The Quenelle

Up until recently, the ‘quenelle’ was a gesture little known in the UK. That is, until Nicolas Anelka used it a celebratory gesture following his goal scored last weekend. This event pushed the quenelle into the public eye, given the immediate reaction and ensuing frenzied media coverage. The French minister for Sport, Valérie Fourneyron, immediately reacted on Twitter, by calling it a ‘shocking and sickening provocation.’ It was equally condemned by her right-wing counterpart, Chantal Jouanno, who demanded sanctions be put in place against the man who invented and popularized the gesture; Dieudonné M’bala M’bala.

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Dieudonné M’bala M’bala

Dieudonné’s image has changed radically over the years. He started his career as part of a double act with the Jewish comedian Élie Semoun and was initially active on the far-left. His rhetoric has become increasingly right-wing over the years and now it is rumoured that Jean-Marie Le Pen is the godfather to one of his children. He openly declared his support for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and is the director of Les Ogres website, which denies the official version of the events on 9/11. In 2009, he ran in the European Parliamentary Elections, as one of the candidates for the Île de France region. He described his party as ‘anti-communitarist and anti-Zionist.’ He scored 1.30% of the vote. Jean-Yves Camus, a French academic who specializes in the French far right, told The Independent that the quenelle has become the symbol of a movement headed by Dieudonné which is convinced that the world is run by Washington and Tel-Aviv.

The meaning of the word quenelle has been distorted. It was originally known as denoting a creamed fish or chicken dumpling, specific to the Lyon and Nantuan regions of France.

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Traditional quenelles

Now Dieudonné describes it as a gesture of ‘popular emancipation,’  of ‘defiance,’ a quick and precise way to show that you are ‘anti-system,’ but, given his history of anti-Semitic comments and slurs, many believe it represents a reverse ‘Heil Hitler,’ a scarcely disguised anti-Jewish hate gesture.

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Two unknown French soldiers performing the quenelle gesture as popularized by Dieudonné.

Dieudonné has been repeatedly fined large sums of money by the French authorities over previous statements he has made regarding Judaism.  In 2006, he was fined 4,500 euros for referring to a Jewish television presenter as ‘a secret donor of the child-murdering Israeli army.’ In 2008, he was fined 7,000 euros for characterizing the Holocaust commemorations as ‘memorial pornography.’ In 2010, he was fined 10,000 euros for defamation of the International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism, for describing them as a ‘mafia-like organization that organizes censorship.’

While it is only Anelka’s use of the gesture which raised awareness of it in Britain, in France, Dieudonné, and the quenelle are becoming very well-known. The French authorities are currently investigating him once again over anti-Semitic comments. Whilst talking about the journalist Patrick Cohen, who works for France Inter, he said; ‘Quand je l’entends parler, Patrick Cohen, je me dis, tu vois, les chambres à gaz…dommage.’ (When I hear him speak, Patrick Cohen, I think to myself, you see, gaz chambers…what a shame (that they no longer exist)).

It was this incident that was supposedly the last straw for the Interior Minister, Manuel  Vals, who has announced he will try and ban Dieudonné from performing in public, on the basis that his shows would be a threat to public order. In the past few days, he has depicted Dieudonné as ‘possessed by the hatred of the Jew,’ and a Holocaust denier. He is being supported by François Hollande in his actions.

Yet, tickets for Dieudonné’s shows regularly are priced above 40 euros, and are often sold out. When he goes on tour, he does it the biggest theatres in France. An article in Le Monde (31.12.13) pointed out that; ‘Si on veut transformer le paria en héros, le victimiser, en faire une sorte de martyr, il faut interdire les spectacles de M.M’bala M’bala.’ (If we want to turn the pariah into a hero, victimise him, make him into a kind of martyr, we should ban Mr. M’bala M’bala’s shows.’)

