Reuniting Europe

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!”

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  1. Well I was lucky enough to be born during the last decade of the communist regime in Bulgaria so I didn’t witness the experiences of the benevolent communist state with the Roma. Or maybe I’m a radical liberal who thinks that whatever you expect of people, you get. The only 2 problems I see with the French approach are: 1. that government measures do not magically eradicate the attitude of the people towards the Roma and 2. the vicious cycle caused by discrimination against them will take generations to break.

  2. Hello,
    i’m from Romania and i wish France good luck as well. And i really salute this political action, like this maybe they can get better the problems the countries with a Roma population need to deal with and see that only socio-political integration measures are not enough.

  3. Dear friends,
    I have read with interest this article.
    It is necessary to be prudent when we analyze the behaviors, the life of other peoples.
    I think that as says the article during certain periods of the history of the peoples in the whole world it was demonstrated that a truly human politics and not discriminadora in the labor and social integration in the society it gives success.
    Also it is necessary to think that the France and other western peoples have received thousands of foreigners with few education and culture what makes more difficult the integration in spite of the efforts that are done.
    It is not necessary we do not forget that there are born western citizens in western ground who for generations have suffered and suffer also.
    The human suffering exists also in the societies highly “civilized and technically developed” and the westen people ones can and have a right to wonder why there are foreigners in my country who are happier than me?
    Have a nice day

  4. It is very sad and surprising to see such defamative anti-Romani article openly published on Blogactiv.Eu and written by it`s “senior editor”…

    The content of his article is obviously racist and aimed to re-affirm deeply negative stereotypes about Roma widespread in Bulgaria and other countries of Central and South-Eastern Europe.

    This “piece of writing” contradicts even one of the website`s guidelines, namely: do not preach hatred, racism, or violence… (

    SHAME ON Blogactiv.Eu!!!

  5. Georgi Gotev you should leave the EU and go back to Communism, keep trying to integrate Gypsies but first start with the Bulgarians!

  6. Dear Valery, please don’t judge me on one single publication. I have hundreds on articles on Roma issues with EurActiv. I just said what the Bulgarian readers commented and shared a personal experience, which is 100% true.
    I also wanted to remind that some efforts were made under Communism to integrate the Roma. (I realise that some readers find it hard to accept that such efforts, positive in itself, were made in that period of time.)

  7. Dear Georgi,
    knowing you and your professionalism, I understand the tone of your article. But I also understand some of the comments made by readers… since you are confirming a stereotype. And all stereotypes only have a part of truth.
    I hope that the decision taken by the French gvt to open labour market to Romanians and Bulgarians would benefit to… Romanians and Bulgarians first. Of course, I hope that it will also benefit to Roma population in France. However, Romanians and Bulgarians are too often reduced to Roma in France !
    French people simply don’t understand that Romanians and Bulgarians are not all Roma and that all so called “gens du voyage” (travelling people) are not all Romanians, Bulgarians or even Roma, but also gypsies settled in France for ages.
    Watching French public TV over the last days just confirmed me that sterotypes on Roma – and by extenso on Romanians and Bulgarians – would persist. Mentalities need to be changed… on three sides: French people vis-à-vis Roma population, French people vis-à-vis Romanians and Bulgarians, and Romanians and Bulgarians vis-à-vis Roma population.
    The integration of Roma in French society is probably part of the solutiion…

    PS: Georgi, have you ever used primitive sweeps as on the picture? Those are the best I know! Cheap, easy to repair and ecological. Just look at roadmen in Paris: they are using exactly the same… but in green plastic.

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