This summer and autumn, a new wave of discussion about the Roma people arose in Europe. This time it is about France where the government decided to deport thousands of Roma, Bulgarian and Romanian citizens.
The French government not only decided to deport, but already deported over thousand people despite of the protests of the human rights activists, international organizations, churches and even the members of the government itself. Most people (according to the surveys) supported these activities. But many people stood up against them. Protests took place in small and big towns and the cities of France. Tens of thousands of people, not only Roma and migrants, participated in them. Residents of the UK, Spain, Belgium, Italy, Hungary and Serbia supported the protesters – in all these countries demonstrations or pickets were organized. Vatican, the UN, the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of Europe expressed their concern on the policy of the French authorities. The European Commission for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, Viviane Reding, and the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, disapproved the activities of France, and a special investigating commission on legality of deportation of Roma was founded. French diplomats got so many letters and requests asking to stop disgraceful discrimination of Roma that the Foreign Minister of France, Bernard Kouchner, said he might resign after these events. The Defense minister, Hervé Morin, stated he disagrees with those “who mix the problem of criminality with the problem of immigration”. He condemned the speeches of French politicians “full of hatred, fear and scapegoating”. The Secretary of State, Fadéla Amara, said she was”concerned about the deportation of the Roma”.
The representative of the French socialists, Benoît Hamon, called the position of the president Sarkozy „scandalous” as he organized a meeting on the problems due to some Roma and nomadic peoples”. The oppositional politician proposed to the government to imagine how they would react if instead of the Roma Sarkozy mentioned Bretons, or residents of any other province, as it is in the terms of such rhetoric. Such a statement would shock them.
The occasion for the anti-Roma campaign in France was an event in the small town of Saint-Aignan in the center of France. In the middle of July there was unrest there as the Roma indignant at the murder of 22-year Roma, Luigi Duquenet, attacked the gendarmerie. A bit earlier Luigi was killed by police. According to the police version, the gendarme fired at the Roma, when he didn’t stop the car after asked.
The attacks on gendarmes were called by the French government and president not just a breach of order, but a dangerous crime, typical, probably, to the arrived Roma. As a result, a decision to deport the Roma immediately and to demolish their settlements was taken.
Sarkozy’s opponents paid attention to the fact that the president started the war with crime but he singled out the Roma and French citizens of foreign origin as the main object of the persecutions. The representatives of the Catholic Church stood up against repressive and discriminatory policy of the French authorities. Among them there are the archbishop of Aix who called the statements of the authorities on the ethnic minorities „unacceptable” and the bishop Le Bren who said that the activities of the government are a„Roma-hunt”. Le Bren stated: „Social institutions helping Roma people to participate in the discussions should be created. Special programs for Roma people should exist. Serious work on their integration into French society should be done. To do it we should, first of all, learn about their culture”.
A 70-year-old priest from the city of Lille, Arthur Arvet, well-known for his activities to help the Roma, protested by refusing the National Order of Merit awarded 4 years ago. By the court’s order, prescribing “to free illegally occupied space”, a Roma settlement consisting of 19 tents was liquidated in the outskirts of Lille. The same actions were taken in Paris, Lyon and other cities of France.
Vatican officials also supported the efforts of some priests to defend Roma people. Pope Benedict XVI called on „learning to accept all people regardless of their differences”. Many Catholic communes and organizations actively participated in various actions of solidarity with Roma. The attitude of the French Catholics to the government became worse (only 47% of the Catholics support Sarkozy compared to 61% last year).
Deportations of Romanian and Bulgarian Roma from France mobilized very different people – socialists and Catholics, leftists and members of the government, stars and residents of poor suburbs. To be in such a company is not only interesting, but also an honor. Of course, there are people supporting Sarkozy in France, as in other countries. For example, the Italian ultra right party Northern League’s representative think that Sarkozy’s policy should be „an example”. In St Petersburg the Movement Against Illegal Immigration organized a picket to support the activities of the French government. Poor consul Michel Aubry! To be in such a company is not of honor! Much better people picketed his colleagues – ambassadors and consuls in London, Rome, Barcelona and Brussels calling on to keep the human rights, Roma rights and migrants rights.