Thursday, August 26, 2010

Libé Interview

I'm quoted in Libé this morning on the Roma affair. If you aren't a subscriber, here's what I said:

Cette affaire des Roms dégrade-t-elle l’image de la France aux Etats-Unis ?

Oui… dans la mesure où elle est connue. Il y a eu quelques articles dans le New York Times mais on ne peut pas dire que ce soit un sujet dont on parle beaucoup aux Etats-Unis. Tout simplement car nos médias ne couvrent pas beaucoup l’actualité française. Nous avons nos propres problèmes d’immigration, ou la mosquée de Manhattan, qui nous préoccupent bien davantage.

Parmi les Américains qui suivent l’actualité française, comme les lecteurs de votre blog, quelles sont les réactions ?

La plupart sont choqués, comme je le suis, qu’on ait utilisé quelques incidents mineurs, qui dans la vallée du Cher n’impliquaient même pas des étrangers mais des citoyens français, gens du voyage, pour une réorientation complète de la politique de Sarkozy vers le tout sécuritaire. Pour les Américains qui connaissent Sarkozy, ce n’est pas une complète surprise. On l’avait déjà vu procéder ainsi durant sa campagne électorale. Mais on pouvait aussi espérer qu’il avait changé, après l’avoir vu tendre la main à la communauté musulmane ou nommer des ministres issus de l’immigration comme Fadela Amara. Avec l’approche de l’élection de 2012, Sarkozy semble maintenant revenir à l’agitation de boucs émissaires.

Eric Besson a plaidé la semaine dernière que Barack Obama lui même ferait un scandale en France, pour avoir envoyé 1500 hommes en renfort à la frontière mexicaine…

Ce parallèle est inacceptable. Les Roms ont parfaitement le droit de venir en France puisqu’ils sont citoyens de l’Union européenne. Les Mexicains qui tentent de franchir la frontière américaine sont des illégaux qui prennent de grands risques pour venir aux Etats-Unis. Même d’un point de vue humanitaire, la décision de Barack Obama peut se justifier pour préserver ces immigrants de la mort dans le désert.
Il est vrai que l’opinion française est très réactive, peut-être trop parfois. Mais il est clair pour moi que Sarkozy voulait provoquer ces réactions excessives de la gauche, pour faire revenir la droite dans son camp. Je pense que les réactions excessives faisaient partie de l’objectif de Sarkozy.

I've already heard from one Parisian friend who isn't too happy with my remarks, perhaps because I speak of an "overreaction" of the Left that Sarkozy may have sought deliberately to provoke. I include myself in this allegation of  "overreaction," since I assumed initially that the Roma, being European citizens, had the right to stay in France indefinitely, when in fact there is a three-month limitation with exceptions for those who have found employment or are seeking employment. But what I really meant was that the Left overreacted by ignoring the authentic anxieties of the French. Its record on dealing with crime and managing integration is in fact better than that of the Right, and it needs to remind people of this while continuing to defend the legitimate rights of immigrants. I could have said this better. Fortunately, Bernard Girard already has, here.


Kirk said...

You do know that they are technically not _full_ citizens of the EU? That they're only allowed (legally) to be in France for three months, and this is the case until, I think, 2014?

So in that case, there is nothing illegal about deporting them...

Anonymous said...

Kirk, that's what I found weird: the actual deportation of Roma has always taken place. Just not in these circumstances, with families put for hours in the sun with no access to water (indignity) and then given money to return to a country where they're legally entitled to return a few weeks later - the money given to one adult nicely covers the costs of transportation for a family (inefficiency).
So, in action, Sarkozy's policy is a new package for an old policy, with shameful actions and inefficiency added in to justify the "new, improved formula!"
In words, however, it's disgusting: the Roma have nothing to do with the violent crimes (assaults are on the rise) since their most common offense is petty theft. To point the finger as to explain why some people took hatchets to a gendarmerie or why real gangs are now entrenched in some neighborhoods, complete with weapons, is unworthy of a responsible leader. Using the Roma as easy culprits when something unrelated to them goes wrong has been a long tradition in Europe, one that people aren't proud to be associated with. And, finally, mixing the Roma with the French "travellers" is shocking, as is the idea of stripping someone from their citizenship (it all came out together.)
BTW, there was a show about American "travellers" a while back, "The Riches". I wonder how it'd play in France. It's about travellers who, fleeing for the sake of their daughter who doesn't want to enter an arranged marriage, accidentally kill a rich guy and take his place in his new house, thereby learning new mores and ways.

