European Gypsies Under Siege-French Government Crackdown on Roma, Immigrants
Workers Vanguard No. 1035
29 November 2013
Friday, December 13, 2013
European Gypsies Under Siege-French Government Crackdown on Roma, Immigrants
In mid October, cops raided a Roma camp in central Greece on a drug sweep and snatched up a 4-year-old girl with fair hair and blue eyes, arresting her parents. The girl, Maria, doesn’t fit the stereotype of the Roma, so the media christened her the “Blonde Angel” and splashed her photo around the world. It turns out that her biological mother is a Bulgarian Roma who had been living in Greece. Forced to return to Bulgaria, the mother had arranged for Maria to be brought up by a different Roma family in Greece.
But these mundane facts of a childcare arrangement common in every culture did not prevail against the chauvinist hysteria that spread like wildfire across Europe. Within days, two pale-skinned Roma children in Ireland were abducted from their parents by state authorities and subjected to DNA tests to “prove” they were who their parents said they were. For the Irish capitalist state, anti-Roma racism is part and parcel of its longstanding oppression of Irish Travellers, a distinct ethnic group with their own language and culture whose historically itinerant way of life is associated with the Roma.
The expressed concern of the Greek state for the welfare of Maria is breathtaking hypocrisy. In September, a prosecutor in Greece called to reopen an investigation into the disappearance of over 500 Albanian Roma children who had been in the state’s “care.” The government rounded up these children in the years prior to the 2004 Athens Olympics in the guise of a campaign to protect children begging on the streets. The children disappeared and their whereabouts remain unknown. As for Maria, she has been wrenched from the family that raised her and is reportedly to be deported to Bulgaria, not to live with her biological parents but to be put in foster care.
One factor currently driving the hysteria against the Roma is related to the expansion of the imperialist European Union (EU). When Romania and Bulgaria, which both have significant Roma minorities, joined the EU in 2007, their citizens were restricted from working in several EU countries, including Britain, France and Germany. Restrictions on the right to work and the persecution and deportations of Roma show the true face of the European imperialist “democracies.” On 1 January 2014, these restrictions will be lifted, putting an end to this formal discrimination in employment. However, even when Roma have the legal right to work, they will continue to face acute obstacles to getting work.
We in the International Communist League have always been implacably opposed to the EU, an imperialist trade bloc within which the major European imperialists cooperate to further the exploitation and immiseration of the working class, including its immigrant component. Within the EU, Germany, France and Britain dominate the poorer member states. The “second tier” includes East European countries used as a source of cheap labor and markets by the EU powers.
In Britain, there is a furor over the supposed influx of Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants to descend on the country next year. During the summer, a Roma camp near London was cleared out and nearly all the residents were deported to Romania. Former Labour Party home secretary David Blunkett chided the current government for not being harsh enough on immigrant Roma, stating in a radio interview earlier this month: “We have got to change the behavior and the culture of the incoming community, the Roma community, because there’s going to be an explosion otherwise.” Such incitement gives legitimacy to fascist and state-backed terror.
In France, the government of Socialist Party president François Hollande (which includes Green Party housing minister Cécile Duflot) evicted over 10,000 Roma in the first six months of this year alone. Despite attempts to sound less racist, the reformist Communist Party’s mayor of Saint Ouen, near Paris, wrote to Interior Minister Manuel Valls at the end of October demanding that Roma be expelled from a camp in her jurisdiction. Fueled by the government’s anti-immigrant crackdown, fascist gangs have been assaulting veiled women and in June skinheads murdered leftist anti-fascist activist Clément Méric. Meanwhile, electoral support to the fascist National Front is growing.
As our comrades of the Ligue Trotskyste de France explained in “SP-Green Government’s Racist Campaigns Swell Fascists’ Sails” (Le Bolchévik No. 205, September 2013): “Racist terror is inherent in the capitalist system, whether it is fascist terror or the ordinary terror of the bourgeois state, whether it is Sarkozy’s rightist government terror or Valls-Duflot’s ‘left’ version, whether it targets Roma, veiled women or minority youth more generally. To do away with racist oppression once and for all, it is necessary to destroy its causes, which are found in the basic mechanisms of the system of capitalist exploitation.”
We print below a translation of an October 29 leaflet issued by our comrades in France protesting racist deportations and demanding full citizenship rights for all immigrants.