Why is Dieudonné popular? In a France that currently suffers, that has little confidence in its executive, Dieudonné may appear to some as a man of conviction, strong views, and clear responses. An illuminating article on the French website Rue 89 (http://www.rue89.com/2014/01/02/quenelle-nabil-perd-emploi-sans-comprendre-pourquoi-248704) interviews Nabil, a disaffected young man, formerly a child worker who was fired late last year after he posted a picture to his Facebook account of him posing with young children doing a quenelle. He says;

‘J’ai ouvert les yeux, avant j’étais un mouton. J’ai voté Mélenchon au premier tour parce que je trouvais ça bien que les riches paient pour les pauvres. Et Hollande au second parce que depuis tout petit, on me répète que les socialistes aident les jeunes des quartiers, mais c’était n’importe quoi.’

(‘My eyes have been opened, before I was a sheep. I voted for Mélenchon in the first round because I thought it was a good idea that the rich pay for the poor. And for Hollande in the second round because since I was very small, it’s been repeated to me that the Socialists help the youth, but that’s ridiculous.’)

This discontentment with the system is what many young see the quenelle as representing. Now, Nabil is considering voting for the far right at the next elections.  He identifies strongly with Dieudonné’s supposedly anti-system message, employing his phrase ‘la graduation des souffrances,’ (the graduation of suffering) when recalling his recent experiences. He dismisses those who have been captured on camera making the quenelle gesture in front of Auschwitz and Anne Frank’s memorial as people who haven’t understood Dieudonné’s agenda. Above all, he saw the quenelle as a joke.

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France’s new bill on Prostitution passes through the Assemblée Nationale

Recently, France has made a move to change its laws on prostitution. From now on, those who are caught paying for sex will be subject to a fine, of around 1,500 euros.  If you are caught re-offending, the fine will be even larger. France is the fifth country in the world to adopt such a law.

The bill was passed through the Assemblée Nationale, but before being officially adopted by the State, it will also be discussed in the Sénat, which won’t happen until June.

Many commentators in France have chosen to analyse this as a change in the way that the State looks at prostitutes. This law changes their status to victims, and those who pay for sex will from now on be seen as criminals. The French organization Osez le féminisme! called it a historic vote but underlined that it will continue to fight so that foreign prostitutes receive the right to stay in the country – thereby allowing them to work legally. It has also been said that this law will help to avoid the construction of mafia networks exploiting vulnerable members of society who turn to prostitution in order to earn a living.  Many other organizations such as school associations and high-profile politicians have approved the notion of a law against paying for sex as it reinforces the notion that the human body is not for sale.

A December article in The Economist pointed out that in France around 90% of sex workers are of a foreign origin, in comparison with around 20% in 1990. There are also cases of women being trafficked from China, Romania, Bulgaria and Nigeria in order to then work as prostitutes. The minister at the head of this new bill, Najet Vallaud-Belkacem argues that the extremely unsavoury aspect of today’s prostitution rings calls for a much tougher stance from the State and a protection from psychological and physical abuse; as a result soliciting has been decriminalized.

This is a change from the 2003 law (called the ‘Sarkozy Law,) which Nicolas Sarkozy passed through when he was Interior Minister. This law prohibited what is known as ‘Passive Solicitation;’ being present in revealing clothes at places where prostitutes are known to work. When this law was still in place, 39.5% of those charged with passive solicitation between March 2003 and July 2004 were from Romania, Bulgaria or Albania, and 34.5% were from Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Cameroon. Only 15% were French. Between January 2003 and January 2004, 90% of Romanian women deported admitted to working as prostitutes. Therefore this law, by treating prostitution as an issue of public disorder, mostly caught in its web those who could not afford not to work on the streets – in a maison close, and those who were victims of international sex trafficking.

The overturning of this law in March of this year was, according to the French government, one of the first steps to decriminalizing the prostitute, and criminalizing the buyer. However, France remains an ‘abolitionist’ country; that is to say a country that aims at eradicating the practice of prostitution entirely.

Nevertheless, there has not been unanimous approval for the bill. Opponents have highlighted the hypocrisy of decriminalizing solicitation, yet penalising those who accept approaches from prostitutes.