Anonymous said...

I find myself left flapping in the wind like a luffing sail on a boat. While I know the arrogance of our East Coast folks convinces them they speak for all Americans, in fact, they do not. Some of us think that removing the Roms makes a lot of sense. As pointed out here and elsewhere, they're at best petty thieves who trash any area in which they set up camp. Why *wouldn't* one want to return them to their own country. Perhaps the particular approach used by France at the moment is not the most effective, but it's certainly at least *something* and much better than doing nothing at all. Folks on the left continually cry about these measures but offer nothing to replace them. The Roms refuse offers of apartments and other public support to develop a better lifestyle. They keep their kids uneducated so that they won't learn anything that will entice them away from living in mobile trash heaps. With no other measures on offer, why wouldn't shipping petty thieves somewhere else be a GREAT idea?

Anonymous said...

It's also worth pointing out that 10,000 Roma were sent back to their countries last year, with no complaints from any major political official.

They are illegal aliens. They outstay the 3-month visa they have a right to. While the method may not be ideal, what's being done is within the law.

One of the problems is, apparently, that they're hated in their own country. So if they go back, they're treated like shit, and have no reason to stay. And their own government apparently does little to help them and change the prejudice they suffer.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous is right about the general attitude in the United States.

Goldhammer's comment only reflects the attitude of a small yet vocal minority of multiculturalist ideologues. Do they fall on the "left" of the spectrum? No. Theirs is a preeminently conservative endeavor. They subordinate individuals to "culture." They defend difference for the sake of difference. Above all they are anti-political. They fear open democratic discourse because it forces them to appeal to reason and make claims in the common political language (in this case the language of civic republicanism). They know that’s a losing proposition. So instead, they define of political debate about certain cultural practices (forcing women to wear the veil, keeping children out of school) to be beyond the pale. How dare we? What an indignity? Don’t they have rights? That’s the discourse in a nutshell: outrage followed by a weak attempt at working around the obvious political debate. That’s conservatism.

Anonymous said...

Following on those comments, the Romanian government doesn't have a problem with the French approach.

The Left's view is that the French should just put up with the gypsies, with no concern for the fact that the Romanians and Bulgarians should clean up their own affairs and stop making their problem one for everyone else to deal with.

MCG said...

Art, with due respect, your view is not typical here. Surely Romania and Bulgaria--the countries of which the Roma are citizens--should take responsibility for them. As to France, once the Roma overstay their permitted three months, the French are within the law to return them to the country they came from. And since the Roma squat in unsanitary camps and decline to look for work or education, it's really hard to blame the French for not wanting them around. Finally, contrary to your suggestion, the Roma are in fact not European citizens, since one can only be a citizen of a country, not of a continent or even of the EU. The Roma are not European citizens, they are Romanian or Bulgarian citizens. Their own countries should help them if, indeed, they want help.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous is a spaz

Unknown said...

I don't avoid "open democratic discourse," but I do shrink from the notion that in a democracy the majority may do whatever it pleases. I grant that the crackdown on the Roma enjoys substantial support: 73%, according to today's Figaro. The minority nevertheless has rights, no matter how vituperatively it is despised by some (including, apparently, several of the brave critics who sign themselves Anonymous above). The right to due process comes to mind. The smashing of camps, the summary expulsions, the separation of families: what legal processes have been followed? What checks and balances has the government submitted to? What investigation has been done to determine which visitors are "illegal" under European law and which are not? And is the fact that a group is persecuted in its "homeland" justification for treating it as stateless? History has lessons to teach on this score. If worrying about due process and human rights is "conservative" and insufficiently "political," then I accept the label.

CJWilly said...

Solid interview, congrats in getting in the Leebeh. I think, insofar as Americans care about France, they're not particularly happy about Sarkozy's turn.

