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Ash Narain Roy. September 20. 2010. IS IT THE END OF EUROPE?

EDITORIAL. Ash Narain Roy. IX. XIV. X

Is it the end of Europe?




Dr. Ash Narain  Roy





President Sarkozy and Carla Bruni

Roma Gypsies

Some say it is the mid-life crisis. Others argue it is a terminal crisis.  Europe suddenly finds itself in the midst of multiple crises. The European project may not be in danger of an imminent collapse. But the financial crisis has set nations against each other, creating a crisis of confidence.  The cracks are there for all to see. While the East-West divide has become pronounced with the emergence of a new Iron Curtain, the North-South divide between Germanic North and Latin South is no less visible with German Chancellor Angela Merkel blaming the feckless Greeks and Latins for the euro debacle.

Many European governments are sliding towards populism, xenophobia and racism. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has begun a witch hunt against Roma gipsy migrants to boost his flagging popularity at a time of economic crisis. Scandals have dogged his presidency and France’s economic performance is nothing to write home about. What does the crisis-ridden, scandal-hit President do? He cracks down on Roma gypsies. Poles were earlier singled out for negative stereotyping. The “Polish Plumber” became a bogeyman for Sarkozy during the French European Union Constitution vote. Negative portrayal of East Europeans by rich EU countries is old hat.

 Roma gypsies have all along been stigmatized. Now Romanians and Bulgarians are being targeted. But why not Irish barmen or Spanish construction workers?

 French Police have been filmed going into Roma camps where families have been rounded up and sent back to Romania. Parallels are being drawn with Nazi deportations of gypsies as also with World War II roundups. Robert Kushen, executive director of the European Roma Rights Centre in New York, said, “The last time France deported people based on their ethnicity was during the Second World War, when it sent 75,000 Jews to their death.”

  Sarkozy’s decision has drawn flak from Roman Catholic Church in France, the Vatican and the European Commission. Even France’s right-wing leader Dominique de Villepin has attacked Sarkozy, calling his decision “a stain of shame on our flag.” Some of his own party men have criticized his decision as it is tarnishing France’s international image.  Sarkozy is now planning to change the law to create new grounds for expulsions of Roma gypsies including “repeated theft and aggressive begging.” There is another law in the pipeline whereby French nationality would be stripped from people of “foreign origin” who made life-threatening attacks on the police.

 What is happening in France is not an isolated case. Several European governments while confronting with the economic crisis have taken a xenophobic stand towards East European workers. What happened to the great European project? Are n’t Roma European citizens? And what is European Commission doing as guardians of the treaties? Sarkozy’s act is a clear violation of citizens’ right of residence, access to schooling, health, the labour market and, above all, freedom of movement.

 Perception about Roma gypsies is shaped by cultural clichés. The condition in which Roma live is a social blight for Europe. They face social exclusion, racism, poor education, open hostility and mistrust. It is an undeclared apartheid. Roma gypsies remind the world of some of the most pressing issues that Europe has overlooked. It is also a reminder how it is easier for goods than for human beings to cross borders even within EU.

 Since their arrival in Europe from India in the 11th century, Roma have been a persecuted race. Despite centuries of their presence, Europe has never accepted them and enacted systematic purges of varying severity. To the church in Europe, gypsies were unwelcome as their dark skin exemplified evil and inferiority. There are approximately 2 million Roma in Romania alone. They are on the fringe, socially and economically marginalized in every way. To many, “beg in Paris or starve in Romania’ is the only option. Recently, when pop star Madonna pleaded for Roma’s acceptance in the middle of her performance, she was booed by the Romanians.

 All EU countries expel Roma from time to time. Only Sarkozy has turned the issue into a political pageant. It is part of Sarkozy’s long-term strategy to use security and immigration to his political advantage in the 2012 election before the resurgent far right moved in to exploit them.

 Europe claims to have open borders for all the EU citizens but Roma remain the outcastes. The treatment of Roma is Europe’s litmus test. Plagued for centuries with dividing lines, the creation of the European Union only put a coat of paint to plug the cracks. One can assume the dream of a united Europe and a ‘Eurozone’ has turned out to be a lick of paint on rotten foundations.

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