The organization Aides, which fights against the spread of HIV AIDS was quoted in Libération as saying that the bill was ’inapplicable et dangereux,’ (inapplicable and dangerous) (Libération 4.12.13). One can assume that this is because criminalising buying sex will make it more of an underground activity than it already is, and won’t help to encourage safe measures whilst engaging in sexual activities. Jean-François Corty, director of Médicins du Monde, has also gone on record as saying that this bill will have a ‘counter-productive effect,’ (Libération 4.12.13) because it will make prostitution an even more clandestine activity, meaning that the work that they carry out with prostitutes will become more difficult. Some members of the UMP have also criticized the fact that the bill also proposes that those who wish to stop working in the sex industry be given temporary financial aid and permission to stay in France for six months, claiming that this will open the door to a mass of illegal immigration for those who see this social aid as an attractive prospect.

It is not only aid and charity workers that have opposed or criticized the bill. There have been sex workers demonstrating in Paris against the bill and what they see as an attempt to criminalize their profession and compromise their ability to earn a living. A powerful slogan that was brandished at a demonstration outside the Assemblée Nationale was ‘You sleep with us, you vote against us!’

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(Picture appeared in The Economist, 7.12.13. The slogan says ‘Whores without clients are looking for a governmental position.’)

The fact that there were demonstrations in Paris against the new bill encourages us to look at the history of prostitution in France. One only has to visit a museum to trace the cultural representation of prostitution throughout the ages. Brassaï, amongst others (Ingres, Manet, Degas, Picasso and Toulouse-Lautrec) have represented Prostitution in their art. In the Impressionist era, it formed part of their desire to represent life truthfully as they saw it, to glorify the banal aspects of everyday life, prostitution therefore playing an important part.

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(Toulouse-Lautrec, At Rue des Moulins, 1894)

A popular refrain associates French culture with liberal cultural morals, and the religiously influenced notion that prostitutes were victims who required salvation. In the late 19th century, William Acton, a student of prostitution who campaigned for its regulation in London, published a survey of prostitution and compared it to systems elsewhere, including in Paris. He produced a comprehensive description of the regulation of prostitution in Paris, elucidating how, once attempts had been made to dissuade women from prostitution, various laws were enforced to ensure discretion. They had to dress discreetly, could only work between certain hours, could only work in certain areas of Paris, and were not allowed to practice their profession if found to be ‘diseased.’ This meant that registered prostitutes were subject to regular medical examinations. Acton finishes his analysis by lamenting the fact that despite the fact that there are ‘clandestine prostitutes,’ prostitution is not ‘thrown on people,’ as is the case in London.

Back to the modern day, and a recent article in The Guardian wonders whether Britain risks becoming a haven for sex workers and those who pay money for sex because its laws are becoming more and more out of step with those in the rest of Europe. If France adopts this bill, it will be conforming to the ‘Nordic method,’ where the State protects the sex worker, not the purchaser. In the UK, buying sex is not illegal, but soliciting and running a brothel, for example, are. What is more, the government does not intend to review the laws on prostitution at any near time in the future. However, despite this, Najat Vallaud Belkacem is rumoured to be meeting with Theresa May in the near future to discuss the law, citing the work of the English 19th century feminist Josephine Butler (who campaigned internationally for an improvement of the welfare of prostitutes – including in France), as an example in which the countries can cooperate.

This article originally appeared on Just A Platform: http://www.justaplatform.com/prostitution-france-new-laws-to-be-introduced/

François Bayrou and Jean-Louis Borloo, former adversaries, fuse their parties to create an alternative centre-right

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This has been a long time in the making. This is a marriage of convenience. Mouvement Démocrate, (MoDem) lead by François Bayrou, and Union des Démocrates et des Indépendants, (UDI) lead by Jean-Louis Borloo will, tomorrow, officially join together. Not to form a political party, but in a way not dissimilar from the Front de Gauche, to which Jean-Luc Mélenchon belongs, to be able to stand at local and national elections together, and to create a central-right block where the UMP, rapidly veering to the far right, used to be, and dominate.

