I just finished working on a project about the romas of romanian origins living in Paris. I followed them as they stayed in Romania, their trip back to France and their life in Paris, documenting their daily activities.
When Viorel and his parents decided to go back to Paris I followed them all the way. In Paris we spent together almost one week. They live in an abandoned house in Villejuif on the outskirts of Paris.
Every day they go to Belleville and they try to sell old cloths. And every day they are chased away by the french police in a way I have never seen them chasing the african or the arab immigrants who sell fake brands or similar goods.
For France, the romas are the Trojan Horse. Claiming protection of public order, they are preparing to pass a shameful law and they do it against a small, mainly orthodox roma community, to poor and unprotected to respond.
But this law is meant for the offspring of the arab and northen-african immigrants who caused major riots both in 2005 and 2007. To target them, considering their numbers and religion is too crazy even for Sarkozy. But once the law is passed, it will apply to all, equally.
As France is adopting almost racist measures against romas, I believe it is our moral duty to act now and not to let this slide, especially in the light of the french parliament preparing to adopt a law to back up their plans to deport, based on ethnicity, roma immigrants. This will create a precedent and it will be a matter of time till other countries will follow french lead.
Moving them from point A to point B will not solve the issue. People seem to forget that we are not talking about immigrants from outside EU, seeking refugee, but EU citizens in their full rights. Giving french pressures and international agenda, I believe that the favorable momentum initially created by the international organisms, when they condemned french actions, will soon fade away.
In Romania, racism is a big issue, so I would love to know that I had the chance to tell the world that I did everything in my power, not just to defend roma rights but ours, as romanians, as well. I can not hope much, if at all, from my own government. Their racism is well known by everyone. Just a few years back our elected president Traian Basescu made a racist comment towards a journalist calling her a ‘filthy gipsy’. Not to mention his recent comments when he claimed that Sarkozy’s actions are somehow justified. It is very sad for me to see people demonstrating for the roma rights in UK or US, while here nobody moves a finger. On the contrary they embrace silently or even openly Sarkozy’s decision.
In a way, as a romanian, I also feel discriminated by french actions against the romas. Sending them back to Romania, without any plan to solve this issue, knowing that back home there is little, if none, understanding for their situation, is their way of saying that the romas are good for the majoritarian romanians (second class EU citizens) but not good enough for the french (first class EU citizens). For many years, the french awarded gold in Cannes to movies and TV commercial depicting the life of the romas. None of those movies presented them as boring law abiding citizens. It looks that it is easier to just award a prize and claim you are a champion of human rights, than to find real solutions to real problems. To me this is the highest form of hypocrisy.
In a futile attempt, I wrote a letter to our foreign affairs minister, Mr. Teodor Baconschi, urging him to take action. His reaction was to show the letter to another photographer, asking him who I was…
Failing to apply, for various reasons (fear and bribes), the law and allowing most of the roma not to send their kids to school, is the reason for the current situation. One hundred years ago, just a few romanian peasants sent their kids to school. One hundred years later almost all majoritarians go to school. Some believe the roma case is lost forever. I say, we do not need to wait another hundred years to integrate them. By applying the same laws as for majoritarians, we can determine them to send their kids to school. Education freed us all and without any doubt will have the same effect on romas as well…But we can not ask of them to send their kids to school when they have no running water, food or proper clothing. We have to help.
When we joined EU, roma’s issues became Europe’s issue. France, and all the other EU countries must now be part of the solution. They can no longer wash their hands and claim this is Romania’s issue only. We failed and we have to admit that. Now, the only help they can hope for, could only come from ONU, EU or other similar organizations. This is why I believe it’s important to tell their story and stand up for their earned rights.
If necessary, infringement measures must be adopted both agains France and Romania, before this issue escalates into a problem.
What was in my power I already did. Now its up to those who claim they represent the romas and stand against human rights abuses to put this shameful event back on media agenda and see that justice is served.