Anonymous said...

just came across Le Figaro webpage and its story on the 2/3rds of French who approve of dismantling Rom camps and expelling them to Romania. I was talking about this issue with my wife in the car on the way back home from our Perigordian refuge. I had a feeling it'd be like this - that most French would be okay, if not agree with Sarkozy. Nobody likes Gypsies. They're like the one group of people in France who are still free game for prejudices and intolerance.

Art's views aren't just that of an out-of-touch elite, and even if he was just garden-variety East Coast liberal, his views are still well argued. I find this campaign against the Rom highly unsettling, and for reasons with jive with my center-right views and adherence to the Republican Party.
Or maybe more emotional than cognitive and I think that way because I'm an immigrant here in France and the grandchild of immigrants who took the boat to Ellis Island way back when. But whenever there arises anti-immigrant fervor here, in my sphere of concentric circles of village, departement, region, etc., I don't like it. It gives me the hee-bee gee-bees. I don't like it when some French, in the bistro or in the Elysée, get all tribal-like and pick on the visible minorities in their midst.
Hortefeux may not be a facho like Le Pen but I am very very very wary of him. He even LOOKS like a bad guy from a Hollywood movie.

Sarko, Gueant, him & others are playing with fire, again and the fachos will stand to gain.
I always say to myself: Americans are number 4 on the facho shit-list - behind Jews (1), Arabs (2) and blacks (3) - but ahead of Tsiganes.
Plus, I'm not the only center-right-leaning kind of guy who doesn't like this anti-Rom fervor.

Chris P.

Anonymous said...

(I'm "Anonymous" #1 from 9am, but Blogger won't let me sign.)

To the various Anonymous above: The problem is not deportation in itself, that's been done before. The problem is HOW it's done plus the speeches designating the Roma as THE problem, as a whole group (see my points re: indignity and inefficiency, but most of all read Art's response.)

As to what other countries are doing, here's the conclusion of an article:
" The largest number of Roma have resettled in Spain, with numbers totaling more than 700,000.

There the Spanish government has taken a different approach than France, which since Jan. 1 has sent 8,300 Romanians and Bulgarians back to their home countries.

Spain created a program last April to invest €107 million over three years in education, health and lodging for Roma women."


Anonymous said...

Fervor? Get all tribal-like?

Well I guess this thread would not have been complete without some traditional French-bashing.

How about actually engaging with the arguments made by proponents of the expulsions? How about making a good faith effort to understand the motivations of the people around you?

No, it's got to be "the fachos." If "the fachos" never existed they would have to be invented. That's how central "the fachos" have become to the identity of a small yet significant sliver of American opinion. Ever wonder why?

EurAmerican said...

A vibrant post and thread -- kudos, Art Goldhammer, and to participants all.

My blog, EurAmerican, may be of interest to those who follow this space:

Transatlantic Politics & Culture

Leo said...


"which legal processes, which checks and balances?..."

As reported in most media, full legal procedures were followed with each deportation order being sanctioned by a judge.

Its not the deportation itself that is damnable (as mentioned above, 10000 Romas had to go in 2009 without almost any outcry), but Sarkozy's political manoeuvring of conflating Romas, French Gypsies, petty thieves, criminals, immigrants... to switch the political debate away from his policy failures...and the Woerth-Bettancourt affair.

And boy, as evidenced her, didn't succeed?


Leo said...

Anonymous # 1

The Times article is unwittingly guilty of making the same conflation mistake as Sarkozy:

There are indeed 700,000 Gipsies in Spain, but they are of the Gitano variety; you know, the one exemplified by Bizet's Carmen and chanted in Garcia Lorca's unforgettable poems (El Romancero Gitano).

They have as much in common with the Eastern Europe Romas as a Milwaukee brewer has with the Teutonic Knights. They probably got to Spain a few hundred years ago.

All roads lead to Rome, but not all Gipsies are Romas...

Anonymous said...

The enormity here is the line fed to the French press that border re-enforcements are justified on humanatarian grounds "...pour preserver ces immigrants de la mort dans le desert." Right. If only such concerns followed those migrants who make it to the sweltering communal barracks and fruit and vegetable fields of California's Central Valley, where, I would wager, mortality rates exceed those of the Roma. Of course no one is going to deport these illegals-they are far too valuable.

