Inside a French Roma camp probably already demolished by cops
Unfortunately, I’ve covered plenty of Roma camp demolitions since 2010, and they never actually stop, but a pro-Roma group sent me an email that attracted my attention.
Just outside of Paris a few dozen Roma families were terrified because at any unspecified moment cops were going to swoop in, bulldoze the camp, confiscate or destroy their meager possessions and render them homeless while providing no housing alternative.
This is totally normal in France.
What’s unusual was this: The camp had been allowed to stand for five whole years.
That’s an eternity in Roma time! Last year 60% of all Roma were forcibly evicted at least once. The key word there is, “forcibly”.
So this camp is basically the Rome (the eternal city) of Roma camps.
I covered the story for Press TV. I was one of about five journalists at a press conference they camp had arranged, and I was the only one with a cameraman. I can see why the French media don’t want footage of it – Roma camps are third-world societies amid the opulence of Paris. You literally open a door and walk into impoverished India.
How is it possible to have 3rd-world conditions in France?
Perhaps the best analogy in the Western hemisphere for Europe’s 10 million Roma (or Romani, or Gypsies) is the aboriginals or Native Americans. Like those groups, the Roma are viewed as an expendable nuisance who time has passed by.
Much like the aboriginals, the Roma are considered drunks, thieves, lazy, violent, stupid and unwelcome, except in isolated reservations on the worst possible land.
Again using Council of Europe figures, France has perhaps just 20,000 Roma in a nation of 66 million people. That’s a percentage of the overall population so low that it breaks my calculator. Put them all in one town and they wouldn’t even officially qualify as a “town” in France.
So the cost of helping them would be a drop in the bucket, but for France the Roma are the ultimate NIMBY – Not In My Back Yard.
But the great thing about the defeat of Marine Le Pen is that France’s minorities are going to be treated much better than they have been.
Hahaha, I’m funny!
When right-wing Nicolas Sarkozy was anti-Roma, he got plenty of international condemnation. But when “Socialist” Francois Hollande expelled even more Roma and destroyed even more of their homes, such condemnation was far more muted. This is very typical treatment in the West: the Left is let off for committing the same atrocities as the Right.
Now, the fake-leftists are sleeping soundly at night because we have Emmanuel Macron in office.
So if it was Le Pen and not Macron who was such a danger to minorities, then what was I doing there?
What was the camp like? We want details
Well, first they weren’t going to let us film. Some of them are illegal, some of them are bashful, etc.
So they made a decision in the typical Western fashion: The richest 1% got together and decided.
Not at all: the entire camp, or at least those who were interested enough, gathered together and debated it for 10 minutes. My cameraman and I waited patiently, and hoped they believed what I promised: that we were there to do a 100% pro-Roma story.
Because what constitutes balance in such a case? “However…some people say the Roma are diseased, voodoo-practicing beggars who leech off society while getting drunk and dancing around a bonfire every night.”
Anyway, I work for Iranian TV in English – what’s the risk, I told them? The 4 or 5 other French journalists were mostly bogged down in the minutiae of local zoning ordinances. I was there to ask the simple question: “How can the world’s 5th-richest economy not accommodate just 20,000 Roma?”
So, they decided to let us in and – by Roma standards – it was pretty ok: A few dozen densely-packed caravans (trailers) wedged between two industrial factories, only one of which may have been working, no garbage everywhere, and no running water in the walking areas. When I left I was not covered in grime, and that may have been a first.
It was surprising how few small children there were. I guessed that this was because stability of five years in one place had created a basic level of prosperity, and by that I mean: the ability to purchase contraception. What conservatives may not realize is that when you have to choose between contraception and food for your household, you will necessarily choose food…but that does not mean you also choose to stop having sex, of course.
While I’ve been to Roma camps and perhaps seen some questionable activity – again, hunger is not just going to stop being a constant problem and the government is providing nothing despite levying taxes – a few dozen refrigerators lined up in rows indicated that this camp’s money-producing activity seemed to be stripping old refrigerators for parts. I certainly don’t know how you could steal a fridge….
Of course begging is another way to get money. But almost nobody is going to hire a 50-year old lady, even if she’s White, so that’s why those are the ones who get sent to beg. Once kids are old enough to not get hit by cars, but haven’t yet hit puberty, they keep Grandma company. I thought going to school is a really lousy life for a kid, but it’s better than theirs.
What was very surprising to see was how many flat-screen TVs and satellite dishes there were. This will shock some people who feel that begging should be a 24/7 occupation which does not allow for repose. They also probably don’t know how cheap TVs have become. Of course, when the cops come in with the bulldozers, they will crush these TVs, and I’m sure this will make such people happy.
