Have you ever been placed in the position of the Roma? Because of my appearance, I have.
Both times it happened in Prague. The first time was in 1981 when I was pregnant. It was summertime, and I was wearing a wide colorful Indian dress, big earrings and had long curly hair. A good example of a Gypsy woman. That is what a Czech man standing behind me in line decided. When it was my turn to pay, he knocked off all of my food onto the floor with comments of derision against the Gypsies. The saleswoman knew me. She made a biting remark to the man and helped me to pick up the food scattered across the floor. I asked the man calmly in his native Czech language: “Exactly, what harm did the Roma bring to you?” – “I hate Gypsies!” was the answer, and further details were not provided. He left his food and went out.
The years passed by. I came back to Prague after the Velvet revolution. I was interviewing Vaclav Havek’s wife Olga, now already dead. I went into a public-call box to place a call. All of a sudden somebody grabbed my hair. I escaped their grasp and looked behind. A skinhead stood there. Literally, a skinhead. I tried to get out of the box as I had no place to move there. He seized my arm and in a very professional way, twisted it so something cracked in my shoulder joint. I screamed. The arm hung down. I swore in perfect Russian. He looked at me with confusion, looked around and ran away. I hobbled up to a random café. I wanted to ask to call for a doctor. I opened the door and stood still on the threshold. The café was full of skinheads. It was their meeting place, as was pointed out later. Two of them pointed at me and said: “Oh! Gypsy wanna share some beer with us?” and let out a coarse laugh. I ran away thinking there were too many neonazi bastards for me, an injured Gypsy woman.
The fact is, I have had no negative experience with the Roma; however, as you see, I have had some negative experience with those who do not like Gypsies. It seems that 63% of the French people (according to statistics) have reasons to support deportation of the Roma to Bulgaria and Romania. I’m not judging. I’m just trying to understand. There were many friends of mine among the people who supported the deportation. I asked my French friend what he thought about it. He looked in my eyes and asked only one question: “What do the Roma live off of?” The implication is clear – criminal easy money. I tried to find any statistics proving that the Roma who come to France or that the Roma in general are the majority in criminal statistics, but failed. I guess there are no “ethnic” statistics in France. No, I don’t say that the Roma do not make any crimes. But probably the “new arrivals” criminality is lower than domestic one, as it is elsewhere in the world. I guess domestic theft is the most common crime for the Roma people, but it also the most common for the Russians, French people and anyone at any time.
My friend is a businessman. He must understand that he pays for the deportation of the Roma as he pays taxes. Let’s imagine that he is ready to pay for his distrust or dislike for the Roma. Whatever you call it. As every businessman, he must know the term “efficiency”. I asked: “You paid, the Roma will be deported. But then, will they come back?” He nodded. I don’t understand why he supports and even pays for something absolutely ineffective. Isn’t it stupid?
I saw Roma in France for the first time not even in Paris, but in Camargue. A guy was playing guitar and singing in front of the church in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. A woman proposed to tell me my fortune. A while later I learned that it is a holy place for the Roma. They have their Madonna here. They are Catholics, and they come on pilgrimages here. They are local Roma, and they are not deported. Those who are deported are not “domestic”. But as my friend said they are also from Europe: “To send them from one European country to another is in fact like to move them from one part of France to another. If they are sent to Africa it would be cruel, but has some logic. But there is no logic in the French government’s activities…”
Well yeah, I am not annoyed by their appearance. They never stole a wallet or a cell phone from me (though I was robbed in France but not by a Roma). They never offered drugs to me (though I was solicited many times, but not by the Roma). Yes, like many Russians, I also like their songs. And yes, I got my first impression of the Roma from Pushkin and Mérimée. You can think I am a romantic fool, but I do not divide people into “us” and “them” as one brute already did in the territory of the current united Europe. As a result everyone was “them”. As Gypsies, as Jews. That’s why I can’t accept “damned foreigners” position anywhere. Not in Russia, when the Tajik people and other people from the former Soviet republics are beaten with these words. Not in Europe, which decided to be a home for many people of different ethnicities and has to be tolerant and run clever integration policy. Otherwise Europe has to admit that it has not established itself as an idea. Some citizens can have their phobias. Some people can dislike people different from them. But European politicians should be shocked by 63% of their compatriots who are not ashamed to admit they share ideas of xenophobia. This is one of rare cases when a high rating does not adorn a politician.
Natalya Gevorkyan, a journalist of the Kommersant in Paris