Kirk said...

"The right to due process comes to mind. The smashing of camps, the summary expulsions, the separation of families: what legal processes have been followed? "

Leo commented on this, but let me add something. While "due process" has been followed, there's not much following to do. These people have the right to stay in France for three months; they've over-stayed their visas, so they can't appeal any decision of deportation. I'm not sure what people expect to happen here. Aside from the possibility of stigmatizing one group, the govermnent is simply applying laws that every country on the globe has.

Pour la petite histoire, on iTélé this morning (one of the all-news channels on the satellite feed), a reporter said he spoke freely with a large number of those being deported. The majority said that they lived from begging, and some said that they stole to get by. We're not talking about other groups, who are, say, undocumented workers in the building trade, or cooks in restaurants. This is a group of people who stays among themselves, doesn't enroll kids in schools (and, in facts, uses them as props when begging), and hasn't come here in any attempt to "integrate."

But no matter what, they violated their visas. Period. It's like the way the French complain about speed cameras being unfair. You go too fast, you get a ticket. Nuff said.

Unknown said...

"A judge sanctioned the expulsions." Forgive me, but that's not what I mean by due process. A mass deportation sanctioned by a paper handed out at the behest of the authorities by an administrative judge, without scrutiny of individual cases? How does the judge even know who has been in France for more than three months, Kirk, when entry is free and passports are not stamped? I'm sorry this is a sham process.

As for the "enormity" of my ignoring the plight of immigrant workers sweltering in the Central Valley, dear Anonymous: it's been a while since I've been baited in this way. I think I'll pass on this bit of agitprop.

Kirk said...

Art, I think passports _are_ stamped for those who are not (full) EU members. I'm not sure, but I don't think anyone has contested the legal basis for these deportations.

MCG said...


If the reason the Roma are in France is that they are mistreated in Romania and Bulgaria--the countries of which they are citizens--we should be hearing your criticisms of Romania and Bulgaria, not of France.

You err in assuming that some law other than EU law governs the relations of the French and the Roma. If France is within the letter of European Union law, then it is behaving legally. No version of the American definition of due process, let alone the strictest version, applies in other jurisdictions.

Unknown said...

If you believe that France is complying with EU law in the matter, then how do you explain the criticisms of French policy emanating from the European Commission and other EU entities. Furthermore, criticism of French Policy doesn't exclude criticism of Romania and Bulgaria or of the Roms themselves, for that matter. But my concern for the moment is with the high-handed tactics of the French government and the cynical use of this issue for, as I see it, political gain. I am also concerned, as I think any decent person should be, when an entire group or class of people is stigmatized as criminal, shiftless, uncivil, unclean, etc.

Leo said...

Art, I agree on the government cynicism and am also concerned with the stigmatization but I have no workable idea on how to deal with the problem other than deportations within the boundaries set by the Law.
Do you have any?

Unknown said...

Léo, Deportation should be a last resort and should proceed by individual cases, not groups. Duration of stay in France can be proven by maintaining records of infractions. If camps (bidonvilles, more accurately) violate zoning laws, they should be shut down, but assistance should be provided to those wishing to remain in France to seek work. There are EU funds available for this, as the Commission has reminded the French government, but the government has declined to use these funds even though it has no grounds for expelling those who it cannot prove have been in France for more than three months. The commission of a crime in France is grounds for immediate expulsion of the criminal but not of his or her entire family. Above all, the government must discipline its language to avoid condemnation of an entire group and conflation of faits divers with (imaginary) collective crimes.

MCG said...


You ask, "If you believe that France is complying with EU law in the matter, then how do you explain the criticisms of French policy emanating from the European Commission and other EU entities."

I respond that bureaucracies often pursue their own independent agendas. In the U.S., one thinks of the Civil Right Commission.

You say, "Criticism of French Policy doesn't exclude criticism of Romania and Bulgaria or of the Roma themselves."

I would be happy to hear you criticize Romania and Bulgaria, not to mention the Roma themselves.

You say, "My concern . . . is with the high-handed tactics of the French government and the cynical use of this issue for . . . political gain."

