The title of an article, yes, in the New York Times, “Are the Roma primitive, or just poor?” got me to thinking about the ROMA now struggling to have a life in France. But first of all I wondered how on earth did the article title ever get by the Times language security people. Primitive? What could the writer possibly have meant by that?
“Primitive,” at best a dubious choice of words, ?! as in chess notation. Or was it a huge blunder, ?? indicating a terrible move in chess? For, I wondered, whatever was it about the ROMA that would earn them the epithet “primitive?”
Certainly not their highly successful gangs of young thieves, taking from the rich no less than Robin Hood’s jolly followers, not their sophisticated money laundering tactics, nor most important the fact that they are still here, that they have survived and are still surviving, after some 1000 years of being excluded from what passes as the normal lives and occupations of the people in the countries where they had or have been living.
And during all that time they survived numerous ethnic cleansings and most recently, no less than the Jews, their own holocaust, when millions of their people may also have died in the camps.
Primitive, in no way then does that word apply specifically to the ROMA. The other word “poor” is OK, although as they say of passwords it’s “weak,” much like the words homeless and jobless, also probably just as applicable to the ROMA.
But these epithets may no less easily be applied to millions of others, perhaps hundreds of millions, who in the world today share the same risks and dangers, and wretchedness, as the ROMA, the risks and dangers of being excluded, or too often of being already excluded, from a normal life in the country where they happen to be living.
So just who are the Roma? Without trying to answer the question, I don’t know enough, I’d point out that by and large the French, and probably many other European populations, are afraid of them, that is, afraid of the ROMA or Gypsies in their midst who are “after their children and their pocketbooks.”
For in the crowds in the streets, in the stations and in the stores, the French hold on tight to their children and their purses. And they are afraid not only for their possessions, but for their jobs and positions, that coming about through the potential loss of government subsidies, perhaps going one day to the greater needs of the ROMA.
“Primitive” seems much more to apply to the words and language of the nativistic elements of the population who seem unable to accept the ROMA as their equals and no less deserving of their government’s help. Primitive applies to all those who would not only exclude the new comers (in the European Union not easy to do) but also send those already here back to where they have came from. For the ROMA that’s usually but not always, Bulgaria or Romania.
In this sense the language of the French minister of the Interior, Manuel Valls, is primitive. And his tough words regarding the ROMA have made him more popular among the French than President Hollande himself. For example, when he says this sort of thing — “The majority of Gypsies should be delivered back to the borders. We are not here to welcome these people. I’d remind you of [former Socialist premier] Michel Rocard’s statement [with which Valls is obviously in agreement]: “It’s not France’s job to deal with the misery of the whole world.” We see the French people before their TV screens nodding their heads in agreement.
Members of the Roma community react after being forced out of their camp in Saint Denis, north of Paris, on July 6.
A few facts might help us understand what first Rocard and then Valls calls “the misery of the whole world,” in Valls case this is a synecdoche for the ROMA.
In France today, in October of 2013, to the best of our knowledge there are some 400,000 Roma. Most of them, probably the great majority of them have come here rightfully from member nations of the European Union. Therefore they have the right to be here, although if still without a job or an occupation after three months they may very well lose that right, and therefore become if they stay, much as the Latinos in the United States, “illegal immigrants.”
But to put them aside, referring to them as the “misery of the world,” and as such not the responsibility of France in particular, no more than that of any other country to deal with, isn’t that to avoid the question, and solution if there is one?
Now the simple solution, the primitive solution to this situation would be of course to do as Valls would do, expel the ROMA to their own country. But the problem is, and Valls seems to ignore or disregard it, that these people don’t have their own country, and in fact may even have come to France, having been expelled from where they were, in search of a country they could call their own.
The other more complicated and non-primitive solution, or action leading to a solution, would be to do exactly what the European Union recommends, that is, end the endless process of exclusion regarding these people and others, a process which in the case of the ROMA has been going on for some 1000 years or more.
All this is not to say that some of the ROMA people may richly deserve the prison sentence of expulsion they may be getting. I think of those fair, blue-eyed children living out of place among the dark and dark-skinned ROMA.
But are the ROMA any worse than other immigrant groups now living in France? Has anyone looked at the numbers? The numbers may be worse, but even that doesn’t make them worse. And hasn’t France been much more ready to help the Blacks from their former colonies as well as the Arabs from the Maghreb get established in France with a job and living quarters, with their allocations familiales? Why is that? Because they’re not “primitive?”
The real issue may be something else entirely. The country, France, is broke. There is no money to do the right thing —an education in French schools for the children, housing for the families, jobs and/or job training for the parents.
And the real issue or problem is not unique to France. No money to do the right thing for the outcasts among us. Who has it aside from Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and the Koch brothers? For in fact the situation is much the same, although in regard to the ROMA the numbers are less than those in France, and this situation is repeating itself in just about every member of the European Union as well as in the United States.
The French minister of the Interior as well as President Hollande should be talking about how might people’s real needs be better met, instead of considering the expulsion of tout un peuple. And Valls should stop scapegoating the ROMA.