August 23, 2012
The new French government has announced ambitious decisions to give the Roma the chance to work in France. This development marks a major shift in the way France tackles the problem of Roma coming mostly from Romania and Bulgaria. The new French government was recently criticised by rights activists, who accused Interior Minister Manuel Valls of following in former French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s footsteps by dismantling Roma camps and carrying out arbitrary expulsions.
The news made headlines in Bulgaria, the country I know best. In the latest article of Dnevnik, the EurActiv partner in Bulgaria, 155 people have reacted to the story, and counting.
Most of the reactions wish with irony “good luck to the French” for this “social experiment”. The assumption is that Roma are not interested in work. It is assumed that this population, that arrived in Europe centuries ago from India, are outcasts living in the margins of society, who simply do not want to work.
Besides, under communism, a lot has been done to integrate the Roma, with little success. Roma were given work, because at that time, everybody got work. But nobody really expected from them a lot. Roma at that time were given housing basically free of charge. They were the first to receive apartments from the state, because they have many children. I never got an apartment from the state myself. But with the first foreign currency I earned, it was $4.500, I bought an apartment in 1990 from a Roma family. $4.500 was a very good price even for that period of time. The reason I was lucky to get the flat is that all other prospective buyers gave up at the smell of urine coming from the door. But I realized that if I dispose of the carpeting, the smell may disappear. And indeed, I took a deep breath, removed the carpeting, opened the windows, and in 24 hours it was OK.
The Roma couple who sold me the apartment asked me to take them to the dollar shop. I did that for them, assuming that they wanted to check if the money is good, and that they wanted me to be present, in case there would be problems. They immediately bought a fur coat and what was the most fashionable electronic device at the time – a TV set with a built-in VCR. Almost a third of their money was gone, just in seconds. The experience worked, and I’m sure they have repeated it until the last dollar disappeared.
Anyway. The Bulgarian experience from communism also shows that many Roma burned the parquet or even the wooden chassis of the windows of their apartments, and then complained to the state for the bad conditions in which they live.
Today many Roma work in Bulgaria, and many others don’t. A lot of Roma women clean the streets using primitive sweeps (see photo). Maybe they could do the same in Paris with modern equipment and for better pay. In any case, many Bulgarians reacted in the Dnevnik article saying: “I wish they would now all go to France!”Georgi Gotev