As to the use of this issue for political gain, one cannot disagree. Attacking a disfavored group is a classical rhetorical move to divide public opinion for the benefit of the government. As to whether it is cynical or simply calculating, opinions may differ. As to tactics, likewise.

You say, "I am also concerned, as I think any decent person should be, when an entire group or class of people is stigmatized as criminal, shiftless, uncivil, unclean, etc."

I say, let's start with unclean, and then let's ask what stigmatizing means. I trust that you have seen the pictures of the Roma camps. If so, there can be no argument about whether the Roma are unclean. Is it stigmatizing to call people unclean when in fact they are unclean?

Let's now consider shiftless. The Roma squat in France without working or going to school within a three-month period, and that's why the French are legally entitled to expel them. Shiftless is a loaded word, and it goes beyond the facts. But in normal parlance is it stigmatizing to say there's something wrong with ablebodied people when they won't work or go to school?

As to uncivil, the fact of the Roma's illegally overstaying their permitted time in France conclusively proves the case.

As to criminal, you know more than I do. If the Roma are in fact pickpockets and petty thieves, however, can it be stigmatizing to call them criminal?

You suggest that you have not excluded criticism of Romania and Bulgaria and of the Roma themselves. One can criticize a group on the facts without stigmatizing them. I would like to hear your criticisms of the Roma themselves. They are not blameless.

Kirk said...

You said:

"but assistance should be provided to those wishing to remain in France to seek work."

Art, you're still missing the point that I made several comments ago. These people _don't have the right to work in France_. They are not full EU citizens, but are subject to a transitional agreement through 2014. Are you therefore saying that illegal aliens should be helped to get jobs? I don't think so...

Unknown said...

Kirk, I take your point, but you're missing the further point that France can authorize these people to work:
You can't deny people the right to work and then stigmatize them for not working. Are work permits in fact issued? How many? On what criteria? Why doesn't the government discuss this issue?

Unknown said...

MCG, I don't know enough about Romanian and Bulgarian policy to comment, and that is not my concern in a blog about French politics. As for the conditions in which Roma live, see my response to Kirk. This will be my last comment on this thread. I have work to do.

NNM said...

Ah, you know, the French actually have to live with these people, and according to Le Figaro's and other's polls, something like 70% of them don't like having to do so. This discussion about how some folks' moral standards are higher than others is easy in the abstraction. Let's let in a little reality. As a Harvard professor, I'm quite sure you have more than enough money and more than enough real estate that you could invite one of these Roma families, or perhaps two, for whom you feel such angst to come live with you. And I'd bet my next year's salary that that one or two gypsy families would LEAP at the chance to come live in New England. Why don't you put your money where your mouth is and show everyone how much you really care, and how everyone else should live up to your principles? Invite a couple of gypsy families to build a trash heap in your yard in your exclusive neighborhood. *Then* you'll be persuasive.

PS Nice ad homininem attack above with the crack about the "brave critics" who chose to remain anonymous.

FrédéricLN said...

Congratulations for the interview; I agree on all points, with the reservation that I also agree with one of Leo's comments (August 27, 2010 3:24 AM).

Nicolas Sarkozy's advisor Alain Minc had an astonishing reaction to Benedict XVI's sentence on "légitimes diversités": a German citizen should not express such views, according to Minc! Because of the historical "legacy" of the German people, that can only mean: Hitler.

That's what completely surprised me: the connection with nazism is established by the Sarkozy camp itself!

About the issue: do these expulsions have a sound legal basis? The most reliable reference should be, as usual on legal matters, Eolas' blog. A first post:…-%28Acte-I%29

The detailed analysis is postponed for a next post: " Le deuxième volet sera centré sur le droit des étrangers et portera sur les mesures actuelles d’expulsion, pour lesquelles le Gouvernement use selon les cas de deux méthodes : soit violer la loi, soit se payer votre tête.
Et fort cher, si ça peut vous consoler."

P.-S.: ONE argument in some "anonymous" or other comments really makes me angry, that is, handling all individuals as only one: "these people are thieves". If it makes me especially angry, that's because I once felt in this trap when I was young - and I understand it's a tempting way of dealing with people you just don't know. I should have read better Les Bijoux de la Castafiore ("The Castafiore Emerald") - even if it's about gypsies, not Roms!

NNM said...