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France, the Bulgarian Roma and the Failure of Europe August 18, 2010

Posted by Yilan in Bulgaria, EU.
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The recently announced and already implemented measures of French President Nicolas Sarkozy to dismantle the illegal settlements of Bulgarian and Romanian Roma around the country, and to extradite their inhabitants back to their home countries has stirred much controversy in France and across Europe.

And rightfully so. “Controversial” is probably the most innocent word to describe this endeavor, which is supposed to rid the good people of France from the presence of the most downtrodden citizens of the most dirtbag EU member states.

The fact of the matter, however, is that while the critics of the Roma removal do have their points when they call it a violation of the rights of citizens of the European Union, all that criticism is still barking up the wrong tree…

Certainly, the move of the French president and government – and of the authorities in Denmark who have undertaken similar, though smaller-scale measures – are justified to a great extent.

Because, unfortunately, it is true that the Roma squatters in their countries might pose “threats to the security” of the French and Danish citizens. They might be involved in theft, pickpocketing, prostitution, and other criminal activities, and they are certainly building makeshift homes on land that is not their property, without any permission – which in itself is clearly illegal.

This whole issue and the ensuing public debate might actually have a positive effect as this might finally focus Europe’s attention on the condition of the Roma, and make it more comprehensible.

Because, again – unfortunately, it is true – that the Roma population in Bulgaria, Romania, and the rest of Eastern and Western Europe generally has lower education and employment rates, and higher crime rates coupled with higher birth rates that perpetuate the outcast situation of this group by expanding its numbers.

Now that the Roma squatters have settled on the doorsteps of the residents of the nice French and Danish suburbs, and are being evicted demonstratively, perhaps people everywhere will finally pay attention to their plight, what can be done to tackle these issues, and who is really to blame for the situation of the Roma.

Whose fault is that situation, really? Everybody’s. It is the fault of the Roma communities themselves – for most of them have failed to education and take up decent jobs, to change their mentality, and to stop living in the 18th century. For heaven’s sakes, some of them still literally buy their wives (there are that kinds of “marketplaces” in Bulgaria!), and some cut off two of the five fingers on the hands of young girls in order to train them as smooth pickpockets.

It is the fault of the societies of the Eastern European nations with sizable Roma minorities that have failed to figure out the right way to integrate Roma by breaking rather than perpetuating the vicious cycle of their isolation, encapsulation and ghettoization, and to stop the discrimination against them. For heaven’s sakes, the word “gypsy” is often used as an insult in Bulgaria.

Then, as if the fact that these two groups of actors are not meeting one another halfway was not enough, there has been generous involvement of the “international community”, i.e. Western politicians, activists, intellectuals, and even powerful benefactors such as George Soros.

These various nice people always appear to know best what should be done with the Roma. This is why they would provide funds for some ill-advised programs that will sink into the pockets of corrupt officials and community leaders.

Simultaneously, the international community well-wishers and good-doers will generate the outrage of the local societies by criticizing them devastatingly for breaking the rights of the minorities without really understanding the multi-layer and multilateral nature of the problem.

Needless to say, initiatives of the sort of the much celebrated “Decade of the Roma Inclusion” have been a total failure not just because their funds hardly ever trickled down to the actual regular Roma people who need them but because many of the measures they envision hardly make any sense.

And now that the Roma problem has reached the doorsteps of the “international community” in Paris and Copenhagen, some of the most developed Western democratic societies are taking measures that are a lot worse that many of the measures taken by the authorities in Bulgaria and Romania.

Because if an illegally-built Roma ghetto is demolished in Sofia, millions of bogus and hypocritical human rights advocates will rise in order to deal severe blows of criticism in the European media on the Bulgarian authorities. But now it is developed Western democracies that are doing that. If Bulgaria and Romania are screwed up and unable to rectify the Roma problem, who don’t the governments and people of France and Denmark set an example for them and show how it should be done?

Of course they won’t. Because it is not easy, it is a complex issue and, what is more, there is a genuine lack of concern and will to do any of that. So just get these people the hell out of here, deport them back to their dirtbag homelands in the East where they will continue to live in misery, crime and destitution. One cannot help but shiver as this is remotely reminiscent of the Nazi policy to send certain racial and ethnic groups to certain encampments in the East.

Of course, this is the worst approach possible. First, because it is unjust and hypocritical. Second, because the Roma squatters will eventually come back, in the same condition, and there will be more of them. Third, because the total failure to even consider some kind of a decent solution will literally exacerbate the problems of the Eastern European societies with respect to the failed integration of the Roma. Fourth, because if the Bulgarian and Romanian Roma can be deported 1 000 miles away, what are the Western European states and societies going to do about the similar kinds of outcast communities that they have grown on their own soil?

What about the second and third generation Europeans of African, Arab, Turkish, etc descent, whose parents and grandparents came from former colonies and Third World nations, to do menial labor, only to see most of their children and grandchildren fail to integrate and literally live as immigrants in the countries where they were born? How long before the next riot of unemployed, undereducated youth in the suburbs of Paris or the next suicide terrorist plot carried out by young radicalized European-born Muslims? Where will these people be deported?

But, quite frankly, the whole Roma issue in France and Denmark is not really about the Roma. It is about the failed project that the EU is increasingly turning into. Because the Roma problem is an EU-wide problem. Just as the energy dependence on Russia, unemployment, the global lagging behind in research and development of the EU economy, the global warming, terrorism, the war in Afghanistan, the demographic crisis… to name but a few.

How many Europeans – scholars, diplomats, or regular citizens – have ever wondered why many of the top American geopolitical and international relations “realist” thinkers tend to disregard the EU as a global actor and a power player, and why? Interestingly, in his best-selling recent book “The Next 100 Years”, the founder and director of Stratfor, a private intelligence company, George Friedman devotes about four paragraphs to the EU, and talks about Japan, Turkey, and Poland as rising future powers.

Sure, even the stray dogs in Sofia can see that the EU is a new kind of entity, the European Commission can fine Microsoft and write threatening letters to member countries, blah, blah, blah. But is the EU turning into what it should be turning into in order to serve the best interests of its citizens?

Not really. And the handling of the Roma issue in France is just one good example of a bad situation. Instead of progressing in terms of becoming more cohesive in order to meet the myriad of new challenges, the EU is now regressing progressively as those in the East are often too weak and too corrupt to care, and those in the West are often too complacent; and then everybody thinks they will be better off if they cheat – by cooking financial data in Greece, by blockading the Lisbon Treaty, by demolishing Roma camps.

Thus, instead of becoming more united and of speaking with one voice – the lesson that the founding fathers of the EU sought to implement into this new entity in order to ensure the better future of the Europeans – the EU states, nations, societies, and individuals are exacerbating their own collective action problems.

Tearing down shantytowns and deporting people is not the kind of leadership required to face the challenges before the EU in the globalized world. Such attitudes won’t help keep the EU on the map. This was the entire point of the Eastern Enlargement, and it did make a lot of sense. However, now that certain difficulties have presented themselves, the easiest thing is not to act to solve the problems as adults but to act as children instead – to disregard, put off, or “deport” a certain problem just because it is a hard one.

A cheap escape here and there might seem beneficial in the short run but it is bound to have disastrous ramifications. For good or for bad, the people from the North Atlantic to the Black Sea are all in this together – from the residents of the Buckingham Palace to the Roma in Stolipinovo, the gypsy quarter in Plovdiv. Too bad for Europe this realization is proving increasingly elusive.

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