All in all, the nearly 200 people living there had spruced it up real nice, and caravans instead of slapdash shacks are a sign that these were indeed “middle-class Roma”. There was even a sign for the main thoroughfare which read “Place Charles de Galle”, LOL.
This camp also benefitted from the barest foundation of governmental support: their caravans rested on actual concrete foundation, as they were squatting on an unused industrial area. Usually Roma are camping on dirt floors which, of course, makes things extremely dirty when the first rain falls, which is nearly every other morning in Paris.
Don’t get me wrong – people should definitely not have been living in that area for certain. The camp was on a long stretch of busy road where people routinely speed and where you definitely don’t want to have children playing. That’s why the camp’s gate is always closed, which makes them even more invisible to the average Frenchman. Problem? What problem?
The French government mainly hurts, it doesn’t give until it hurts
France’s Roma are consigned to such essentially hellish, noisy, dirty, dangerous places – literally on the highway shoulder, under the bridge, next to the dump – just like White Trash, and their Colored counterparts, everywhere. The difference is: the Roma get run off time after time and, if you think about it, that’s a really huge difference.
But not only had the local government tolerated this camp for 5 years, they even allowed Roma associations to help do insane, radical things like allow them to pipe in electricity and water. Thus the TVs and the hygiene. In perhaps the biggest expense to the local government, they even deigned to include their stop for garbage pickups, and that’s why garbage was not everywhere.
Perhaps only in a left-wing bastion like Bobigny – headed by Communists from 1944 to 2014 – was such social generosity available for the Roma. In Southeastern France, where the livin’ is easy but the governments are right-wing, oh la….
But since 2009, the livin’ ain’t easy anywhere in France, due to the planned failure that is neoliberal austerity…and Bobigny is no longer leftist. The new mayor of Bobigny is a conservative, and part of his election platform was clearing out the camp.
This is yet another example of how the betrayal of Hollande and the “Socialists” has turned the country to the right, and stuck it to us all 10 ways from Sunday and for countless Sundays to come.
And even though the Roma present practically no cost to the community – like, say, bailouts for foolish bankers – the government pretends like they are cutting unnecessary costs by scapegoating the Roma.
But ‘no cost’ is still too much when it comes to the Roma
The Roma face more discrimination than any other group in France. It doesn’t matter if they are citizens or not. They are banned from schools, state-run nurseries, denied hospital care and basically excluded from any and all government services. The proof of this simply everywhere.
I interviewed Annamaria Dumitru, and she explained how this refusal of even the barest of humane services creates the vicious cycle of Roma absolute poverty:
“I had to stop my job training (as a beautician) because I had to watch my little daughter, who was not allowed in schools. This is even though my family and I have all our papers.”
Voila. What else needs to be said? This is totally illegal, but totally common.
Let me make it clear: The biggest obstacle to Roma integration is that there is no national pro-Roma policy: One racist judge or anti-Roma bureaucrat can undo years of individual and collective efforts. From Ms. Dumitru to her entire community, which has spent five years building and improving their home, the good works of some French people are repeatedly and easily swept away by the discrimination of other French people.
I was invited inside the home by a man in his 40s, where his wife was making his lunch: 5 or 6 fried eggs. No meat, no potatoes, not even bread.
He showed me official documents which illustrated how he had been fighting for a decision, any decision, on his citizenship application – after all, there are time limits which must be enforced. For him – because he is Roma – they are not.
One national court ruled in his favor, and they said that for each day the county fails to make a decision they will be fined 100 euros. But, I would place the odds of this fine ever being collected at slim and none. The county continues to ignore the court, and the man remains in limbo as much as any refugee.
Are Roma parents are somehow ‘different’ from other parents?
A final case from this community: I spoke with a middle-aged man and father of three. Thanks to five years of stability, his 17-year old boy had just completed high school and was hopeful of getting a job.
But he was worried about his 12-year old son – what job prospects could he have if they are forced to leave and he’s not allowed in the new school? And what of his 7-year old son, who wasn’t allowed in the primary school? Like any father of any ethnicity, he wants the best for his children.
This story disproves the most reactionary, idiotic and even inhuman stereotype about the Roma: that they choose to “live differently”. C’mon…you show me a mom, who has lugged around her baby for 9 months, who doesn’t want to see her child be healthy, educated and successful? Maybe the occasional single man wants to live the nomadic troubadour life, but how many fathers do? Gimme a break….
Very worried, he asked me what I thought the camp’s chances were of being allowed to stay.
I did what I had to – I lied my butt off. I told him “50/50”.
What was I supposed to say, the truth? “C’mon man, you’ve had a good run! All the other Roma have probably been herded out like cattle 10 different times since 2012! Count your blessings! Besides, I’m sure your type just can’t resist the sound of that open road calling?”