* * *
In the presidential election last year, we called for people not to vote for Hollande. Among other things, we pointed to his vowing to wage an “implacable” struggle against undocumented immigrants and to put the Roma in “encampments of our own choosing” to stop them from moving around “over and over” (Le Monde, 15 February 2012). His chief cop minister, Valls, was only following through on these campaign promises when on October 9 he sent the cops onto a school bus looking for Leonarda Dibrani and had her deported for good to Kosovo. She speaks neither Albanian nor Serbian—but she does speak French! Leonarda courageously denounced Hollande’s proposal to let her back into France…without her family.
The lesson Valls draws from this incident is that the processing of asylum requests must be accelerated, for the explicit purpose of being able to deport people before they have the time to settle in the “country of the rights of man.” Reactionaries and fascists of all sorts have seized the opportunity to urge revision of jus soli [the right of the soil], which under certain conditions grants citizenship to those who were born on French soil.
Around the same time, the cops deported Khatchik Kachatryan to Armenia. He is the first Parisian high school student deported since 2006—when Sarkozy was in charge of the ministry of police. We demand the immediate return of Leonarda and all her family, as well as Khatchik, and we demand they be granted full legal status: Full citizenship rights for everyone who made it here! Down with the racist witchhunt against the Roma!
The Hollande/Valls Government’s Racist Campaign
The outrageous treatment of Leonarda epitomizes the violent government campaign against the Roma, who are made scapegoats more than ever in this period of deep economic crisis in order to forestall workers struggle. In France, there are at most a few tens of thousands of Roma from the Balkans, and they are essentially excluded from the proletariat. But for the workers movement to accept attacks against the Roma would make it vulnerable to efforts to divide the working class itself along ethnic, racial and sexual lines, while reinforcing the arsenal of police repression directed against workers.
Manuel Valls, forever in search of a new racist provocation, declared that the Roma were incapable of “integrating” into a civilized society like France. During World War II, the Nazis characterized them as “subhuman,” but here in France the laws invoked to lock up the Roma in camps under the Vichy government were in fact enacted by the Third Republic [1870-1940] before the Nazi occupation. Some Roma remained interned until 1946 under capitalist governments that included Gaullists, Christian Democrats, Social Democrats of the Second International and Stalinists from the French Communist Party (PCF) [see “France: Down With Racist Anti-Roma Campaign!” WV No. 965, 24 September 2010 and Black History and the Class Struggle No. 21, February 2011].
The Roma have been persecuted for centuries, driven from one country to another. In a precapitalist economy, the Gypsies occupied a marginal economic niche as artisans, peddlers and artists. With the development of capitalism, they were pushed to the margins of society, enduring abuses that culminated in the extermination of hundreds of thousands of Gypsies by the Nazis. The truth is that decaying capitalism is incapable of “integrating” the Roma and all the more so in periods of crisis. The French state, including its PCF mayors, chases them from one shantytown to another and then uses the pretext that they are not official residents to refuse to enroll the children in school. When, in spite of these difficulties, children like Leonarda manage to attend school, the state deports them. It refuses the Roma the right to work and then accuses them of living by their wits! Down with restrictions on the right to work imposed by the European Union on Bulgarian and Romanian citizens!
Only socialist revolution will make possible the full integration of Roma into society with equal rights, as shown by the example of the October 1917 proletarian revolution in Russia that overthrew capitalist rule. The October Revolution destroyed the tsarist empire—that prison house of peoples—and laid the basis for freeing the oppressed nations and ethnic minorities, including the Roma, from the jackboot of Great Russian chauvinism.
Romania, including under the grotesque Stalinist regime of Ceausescu, and Tito’s Yugoslavia (where Leonarda’s family came from) were bureaucratically deformed workers states. The capitalist ruling class had been driven from power and the resulting collectivized, nationalized economy guaranteed the Roma an improved standard of living and an unprecedented ethnic and national integration. Their level of education began to approach that of the rest of the population and they had not only jobs but also housing and health care. The Roma were recognized as a national minority with the right to be educated in their own language. They were settled and relatively integrated into the proletariat and into the military and state apparatus. When Yugoslavia existed, there were radio and TV programs in the Romany language in Kosovo.
The counterrevolutionary destruction of these workers states turned the Balkans, East Europe and the former Soviet Union into a living hell, replete with interethnic massacres, genocidal nationalism and utter poverty. Emigration of Roma from Romania or Kosovo often represented a desperate attempt to flee horrible racist persecution and indescribable misery. Our organization, the International Communist League, fought to the end for unconditional military defense of the USSR and the deformed workers states against capitalist counterrevolution and for proletarian political revolution to sweep away the Stalinist bureaucracies and put in place governments of workers councils (soviets).
