Targeting of Roma is unacceptable

“It’s hard to believe that these ‘Old European’ countries, proclaimed bastions of democracy and culture, would practise such blatant discrimination in the 21st century…”

French and Italian leaders should be ashamed of themselves for seeking to punish largely innocent people collectively.

It appears that hatred is as contagious as yawning. No sooner did France engage in a purge of Roma communities by dismantling their encampments and using intimidation to ensure their return to Bulgaria and Romania than Italy followed suit. Last week, the Mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, said to be a former Fascist — although I have my doubts about the word ‘former’ — launched “Operation Nomad”, involving an army of bulldozers tasked with demolishing shantytowns where Roma have been living for years.

By the end of this week every camp will be demolished, he promises. Those without residence papers will be forcibly deported to their countries of origin. Bereft of their homes and concerned there may be worse to come, it’s likely that even those with papers will be inclined to leave.

It’s hard to believe that these ‘Old European’ countries, proclaimed bastions of democracy and culture, would practise such blatant discrimination in the 21st century. Worse, in the case of France, over 50 per cent of the population is supportive of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s despicable, racist policy, which is being directed towards a people who have been routinely persecuted throughout history for refusing to abandon their non-conformist lifestyle.

Thankfully, those who oppose their president are becoming increasingly vocal. France’s former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin says Sarkozy has left “a stain of shame on his country’s flag”. France Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has admitted he flirted with handing in his resignation over the measures. Last weekend, some 50,000 protesters took to the streets of Paris and other major cities, many of them citing France’s expulsion of Roma and Jews during the Second World War. The UN and the EU have questioned the programme’s legality.

Linda S. Heard

Gulf News

September 7, 2010

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