Trying to change the subject, I asked him how often he was stopped by cops for ID checks. Racial profiling, long in use, was declared legal in January. He said it wasn’t so bad anymore – only once every couple months. This is a man with a full head of white hair, perfectly coiffed, and wearing a suit.
He then took out of his suit pocket tax forms. He wanted me to see that he had paid hundreds and hundreds of euros in local taxes. Why shouldn’t he be able to stay – he’s paying taxes, but what is he buying?
That was when I noticed that he had indeed been hiding something up his sleeve: he was apparently missing his left hand. You would think that a man who has lived in France for 18 years would have a prosthetic, but…that is really dreamland for a Roma.
It’s a question of socialization, i.e. France’s lack of Socialism
I would think that the Roma imagined they left such mistreatment behind in their ancestral India, where many treat cows better than they treat people? So what’s France’s excuse?
Obviously, it’s a lack of modern Socialist ideals.
All Socialist countries are built on racial and ethnic tolerance. The USSR and Cuba relentlessly promoted minorities to high places of power. Hugo Chavez finally got Afro-Caribbean history in their text books. Iran has Constitutionally-mandated Parliamentary seats for minority religions and groups.
France has…well, they have a “don’t’ ask, don’t tell” policy when it comes to ethnicity or religion…and it is a total failure.
And when it comes to the Roma, it has created a reactionary view which is disgusting and near-total: A poll in 2013 found that a stunning 93% of French blamed the Roma for being unable to integrate, as if it was their choice.
Any Socialist knows France is blaming the victim, because it is all a question of socialization – racism is learned; fighting racism requires laws. Socialism says, “Are you talking racist junk about the Roma and not allowing their children in school? Well, then you are a reactionary bastard – take what money you can carry with you and get out, or we will put you in jail.”
And in Socialist success stories, such reactionaries did leave. And the newly Socialist countries were better for it – how could they not be? And in many cases these rich, racist, huddled masses caused major damage in their new countries – how could they not? Think of the negative effect the anti-revolution Cubans and Iranians have had on US policy? What about the drug-addicted Ayn Rands, the socialist-hating, austerity-producing Austrian economists, the powerful bureaucrat Brzezinskis, etc.
As is the problem between France and their Muslim community, the main issue is the majority’s failure to believe that the minority has even one thing to teach. France does not only does not tolerate multiculturalism – multiple cultures – they adhere to the assimilationist insistence that only one culture should dominate: White French Nationalism.
These Roma will be out on the street…but not for long, I think. Their “tribe mentality” means they have social links, so I hope that they can get just a bit of help from their Roma friends. This community-centeredness is something which individualist France would greatly benefit from learning in order to reduce their massive amount of alienation, cynicism and overall nervous tension, evidenced by their sky-high levels of addiction to anti-depressants, sleeping pills and other psychotropic drugs.
Another thing the Roma can teach them is how to play music which actually has a beat and isn’t depressing. The only French musician anyone in the US has ever heard of is a Roma: the guitarist Django Reinhardt. Serge Gainsbourg’s success is baffling to all non-French musicians, Edith Piaf’s vibrato is tighter than piano wire, Johnny Halliday probably wouldn’t have cut it in the US and I can’t name a 4th French musician who you have heard of.
I can solve the Roma problem right now
Just leave the Roma alone for one generation, which I have always defined as 33 years.
What will happen is they will have the stability to build roots, savings, ties to the community, etc. Give them the chance to build real lives and they will run with it and not look back. My source for this: the damned Roma themselves!
If you’ve read this far, you should agree that the following statement is not an exaggeration: France is an apartheid state when it comes to the Roma.
For the anti-Roma resisters, i.e. “the French”…I want to ask you this question: Are you ok with your daughter marrying a Roma? If you allow them into your schools and workplaces, this is bound to happen.
I think the French aren’t ok with that, which is why they are segregated from normal society. This is disgusting, not modern and as far-right as you can get.
If you are ok with your daughter marrying a Roma – even in some far-off time like 20 years from now – then you should realize that the best way to help your future son-in-law is to stop keeping your boot on his neck. Let ‘em live, and they’ll make good family members and citizens.
The Bobigny camp may already be gone by the time you’re reading this. The French state thinks that rendering them homeless wasn’t enough – they had to terrorize them by not giving them a date and time when the whip would come down.
And it will be a terror operation because even though just a whip, a hard look and a few hundred cops would do, France will send in the riot police with more armor than an American football player, armed to the teeth, wreaking destruction on a small, helpless village like modern-day Mongols.
Say goodbye to “the Rome of the Roma”. I hope they start again near where I live.
ER recommends other articles by The Saker
About the author
Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for Press TV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. His work has appeared in various journals, magazines and websites, as well as on radio and television.
Featured photo: Amnesty International