Wednesday, June 22, 2011



The Roma in France


Published: June 22, 2011

KARACHI: This is in reference to the letter written by the French ambassador to Islamabad, Daniel Jouanneau, published on June 17, in this newspaper written in response to my article entitled “The rose is wilting under Sarkozy” (June 7).

The ambassador maintains that my article was biased and inaccurate and that I was being hypocritical. Biased? Perhaps! But then this writer was brought up on British values which teach fair play, fighting for the underdog, tolerance for eccentricity, and never hitting a man when he is down. Inaccurate? Hardly! Either Mr Sarkozy did expel 30,000 Roma people in two years, or he didn’t. The world press, including the British press, said he did, and we will have to take their word for it.

One got the distinct impression from the letter that the only people in France who were indulging in human trafficking, prostitution and criminal activities are the Roma. Is the ambassador therefore implying that there are no white French, East European or north African criminals in France? Does Mr Sarkozy also have plans to expel these anti-social groups?

The Roma people have a distinct culture, not a genetic disorder. If they are despised in parts of Europe it is because they have been kept as outcasts on the fringe of society, desperately eking out a living and treated like pariah. It is not the Roma who are not integrating. It is the right wing French who just won’t accept them.

Anwer Mooraj



June 7, 2011

France, the land of Racine and Rousseau, has always had the reputation of being a country of enlightenment. Which other nation state in Europe or the New World has produced such a rich harvest of art, music, film, cuisine, haute couture and fragrance? Speak of the canvas, and the paintings of Gericault, Renoir, Monet and Cezanne that light up the world. Touch on the subject of opera and the arias of Massenet, Berlioz, Offenbach and Saint Saens which give a magisterial rhythm to ideas. Open the old treasure chest of 35 mm films, and the classic reels of Carne, Renoir, Claire and Pagnol that beckon you to an age of grace and elegance. Speak of the lure of cheese and you will wonder if anything could possibly compare with Camembert, Chevre, Roquefort and Brie de Meaux.

Having said this, how could a country that has produced such an embarrassment of cultural riches and is the birthplace of human rights, produce a president like Nicholas Sarkozy? Even the great de Gaulle would have been appalled at the turn of events that unfolded in France last year. What Sarkozy has done smacks of the worst kind of racism in modern times. In order to boost flagging political ratings and to prepare for the 2012 elections, Sarkozy and his odious government have deported thousands of Roma people to Romania and Bulgaria from where they had initially immigrated to France.

The Roma people are the gypsies of Europe, unloved, unwanted, despised and persecuted. Though they are immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria, they trace their ancestry to India, more specifically to Sindh where, in certain quarters, they are still known as ‘Sintis.’ They have always lived on the fringe of society, inhabiting caravans or derelict buildings without running water or electricity, and in France they eke out a living with scrap metal and garbage and by peeling and selling copper cable. Of all the countries that have absorbed them, however reluctantly, the English have been the kindest to these exotic gypsies who have added a bit of colour to staid old Britain. Their skill with the violin, in reading palms and foretelling the future, their innate knowledge of horse flesh and their exceptional dexterity in being able to spear a target 20-feet away with a stiletto often gets them employment with a touring circus.

The Roma people are citizens of the European Union and presumably have rights. But that has not stopped Sarkozy from doing what he has. In 2008, he expelled 8,500 Roma people. In 2009, the number increased to 10,000. And between the beginning of 2010 and Sarkozy’s infamous July speech at Grenoble, when he announced his intention to deprive criminals who are “French citizens of foreign origin” of their French citizenship, 24 charter flights loaded with Roma people had already been flown to Romania and Bulgaria. The pointed reference was made to a group of gypsies who, driven by harassment and desperation, had attacked a police station.

Most countries ignored the action, but not Britain, which still has people who fight for the underdog. In a biting article by Louise Doughty in the Guardian on September 16, 2010, appropriately titled “France deserves to be kicked out of the EU for deporting Roma people”, she made a strong case for doing just that. “At last the EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding has come out with a direct attack on the French government,” she wrote in her highly readable piece. “At last she was ‘appalled,’ and threatened the Sarkozy regime with legal action”. The writer did wonder just what Vivienne Reding had been doing for the previous 18 months as hundreds of men, women and children were rounded up by French police with no time to gather their possessions, publicly branded as criminals and sent back to Eastern Europe. “Imagine the outcry if Sarkozy started deporting people who happened to be Jewish or black. Would it have taken 18 months for the EU to react?”

Published in The Express Tribune, June 7th, 2011.



June 16, 2011


This is with reference to an article of June 7 by Anwer Mooraj titled “The rose is wilting under Sarkozy” on the Roma’s situation in France.

Human rights constitute the core values on which the European Union (EU) was founded. France has always been a very open country, open to foreign influences, to different cultures, to all religions. This being said, let’s not be hypocritical when dealing with the Roma’s situation. Mr Mooraj is blaming France for an issue that remained ignored by all for the past 10 years. What French President Sarkozy did was to decide to tackle the issue and to get all the EU member states involved in finding a solution.

The freedom of circulation, one of the fundamental rights of the European Union, should not be used as a legal cover for human trafficking, prostitution, begging and criminal activities in general. Those indulging in such activities must be dealt with without any complacency.

The French government provided the European Commission with all the information it needed. The commission was satisfied with it and acknowledged the legality of the French measures regarding the Roma. The assertions made in the article are therefore biased and inaccurate.

By deciding to act, President Sarkozy highlighted the true issue, that of the Roma’s integration within their respective countries in the EU. All the 27 member states must find a practical answer. Thanks to the French initiative, the European Council has decided to make this issue one of its priorities.

Daniel Jouanneau

Ambassador of France to Pakistan

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