Roma people have been in France for centuries, but we were not recognised. And the situation has worsened in recent years.
Roma were among the Romanians who came to France in the 1990s. They were generally not granted asylum. Along with some other migrants, they ended up in shanty towns.
From that point on the media and politicians began to use the word Roma to refer to all the inhabitants of shanty towns regardless of their background.
A majority of these people are Roma, and they have been the target of repressive policies and repeated deportations.
There are also several hundred thousand Roma who are French citizens. We are the object of racism and discrimination. But our situation is better than that of our immigrant brothers and sisters whom the French state continues to exclude.
Racism against Roma is fed by widespread stereotypes. According to the national commission into human rights 85 percent of French people think Roma exploit their children.
The idea of French national identity also plays a role. The true French person is supposed to speak French not regional languages, for example, and to be settled rather than travelling.
And the economic crisis has seen things get worse. That’s true of racism in general, but particularly anti-Roma racism.
Even the vice-president of the European Commission, Viviane Reding, said last year, “If I’m not mistaken there’s an election in the air in France. Whenever someone doesn’t want to talk about important things like the budget or the debt, we hear about the Roma.”
She touched a nerve for the main parties—of both right and left—which roundly criticised her.
And the ideas of the fascist Front National echo among the parties of government. For example the new prime minister Manuel Valls, when he was interior minister, said Roma people didn’t want to integrate because they are in the hands of the mafia.
Valls faces legal challenges over his racist comments. He could be in court in June.
At the same time the French left is going through a profound identity crisis which makes solidarity difficult. There is a debate about whether the ruling Labour-type Socialist Party can even be called left, for example. And we have also seen Communist Party mayors deport Roma people.
With some exceptions you can’t rely on the political class, including most of the left, to fight anti-Roma racism. The whole of the left rose up against the policies of right wing government of Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010, but the same policies by the Socialist Party don’t get a comparable reaction.
The student protests against deportations last year were a moment of massive progressive movement, but it hasn’t translated into a long term shift.
In the last few years new anti-racist movements have developed, including Roma movements.
We are working towards a Festival of Gypsy Insurrection to celebrate the revolt of Roma people in the Birkenau Nazi concentration camp on 16 May 1944.
People on the receiving end of racism have taken the initiative and created “specialised” movements against Islamophobia, anti?black racism, etc.
These movements are at the stage of getting to know one another. To succeed in their just struggle they will need to coordinate.
Roma organisations take part in these movements and we attempt to play a role in bringing them together.