The French government of Nicolas Sarkozy is coming under mounting pressure over the mass deportation of Roma, or Gypsies. Since late July, France has deported more than 1,000 people to Romania and Bulgaria. On Tuesday, the European Union’s Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding, urged the EU to take legal action against France for violating EU laws that ban discrimination against any ethnic group or nationality. We speak with András Biró, the founder of the Hungarian Foundation for Self-Reliance. [includes rush transcript]
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AMY GOODMAN: The French government of Nicolas Sarkozy is coming under mounting pressure over the mass deportation of Roma, or Gypsies. Since late July, France has deported more than a thousand people to Romania and Bulgaria. On Tuesday, the European Union’s Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding, urged the EU to take legal action against France for violating EU laws that ban discrimination against any ethnic group or nationality. France has denied the deportations target a specific ethnic group, but on Monday the French press published a leaked memo that suggested the Roma had been specifically targeted.
Joining us here in Bonn, Germany, is András Biró, the founder of the Hungarian Foundation for Self-Reliance. For the past two decades, he has campaigned for the rights of the Roma community in Hungary and Eastern Europe. He’s the founder of the Hungarian Foundation for Self-Reliance. He won the Right Livelihood Award in 1995.
András Biró, welcome to Democracy Now! First of all, explain who the Roma people are. And is it considered an insult to call them Gypsies?
ANDRÁS BIRÓ: They are in our continent here since six, seven centuries, coming from India a thousand years ago, a very distinct but very varied group of — ethnic group, which during its stay in this continent has been living always excluded in the outskirts of society. And you may remember or recall that during the Hitler period, they were massively exterminated as inferior people.
Now, we have to make distinctions, because there are around eight million to 12 million — we don’t know exactly — Roma in the world, and the majority of them are living in Europe, and the majority of those are living in Eastern and Central Eastern Europe, in our parts of the world. And there is a very serious distinction between their history and the one which happened in the West in the last century or so. The thing which has to be remembered is that — or understood, that during the so-called socialist period of the Soviet model, so to speak, they have been brought into society by forcing them to enter the productive system. What characterizes this community is that they have always been in the servicing sector of society, with music, show business, but with other trades, as well, a bit of merchant activity, etc. They have kept their distinct identity.
AMY GOODMAN: We only have a few minutes, and I want to get to what has happened in France, the significance of the government of Nicolas Sarkozy for the mass deportations.
ANDRÁS BIRÓ: You have to ask the question, why did they go there? I mean, they are citizens of Europe, because they live — the Romanians and the Bulgarians have become citizens of Europe, and they can live wherever in the whole continent which belongs to the — which is part of the European Union. So they have gone there for obvious reasons of very, very bad economic situation in their own country. You have to understand that they haven’t been — they have been kicked out of the production system after 1990, when the market economy entered our part of the world. We have huge unemployment among them. And it’s only those who can really — who can’t really cope with the situations there who try to emigrate — it’s essentially an economic immigration — towards these countries. If acts of small theft or things like that have happened, this cannot put the blame on the entire community. And that’s what the French did. They don’t deport those who have committed mistakes or even petty crimes, but the Roma as such.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, the European Union justice commissioner said, "This is a situation I thought Europe would not have to witness again after Second World War."
ANDRÁS BIRÓ: Exactly.
AMY GOODMAN: A thousand people deported.
ANDRÁS BIRÓ: Even more. Much more.
AMY GOODMAN: So what’s being done? How many?
ANDRÁS BIRÓ: What we know about is that they will reach about 8,000 from Bulgaria and Romania. But it’s a question of, how to say, of shame that the motherland of human rights, France, is doing such things, which means that the right-wing pressure in Europe, as in my own country, in Hungary, has grown in the last period very, very considerably. And somewhere, the — if I understand well, the answer of the French administration has been an answer to this pressure from the right to eliminate — because you shouldn’t forget that when he was Minister of Interior, Sarkozy had the same attitude towards the riots which went on around Paris with the second — first or second generation people coming from Africa.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think needs to happen now, in the twenty seconds we have left?
ANDRÁS BIRÓ: We have to make sure that the social pressure against this tendency we are witnessing is growing considerably, and that in democratic frameworks this will have a — because, even inside his own government, Sarkozy has felt some opposition. So this is extremely important to our countries in Central Eastern Europe, this model of — this attitude of Brussels, of European Union, saying, "Enough is enough. You cannot continue."
AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there. András Biró, thank you so much for being with us, founder of the Hungarian Foundation for Self-Reliance.