France, Germany, and the NSA: European outrage

In Britain we know the NSA and GCHQ are spying on us, but we take a laissez-faire attitude. The French, and now the Germans, seem to take a much more robust line of response.

Since Le Monde published Gleen Greenwald’s article (citing information from documents given to him by Edward Snowden), over the weekend, the French government has summoned the US ambassador to France to the Elysée Palace to explain Gleenwald’s claims that the NSA had been spying on French citizens.

When the revelations about the NSA came to light, France and Germany protested, even though they didn’t go as far as the Brazilian president, Dilma Roussef, who cancelled a visit to the United States. Germany was apparently placated by assurances that the NSA would never target normal German citizens in its investigations.  That is, up until very recently, when the news broke that the US may have, in the past, bugged Angela Merkel’s phone. At this, Merkel didn’t hesitate to publicly rebuke Obama and demand, in partnership with France, that the US give a full account of what spying practices it may have undertaken, at the EU summit in Brussels. According to France and Germany, the US has until the end of the year to provide serious answers as to how and on whom it undertakes its spying techniques. Yet when Libération reported this on Friday, it also seemed implied that this may be more of a symbolic demand, not actually expected to change or achieve much.

It took this invasion of the German Chancellor’s privacy for Germany to publicly express more than just discontent.  In France, the US ambassador was summoned over the recent revelation that the US had been bugging French citizen’s telephones. The Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, told the press that it was imperative to receive insurances that these kinds of practices weren’t still being continued. After that, it was revealed that the US had also been spying on French diplomatic manoeuvres.

Le Monde particulary reported that the tapping of phones was likely to have targeted not only suspected terrorists, but also key figures in business and politics.

This week, it reported that Washington had also planted electronic spies in computers in French embassies in Washington, the UN and New York. It suggested that this bugging of embassies had helped the US gather enough information to successfully push through a vote at the UN Security Council in 2010, to impose more sanctions on Iran after it had not respected its international obligations in relation to its nuclear weapons programme. The way in which Washington has been spying on French diplomatic activities varies. They have several different techniques which they use: ‘Highlands;’ which uses remote cookies to gather information, ‘Vagrant;’ which takes a print shot of information from screens, and ‘PBX;’ which somehow manages to garner information from the embassies as if participating in a conference call.

An interesting article in Foreign Policy yesterday pointed out the American’s spying on the French is nothing new. During the Second World War, the US government first spied on Pétain’s Vichy government, and then on De Gaulle’s Free French government, in both cases breaking codes to decipher highly confidential and sensitive messages.

Hollande and Merkel have been united today in their message that this lack of trust that has been clearly demonstrated on the part of American government was counterproductive in the joint fight against terrorism. Merkel evoked the fact that United States and Europe are ‘allies.’ Nevertheless, given the fact that a US official, in a remark widely cited by the press, said a few days ago that the US doesn’t have ‘friends, only targets,’ this attempt at common ground seems largely figurative.  Added to this is the fact that Hollande yesterday explained to the press that he had known, since arriving to power, that the NSA had electronically spied on the activity in the Élysée palace at the time of the electoral contest in 2012. Yet it is only at these last, and more personal, revelations that these two European powerhouses have decided to affirmatively take action.

In Le Monde and Le Figaro yesterday, the Franco-German union was widely discussed, yet in contrast to the UK press, hardly anything was made of the UK position. However, today, Le Monde picked up on the Guardian’s article revealing that GCHQ fears ‘public debate,’ in the UK over its surveillance programmes. The documents that Snowden leaked demonstrated that GCHQ is an important feature of the NSA’s satellite surveillance, being in an ideal position to survey and recount internet and phone traffic in Europe back to the US. What has happened to the freedom of protest in the UK that neither the Conservatives nor the opposition have reacted to this information. We are in too deep. The Germans and the French are in the fortunate position of being able to (rightly) criticize the Americans for their invasive behaviour. We are aware of the hypocrisy, perhaps, of doing such a thing, seeing as we aid and abet the Americans in this vast game of spies and non-truths.


Two thirds of French don’t wish for a return for Léonarda

Le Monde reports today that two thirds of French people don’t approve of a return of Léonarda Dibrani and her family to France. Only 14% of people on the right think that the deportation should be cancelled, in contrary to 55% of people on the left.

Only 46% of French said they were shocked by the way that Léonarda was deported, therefore less then one person out of two.

Despite his controversial statements over the Roms, Manuel Valls, the Interior Minister, is largely supported. 45% of French ‘approve’ of his position in the affair, even left-wing sympathizers.

I wonder how the young people who are demonstrating in the streets of Paris are represented in this survey. One of the known problems of opinion surveys is that they aren’t able to accurately portray the country’s opinion in the time given to them to carry out the survey. This is because large sections of the population aren’t reachable or accessible to them. Children who are in school, or demonstrating on the streets, for example. I wonder if BVA included them in their survey…?

These facts were taken from a BVA survey with Le Parisien and Aujourd’hui, published on the 19th of October 2013.

