Sarkozy is surfing a radicalisation of public opinion on the question of security and immigration,” said Laurent Dubois, a professor at Paris’s Institute of Political Studies. ”Sarkozy’s declarations are a series of landmines that he’s slipped in under the summer sand. It helps remobilise the right, while at the same time creating divisions on the left.”

The Socialist Party, the main opposition, is struggling to come up with a response.

”Among voters, security is an issue where there is a lot of common ground across the political spectrum,” said Jean-Daniel Levy, the head of the political department at CSA. ”Many of the voters on the left don’t think the Socialist leadership is ade-quately tough on questions of security.”

Martine Aubry, the head of the Socialist Party, has denounced Mr Sarkozy for ”sliding into anti-republican ideas that hurt France and its values.” She did not directly mention the proposals, and hasn’t spoken publicly.

”It’s a subject that Socialists are ill at ease about,” Pierre Moscovici, a former Socialist minister and a member of parliament, said in an interview with RTL radio. ”We have to get back to talking about social issues, about pensions, jobs, taxes, and not fall for this bait.”

Polls show that anywhere between 62% and 79% of French voters support the dismantling of the Roma and fellow-traveller camps.

Alas: perhaps the French are de-evolving into Americans, 68% of whom apparently cannot sleep at night, knowing that Muslims intend to construct a community center in Manhattan.



7 Responses to “This Wheel’s On Fire”

  1. 1 possum August 17, 2010 at 3:59 am

    Targeting minority or ethnic groups is such a longstanding human tradition how ever will we see an end to the tragedy? Humankind is its own greatest enemy these days. We will be the cause of our species extinction if we fail to change our ways.


    • 2 bluenred August 17, 2010 at 8:52 am

      There may have been some evolutionary reason, at one time, for fear of the Other. But it’s long gone now. Now, it’s retarding evolution.

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    • 4 bluenred April 19, 2013 at 8:29 am

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