Sarkozy's antics

The French government’s crackdown on the Romas has invited widespread criticism as an attack on the human rights of a very vulnerable people. The Roma gypsies, who trace their ancestry to India, have for centuries been ill-treated and persecuted in Europe.

They number about 10 million and form the biggest ethnic minority in the European Union, but are the most backward in economic power, education, health and other indicators. This is partly because of their lifestyle. They are scattered and nomadic and the mainstream prejudice has worked against them. They are branded a criminal tribe and kept away from human habitations. They have often had to face discriminatory and oppressive government actions. The French campaign is the latest.

President Sarkozy has ordered rounding up and deportation of the Romas to Romania and Bulgaria from where they are thought to have come, after it was reported that some members of the community were involved in violence in Paris. This flies in the face of human rights norms and all the legal covenants that France is a party to. The EU Office of Justice has threatened legal action against France, and has compared the action to the Nazi persecution of Jews. The EU warning is unprecedented. France has no legal or moral justification for its action. The EU charter ensures freedom of movement for all people and forced deportation is against all norms. It is also ironical that the crackdown is taking place in France, the most liberal of all European countries, where respect for freedom has marked state policy for generations.

Sarkozy’s action is seen in the context of a weakening of his popularity. The economy is still in trouble and the government is caught in scandals. Elections are scheduled in the next two years and Sarkozy is believed to be tilting opportunistically further right to take advantage of the sentiments against migrant workers and minorities. Last week’s legislative ban of the use of burqa is also seen in this light. The partial ban, which might affect only a few thousands out of five million Muslims, has been justified with the argument that the burqa demeans women and goes against secular principles of the state. Like the action against the Romas, it is also taken as marking an anti-minority stance.

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