European Union: Do Roma have a home?

France's recent expulsion of Roma has brought the plight of this group of traditionally nomadic people into the limelight.

France certainly mishandled its recent expulsion of Roma, the traditionally nomadic people formerly known as Gypsies, said France’s Le Monde in an editorial. When French President Nicolas Sarkozy ordered hundreds of Roma deported to Romania and Bulgaria, saying their encampments were breeding grounds for criminals, the action smacked of both “ethnic profiling” and “opportunistic scapegoating.” Last week, the European Parliament censured France for the deportations, “and rightly so.” Still, heaping criticism on France won’t make the problem of Europe’s several million Roma go away. The EU “inherited the problem” after it admitted Romania and Bulgaria as members in 2007. It’s no surprise that, as soon as the borders opened, Roma fled those two countries, where they are “treated as pariahs and are victims of racism and violence of all kinds.” Now, their shantytowns have sprung up on the outskirts of major cities in Italy and France, and begging and pickpocketing are on the rise. The EU needs a plan to deal with the influx—“and to make Bucharest and Sofia face up to their responsibilities” toward their oppressed citizens.

What is Romania supposed to do? asked Ion Vianu in Romania’s Revista 22. Plenty of Roma have assimilated into “normal” society, becoming doctors, police, and even members of parliament. But many others choose to live in a parallel society with a “tribal-feudal” social system, in which the poor beg or play music while the rich live in “specially styled mansions with gold faucets.” They have clan feuds and practice child marriage. Is the Romanian state supposed to “ban nomadic life” or crack down on the Romany syndicates that send children off to beg in other countries? “If it chose to do so, it would be in direct breach of the principle of multiculturalism that has achieved a sacrosanct status” in the EU.

Sarkozy says it’s up to Bulgaria and Romania to integrate the Roma into their societies since, as he put it, the two countries already have “so many of them,” said Boyko Lambovski in Bulgaria’s Sega. Who is he kidding? Roma have been in all the countries of Europe for 10 centuries, and nobody has managed to integrate them yet. To follow his logic, we should all deport the Roma to India—“after all, that’s where the ethnic group originally came from,” in waves of migration that started 1,000 years ago. And let’s not forget that the reason France hasn’t had many Roma during the past few decades is that it “allowed the Nazis to kill them in concentration camps,” while Bulgaria protected them.

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Not all Europeans are hostile to Roma, said Patrycja Bukalska in Poland’s Tygodnik Powszechny. In the Andalusian region of Spain, more than half a million Roma have lived peacefully among their Spanish neighbors for centuries. In Spain, more than anywhere else, the Romany culture has “become an integral part of the dominant culture.” In fact, flamenco dancing, seen as a typically Spanish art, “traces its origins to the Roma of Andalusia.” Assimilation has succeeded partly because Romany values like “the importance of family and clan and the notion of honor” are similar to southern Spanish traditions. But it’s also been helped by Spanish government policies that actively promote the rights of the Roma minority—most notably by integrating the public schools. Other European countries, particularly those that still segregate their schools, “would do well to follow Spain’s example.”

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