The case of Léonarda, deported this week back to Kosovo, creates tension in France

French newspapers today are full of the deportation of Léonarda Dibrani, a 15 year old girl from Kosovo. Her family had been in France for four years, and she had been enrolled in school for three.

Léonarda’s situation was a particular one. Her family were refused French citizenship, but it was difficult to deport them, given the fact that Léonarda was in school. Her family’s asylum request was refused by the Office of Refugees and Immigration in 2009, and then in 2011 their appeal to the Cour Nationale du Droit d’Asile was also rejected.  The Dibrani family was then told that they had no right to stay on French territory, but they weren’t deported given the fact that they had children in school. They contested this order before the administrative court in 2012, and then the appeal court in 2013. By that time they had been living in France for four years.

To become a French citizen, you have to have lived on French territory for five years. Your children have to have been in school for three years. The Dibrani fulfilled the first criteria but not the second. As a result, Dibrani father was put in a retentive centre on the 4th of September, after an identity control, and deported the 8th of October.  The police then tried to round up the rest of the family, but the only one missing was Léonarda, on a school trip. Contact was established between Léonarda and her teacher on the school bus. Initially the teacher refused to stop the bus, but when the border control police insisted, the bus was forced to park by the roadside. The police arrived, and, a few meters away from the rest of her school mates, Léonarda was taken away in a police car, and sent back to Kosovo.

The way in which Léonarda was deported seems rushed, panicked, and excessive. Was it really necessary to stop the school trip which she was on (and had the right to be on) in order that she be deported? Why was her case more urgent then others? Was it used merely to serve as an example of the government’s hardening stance towards illegal immigrants? This movement is fronted by the Interior Minister, Manual Valls, who has made a series of incendiary comments recently about the Roms, questioning their ability to integrate into French culture, and therefore their right to be in France.  Léonarda’s deportation and that of her family seems violent, yet the French authorities have made an effort to insist that there was no violence or coercion in the whole affair. It was above all Dibrani father who, by law, no longer had the right to be in France. But, when considering deportations, the authorities are obliged to consider whether it is in the children’s interest to be separated from one or both of their exported parents. In this case, even though Léonarda’s mother signaled her desire to stay in France with her children whilst her husband returned to Kosovo, the authorities, (incomprehensibly?) decided that it was in the family’s best interests to be deported together.

Rumours abound that Jean-Marc Ayrault, the Prime Minister, may make an effort to bring Léonarda and her family back to France. Yesterday he talked of the rules that govern France but also the values of the Republic, which André Gluck evoked in his article, which I translated in my last blog post. Amongst those is education, a key Republican value.  This is the reason for the uproar surrounding Léonarda’s deportation. How can the government claim to incarn Republican values whilst interrupting the education of a young girl. Is a school not a sanctuary, a place of learning, of tolerance and equality? Why then, humiliate Léonarda, and reinforce her foreignness in this way? In the past, immigrants weren’t allowed to be deported during the school term, and the border control police were asked to avoid deporting, if possible, children in school in France. However, since 2008, during the Sarkozy presidency, this request has become largely obsolete.

Nevertheless, it may be this aspect of the argument, (the right to education) that ultimately provides way for the Dibrani to return to France, and spares the blushes of the government, criticised of being too authoritarian and brutal.  If Léonarda returns to finish her education, we, the West, can pat ourselves on the back for relenting and giving the means to emancipation and liberty, through education. That’s the story that will be retold later on.

Yesterday in Paris, there was a student demonstration at Nation, in the East of Paris. Students marched with signs on which were written; ‘Resign Valls,’ and ‘A student is a citizen.’ They were protesting against Léonarda’s deportation, but also that of a young boy, Khatchik, who was deported back to Armenia.  They talked of integrated students, French speakers, who had friends and a social life in France. A young Moroccan talked of the fear he feels that the same thing will happen to him, even though he’s been studying in France for five years. The most powerful slogan of all, perhaps: ‘We are all children of immigrants!’

Translation of André Gluck’s October 3rd article on the Roma in France

We are not scared of the Roms, but of ending up like them

André Gluck, Philosopher and Essayist

Libération, 3rd October, 2013


93% of French people think that the Roma are poorly integrated (according to a BVA- Le Parisien survey). By a large majority, they approve of the dismantlement of their make-do camps and of the Roma being forcibly deported. I make up part of the ultra minority, the 7% that haven’t fallen prey to this general madness. Where does this madness come from? It is not the reserve of the rich, nor the working class, nor the right, nor the left, and neither extremists. And neither France. It was first diagnosed when the fall of communism meant that uncontrolled surveys could be carried out all over the country. In 1990, the Los Angeles Times asked Europeans the following question: Which ethnicity do you dislike the most?  The Czechs, Polish and Hungarians, etc by 80% indicated that Gypsies and the Roma were their worst enemy.

In France today, 60 million French, whether originally of French descent or not, stigmatise a collection of about 20,000 unfortunate people. Mayors from all parties are calling for the dismantlement of illegal Roma camps. Their appeal is unctuous, fawning, supposedly as much for the good of the campers as the locals. On the news, mechanical diggers flatten cabins made of planks and plastic shelters, bulldozers have no mercy on smashed up old cars, broken parts of dolls and dirtied pages from school books are strewn about in the mud. The newly homeless contemplate the sacking of their meagre possessions without saying a word. Beyond tears, they leave. They carry vital essentials on their backs, pulling rudely wakened children by the hand, with a dignity that I cannot guarantee that I would be capable of reproducing.