Bayrou has had to compromise. Far more likely to describe himself as belonging to the Independent center than the central right, which is what the UDI is, he has had to agree to clearly define the alliance politically. MoDem was born out of the break-up of the UDF. (Union pour la Démocracie Française 1978-2007) Bayrou, instead of joining Jacques Chirac’s UMP, (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire) like most of the former UDF adherents, formed MoDem in 2007. This was seen as an ultimate betrayal by the UMP and the Sarkozystes. In 2004, after Alain Juppé had to resign as President of the UMP due to being found guilty in a corruption case, Sarkozy seized control of what had been Chirac’s party, and formed it into the UMP, largely as we know it today. Its veering to the far right has, of course been helped by the fact that Jean-François Copé, its current leader, is desperately trying to wing back voters from the FN, leading to discourses such as identifying with ‘exasperated’ French parents whose children have had their pain au chocolat ‘snatched’ from them at the school gates by ‘thugs’ who tell them that there must be no eating at Ramadan. This is the man who has also complained about ‘anti-white racism.’

MoDem is incompatible with this. It is a central, socially liberal and pro-European party. It resembles the former UDF. Nevertheless, in modern France, this doesn’t win elections. In the last presidential election in 2012, Bayrou, standing for MoDem, won only 9.3% of the vote, and also lost his seat in the National Assembly.

The UDI was also born out of a strong discontent with the UMP, and in particular, Sarkozy, ever the divisive figure in French Politics. The party was formed in September 2012, after the May 2012 elections. The UDI is made up of nine political parties, who fused after the elections. The reason for the birth of the UDI was extreme disagreement with the path which the UMP was, and is, increasingly taking: that of the far right. Some analysts believe that Borloo had in mind an eventual fusion with MoDem right from the creation of the UDI. An October 2012 article in Le Monde quoted Borloo: ‘L’indépendance, c’est la puissance. Mais l’indépendance, ce n’est pas l’isolement.’ (‘Independence is power. But independence is not isolation.) This was supposedly an effort to include Bayrou in his circle right from the start.

Several political heavy weights joined or endorsed the UDI at its creation, notably Simone Veil, the ex President of the European Parliament and the ex Minister for Social Affairs and Health, (UDF) who was at its founding ceremony. An influential figure, seeing as in 2010, a survey reported that she was France’s favorite female figure. (Le Point, 21.10.12) Yet the fact that Veil belonged to the UDF, the as did François Bayrou, and has not endorsed MoDem, instead criticizing it, (saying publicly that Bayrou was acting only in his own interests) may have caused tension between Borloo and Bayrou.

Indeed, Bayrou and Borloo, once close, had a spectacular falling out, which lasted 11 years. Nevertheless, as Le Figaro reports, what unites them is stronger than their differences. Notably on the subject of Pro-Europeanism. Moreover, Bayrou’s latest election results showed how politically isolated he was. This was exacerbated when he definitively burnt his bridges with the UMP after he called for his supporters to vote for François Hollande after he was voted out at the first round of the 2012 elections. The party has had to rent out half of its headquarters in Paris, and has hardly any deputes, in contrast to the UDI’s 31. Bayrou, famous for wanting to be number 1 at all costs, has had to readjust. His party’s survival may depend on this union.

However, there is a market for this union. 28% of French people describe themselves to be neither on the right or the left. (Le Monde, 21.10.12) As the spokes-man of the UDI deputés, Jean-Christophe Lagarde said; ‘Les Français rejettent violemment le pouvoir socialiste, ils sont coincés entre une UMP dont ils ne manifestent pas le désir et une extrême droite qui leur sert d’exutoire’ (Europe1.fr 4.11.13) (‘The French violently reject the Socialist power, and are stuck between the UMP, which doesn’t seem popular, and the extreme Right, which is an outlet for them.’)Together, this is a union standing for openness, social liberalism, the environment, and Europe. Yet this is also a marriage of convenience, taking advantage of the current extreme unpopularity of the UMP and the PS. The 2017 elections are now a feasible goal for these two united parties.

That being said, the first test is soon to come. The municipal elections are approaching. Previously MoDem has supported the PS, but this is now forbidden. Recently, the Paris town councilor for MoDem, Jean-François Martins, announced his support for the Socialist candidate, Anne Hildago, in the upcoming elections for the Mayor of Paris. He will be shortly expelled from the party. Bayrou and Borloo are taking a hard line.  Affaire à suivre…

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.