There is bitter irony to the fact that groups like Lutte Ouvrière and the New Anti-Capitalist Party (formerly the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire) today decry the persecution of the Roma, after having supported various champions of capitalist “democracy” in Poland and the USSR. The final victory of counterrevolution between 1989 and 1992 has led to new and terrible suffering for the Roma of East Europe and the Balkans.
Immigration and Capitalism
Leonarda and Khatchik were deported, but how many asylum seekers and refugees do not succeed in even reaching the European continent? It is estimated that over the last twenty years more than 6,000 people trying to get into racist Fortress Europe drowned just in the seas around the little Italian island of Lampedusa [see “Mass Drowning of Refugees in Mediterranean,” WV No. 1034, 15 November].
The capitalists manage the ebbs and flows of immigration according to their own manpower needs. In periods of expansion, they will look for workers from abroad; in periods of crisis, they turn off the tap. With the deepening recession in the European Union—notably in Greece, Portugal and East Europe, which are oppressed by the German and French capitalists and their banks—even the recent shipwrecks off Lampedusa are pretexts for the imperialists to further reinforce police barriers to immigration. The cops of the European surveillance agency “Frontex” are marauding in the Mediterranean as walls go up along the Greek-Turkish border. Down with the imperialist European Union! Down with its financial instrument, the euro!
However, the only perspective reformists like the PCF have is to call for new laws making slight modifications to immigration policy. Similar politics were on display during a lengthy 2009-10 strike of several thousand undocumented workers in Paris and the surrounding region. These workers were mostly left to go it alone as the bureaucrats from the CGT and SUD union federations who supervised this campaign did next to nothing to mobilize their co-workers who had papers. All the bureaucrats demanded was a decree setting standardized criteria for processing immigration applications. They wanted criteria that would give papers to immigrants if they had jobs, thus only benefiting undocumented workers and their families—in other words, too bad for the unemployed, for Roma like Leonarda, for [foreign] high school students like Khatchik who are no longer minors.
At the time of the strike, the campaign got unambiguous support from Lutte Ouvrière and other reformist groups. Their aim was to slightly “humanize” the policy of Sarkozy, who openly said he wanted to regulate immigration according to the capitalists’ need for manpower. In contrast, we are for full citizenship rights for everyone who is here.
Workers Must Defend Minority Youth!
In the framework of this anti-Roma campaign, it is heartening that high school students have fought for the return of Leonarda and Khatchik. High school and college students have often been the spark for working-class struggle. But the closing of high schools, even for weeks, won’t hurt the capitalists’ profits. The mass youth protest movement of 2006 succeeded against the [rightist] Chirac government’s stubborn determination to impose substandard job contracts on young workers only because hundreds of thousands of workers, in growing numbers, went on strike and took to the streets in solidarity. Only the working class has the social power to paralyze the country (the factories, transportation, utilities) and make the bosses back down, as well as the power to ultimately do away with their decaying rule.
The struggle in defense of undocumented immigrants is crucial for the unity of the proletariat, particularly in construction but more generally in industries that use temporary workers on a large scale. The proletariat must fight against all maneuvers by the capitalists and their government to divide workers by ethnicity, race, sex or sexual orientation. Most of the minority high school students who are targets of racist cop violence have papers and were born in France. Many of their older brothers and sisters are part of the proletariat, largely toiling in the most precarious, worst paid and lowest status jobs.
That directly poses the question of a fight for full-time, permanent jobs for all through redividing the available work among all with no loss in pay. This situation cries out for a new union leadership that will not cave in to the bosses or accept new sacrifices in the name of “saving French industry,” a revolutionary leadership forged in opposition to the sellout leaders who called for voting for Hollande. Such a leadership would refuse to play by the bosses’ rules and not limit itself to what the bosses are ready to grant. It would fight to satisfy the vital needs of the working class. If capitalism cannot satisfy these demands, let it perish! The workers movement must defend minority youth! For worker/immigrant mobilizations to crush the fascists!
As revolutionary Marxists, our task is not to advise the government nor to beg it to adjust its policies to favor the workers and oppressed. But we welcome all gains the workers are able to wrest from the capitalists through their struggles. Our task is to fight to build a workers party modeled on the Bolshevik Party of Lenin, which led the only victorious socialist revolution in history to date. This party would be a “tribune of the people” that denounces all forms of oppression, no matter the class or social layer of the victims, whether Roma, gays, etc. The ICL fights for socialist revolution and its international extension. This is the only road to building a society of abundance for all on the basis of a collectivized planned economy and the power of workers councils. It will take a socialist revolution to put an end once and for all to exploitation, poverty and racist oppression. For a Socialist United States of Europe!