Given that there are no plans to re-house them, they occupy other non-specific areas, crammed on top of each other in camps that are just as illegal as the last ones and, reminiscent of Sisyphus, they haphazardly recreate the same shacks. Some, exhausted, camp on our pavements and, when night falls, watch over their children in old, disused telephone boxes. It is for this reason that our town councillors, national political parties and their humble citizens have started to wage an absurd campaign against the barefooted Roma that disfigure our cities. Dirty, hairy, in one way or another physically and mentally contagious, they can’t grasp our concept of integration, so they have no place here with us. They are shown the door.

In the old days, the Republican school system taught students about Esmeralda’s exploits and Gavroche’s stubbornness. The poor and the Roma aren’t objects of scorn in Victor Hugo’s work, even though it’s a national treasure. Did the Panthéon snuff out his voice? In a country that has, for more than a century, seen an influx of Italian, Polish, Spanish, Portuguese, North African, African and Jewish immigration, the Roma that haunt our streets are a mere drop in the ocean, a demographic joke, a cruel pretext, an ideological argument.  That so many pointless opinion surveys can be constructed around such a bizarre context says a lot about the mental illness that has grasped hold of this population, which is supposedly one of the most tolerant in the world.

To maltreat and expulse is to not to imprison and gas in death camps. Here, the Roma are not destined to share the fate of the Jews. This does not diminish the fact that they smell, they beg, they are of an unpleasant disposition, they steal, they are lazy, that they don’t wash, take care of themselves, or send their children to school. To sum up, they are not like you and me, and we are how we should be, we know what we are doing with our lives. But, tell me this: who is this being, constantly pointed at, rejected, without a roof over his head, without water, without electricity, without the right to work, without, without, without…yet capable of achieving miracles. We severely note that only 30% of Roma children go to school, using this to reinforce their stubborn refusal to educate themselves. Yet I am admiring, because how do these 30% of children manage to go to school, whilst being constantly shunted around from one part of France to the other? Because of their systematic exclusion, we’ve invented the concept of the ‘Roma’ as an example of almost non-human. They are proof that there are beings who more or less look like humans, but will never be hygienic and educated like us, or at least able to be educated; do they not prefer mud to soap and begging to learning? And, in rare favourable circumstances, even when some manage to integrate and adapt dutifully into school to in some cases come out top of the class, they still live in a tribe like fashion and show solidarity with the luckless thieves with whom they share their origins.

93%! Stop the press! Could it be that the Roma don’t only carry pollution everywhere on their person, but that they also posses the gift of ubiquity? Even though there are not a lot of them, they are everywhere and wherever they are to be found they disturb the harmonious course of our existence. In the metro, in our museums, in our suburbs, our cities, and our countryside. If not that, how else can such a unanimous presence be explained? It doesn’t matter whether you’ve met one or not, how is it possible to be so sure of something like that? Only from rumour, as ethnical statistics are forbidden in France. From ordinary racism, of which no-one is blameless. From rejection of the ‘foreigner,’ and, amongst these foreigners, the weakest of them all. Does La loi du dernier, (Boukovsky) prevail in gentle France? In other words, how the weak make themselves feel stronger by stamping on those beneath them.

I’ve been to Romania and the Roma villages and the poor neighbourhoods. The fate of the Roma there is worse than those in Western Europe. There are people who survive by living off rubbish, others, more rarely, who succeed in breaking through social and racial (xenophobic) boundaries. Even though there are some who have more or less normal jobs, Romania is still a very poor country. There are some who spend six months looking for a job abroad, there are fistfuls who successfully follow through the stages of adaption to modernity financed by George Soros and break out of the vicious circle of exclusion. Many who would simply prefer to have a better quality of life where they are (the majority, it would seem). Some who prefer to wander about Europe (which is totally their right). I’ve met some who have been enthusiastic about their trips in East Asia. I’ve questioned mafia, those who have been exploited, and free beings.

In sum, they are, like all members of this planet, not only different from others, but different amongst themselves, some respectful of their customs, others enamoured with new, radical ones, or in some cases, both. Of the 10 million European Gypsies, 1850 000 can be found in Romania, 750 000 in Bulgaria, the same amount in Hungary, and the rest dispersed all over the continent. No reason then, to be afraid of the 20 000 who come to France to exasperate 65 million French.

Let’s make the effort once again to be Republicans: decent temporary housing and sanitary camping sites which would better illustrate the merit of Villon’s country, of the Republic des sans-culotttes, the vague memories that rest of Christian charity, solidarity towards the weak, notions on which our democracy was founded. We are afraid, aided by the spectres of unemployment and ignorance, not of the Roma, but of ending up like them, whether today or tomorrow. Not so long ago, my grandfather scavenged rags from Vienna’s bins in order to survive. A reading, or re-reading of Les Misérables is in order for reasons of public health.