By STEVEN ERLANGER
Published: June 3, 2013
PARIS — In the last three weeks alone, the French police have dismantled Roma encampments in Saint-Denis, just outside Paris, and along the Var River west of Nice. In Lyon, 200 Roma were temporarily housed in a gymnasium when someone set fire to their squat in a disused factory, killing two women and a 12-year-old.
President François Hollande’s Socialist government came into office a year ago promising a better deal for the Roma, also known as Gypsies, an end to the shantytowns and the rehousing and integration of those displaced. But like other promises, including a return to economic growth, reality has been a recalcitrant political partner.
Having criticized the previous center-right government of Nicolas Sarkozy for being careless with individual rights and flirting with the anti-immigrant far right, the Hollande government has done little to change policy toward the Roma. The interior minister, Manuel Valls, who has been praised for his organizational ability and toughness, has expelled at least as many non-French Roma as his predecessor and continues to order the police to dismantle illegal camps and shantytowns, without rehousing most of those displaced.
On Jan. 1, the rules will change, as Romanians and Bulgarians, seven years after entering the European Union, will have the same right to travel and work in member countries as others in the union. But that will not make them more welcome — most illegal Roma immigrants come from those two nations. Fanned by anti-immigrant and nationalist parties of the right and far right all over Europe, the coming change has led to new fears of a large influx of poor workers and criminals seeking to take jobs from citizens and benefit from lavish social welfare systems.
“In principle, things are different in France, but in practice, things are pretty much the same,” said Dezideriu Gergely, the executive director of the European Roma Rights Center in Budapest. “We expected a different approach, to reduce social exclusion and economic problems, instead of taking a problem and moving it from one place to another.”
The complexity and tragedy of the problem are easily seen here in Paris at the Gare du Nord, one of the busiest transportation hubs in France.
So far, this has been pretty paint-by-the-numbers. But get a load of Erlanger's example:
Near the third glass door from the left of the older building, young Roma men hover. Small, thin, often wearing bright clothing like green pants or a pink scarf, the men are prostitutes, looking for work or waiting for prearranged rendezvous.
Some are as young as 14, though they insist they are older; some are 16 and married, sometimes with children.
They come from a community around Craiova, in south-central Romania. They troll the station to earn a living, which they say gets them about 100 euros a day, or $130.
A young man named Ruset said he was 19 and had left Romania as a child. He and his friends, like Bogdan, 17, and Gutsa, 17, whose wife is pregnant, “do business” at the station, he said;
And, Gutsa said, in 17 years my son, God willing, will follow in my footsteps at the train station.
they live in a shantytown in a forest east of Paris, near the Noisy-Champs station on the suburban railway line. None wanted to have their family names used.
“France is terrible for us,” Ruset said, watching for the police, whom he called “superracist, hassling us all the time.” Echoing many of France’s estimated 20,000 noncitizen Roma, he said: “I would like to stay in Romania, but there is no chance to work there. France I liked well at the start, but today things are very hard.”
I presume this example just pushed multiple buttons in NYT subscribers' heads without raising conflicting thoughts about contradictions: Those horrible Parisian nativist racist homophobes, who are no doubt Red State Republican Evangelicals, are oppressing gay teen immigrants who are just trying to feed their wives and children.
In contrast, what percent of NYT readers, do you think, have the other reaction to this example about married teen male prostitutes: Wow, the Roma must have just about the worst culture in the world?