Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Gens de Voyage the Gypsies

Recently in the French news, which spread to the international news, was a graphic photo of a 15 year old Roma boy beaten up, stuffed in a shopping cart and left for dead on the outskirts of Paris. A neighbor who found him took photos to document his condition brought him to the hospital. It turns out that a gang of 20 young people wearing ski masks beat this Roma boy up. The pictures are horrific. People were asking how could this happen. Francois Hollande got on the news deploring the incident. But no one was asking why.  The racism against Gypsies or Roma in France and throughout  Europe is quiet and not talked about. It’s a given.

Of course it depends on who you talk to and it’s a complicated issue. For several years the French police have worked with the Romanian government to bring in Romanian police. These police are taught French and deputized to work in Paris.
But these are the Eastern European Gypsies, the Roma who are from Albania, former Yugoslavia, Romania who after the EU opened the borders pass freely
through Europe. Freely is a loose term.
It turns out this boy who is still in a coma, is 17 not 15, he's recently arrived from Romania to be with his step-family and was known to have psychiatric problems.

Gypsies are known by different names in different countries - Scinti in Germany, Gitane in Spain, Gitano in Italy and the French born are called Manouches and Gens de Voyage. By French born I mean those born in France who have citizenship and may have lived there for years, in semi-nomadic lifestyles or more sedentary conditions, for generations. Those are the ones who feature in my next book.
What do you think of when you hear Gypsy or Roma in Europe?
Chicken thieves, Pickpockets in the Metro, musicians, workers at the carnivals, circus, horse traders, exotic dancers, caners at the market?
But it’s a complicated issue
Cara - Tuesday


  1. I have no first-hand experience with "Roma/Gypsy/whatever" groups of people, so almost all of my impressions are derived from Hollywood, and thus not to be trusted in the slightest. However, we're all humans, and fall into the usual human behaviors: forming social groups, adopting "us and them" attitudes, which encourages each group to denigrate and deprecate the values of other groups ("us vs. them"), coerce members of our group to behave as we would have them behave, try to force other groups to join our group or become our prey, and on down the dirty brick road to culture clash, abuse, and war (amongst other minor human pastimes...), fueled by racism, sexism, age-ism, and many other schisms.

    Fortunately, being human also includes tolerance, admiration of variety, empathy, self-sacrifice, love, cooperation, and all those other attributes that frequently help us to achieve a more pleasant (for everyone involved) outcome!

  2. It is a complicated issue, but one that France, and other countries in Europe, have ignored since the Nazi era when the Roma were a group designated for extinction.

  3. Everett, so true. The old Manouche couple holding their wedding photo are great-great grandparents.He carved the wooden caravan and told me stories about his youth, such a different era. Liz, I agree and found that the Roma have been ostracized for centuries and there's a lot of theories about their origin and why the racism. My next book tries to explore some of this - so many stereotypes exist. Recently in Neuilly in the posh area the Police shut down more Roma encampments and yet to hear a friend who lives there complain about robberies while she was at the market, picking her kids up from school, it's not black and white. Cara

  4. I look forward to your take on the French and the Roma, Cara. My 4th book, "Target: Tinos," had Tsigani--the word Greeks use for Roma--at its core. As you know, the interaction across Europe remains a very complicated, emotion-charged situation, even with Roma who are citizens of the countries in which they reside.

  5. When I think of Roma (and they don't like the term "Gypsies), I think of a people who were enslaved from the 1300s to about 1850-1865, when they were freed in various countries.

    They have been discriminated against for centuries, and this is true today with anti-Roma bigotry and sometimes violence against them in various European countries. Education is often inferior for these children. Prejudice is rampant.

    Both Sarkozy and Hollande have deported Romas by the hundreds. The right wing in France has whipped up bigotry against them.

    And Hitler and his pals had the same policies and murderous practices against the Roma as against the Jewish people, who sat beside each other in concentration camps waiting for their deaths.

    The bigotry and discrimination against them continues. Many are homeless, many jobless.

    It is horrific that this teenager was beaten so badly, but extreme bigotry will affect some people to carry out attacks, as has happened in the U.S. against Muslims, Arabs and Sikhs and other South Asian peoples since 9/11/2001.

    The Hollande government can't on the one hand deport Romas and mistreat them and then absolve itself of responsibility when violence occurs against them.

    If there was decent housing, jobs, education and equal treatment in schools and throughout society, things would change -- and it would be much better all around.

  6. So true Kathy D. The issues surrounding the Manouches (who I'll refer to mostly since they're French and are the ones I met) are compounded because they are French citizens. Education, housing, equality well, a given for sure. But I'll posit it goes deeper on both sides. Inherent in many non-Manouche is a view of exotic people, there's a stereotypical mystique developed over centuries of a dancing enchantress ie Esmeralda in the Hunchback of Notre Dame, fortune tellers and magic powers. Also, a jealousy or longing that non-Manouches feel 'if I could only travel and live like a Gypsy' that they have incredible freedom to just take off and live a nomadic existence which in the modern world isn't that easy. I think people feel a strange envy for a group they perceive in a romanticized version. While the Manouches, who live among their families have an inherent suspicion of outsiders - why wouldn't they after centuries of persecution and being marginalized. But everyone I met prefers to live within their clan, the ties are strong and binding and have no desire to be non-Manouche.

  7. I think a lot of peoples in the U.S. and all over the world prefer to live within their own communities and clans and tribes, especially if they've been persecuted.
    Oh, the world -- if only we could all wave magic wands and end bigotry and discrimination and everyone could live in peace and have everything they need to live.

    I appreciate your response, which was very informative.

    Stef Penney wrote a novel, which had a mystery about Roma living in England, a family. It was illuminating and well-written.