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article imageOp-Ed: Roma - an isolated France lashes out over EU, UN and US attacks

By Michael Cosgrove     Sep 16, 2010 in Politics
There is an almost palpable siege mentality in France after repeated and ever-more virulent worldwide criticism of its expulsion policy for Roma, and the latest salvo – from the United States – has also hit a nerve.
“Who are they to give us lessons after what they did to the Indians?” “They should mind their own business.” “Who cares what the Yankees say?” If you like America-bashing, you should get on the comment thread of any French press article about yesterday’s rebuke of France by the Obama administration.
Criticism from the UN and the EU are to be expected even if not tolerated – which is the case - but it is extremely rare for Western allies to criticize a country’s internal politics, and it is this which has infuriated French politicians and public alike.
It was Democratic representative Alcee L. Hastings who first put the cat among the pigeons when he declared that the expulsion of Roma was “a badly-timed political maneuver” and that “Minorities are an integral part of society and there’s always a risk when those who create divisions in order to gain a political advantage get the chance to run things. The Roma issue will not go away merely by trying to hide or displace them.” His statements, made in his role of co-president of the Commission for Security and Cooperation in Europe, were a blunt criticism of President Sarkozy and his government.
And he wasn’t the only one to say what he thought. In a press statement which made it obvious that the administration was launching a multi-pronged attack, a highly-placed member of the State Department who was speaking on condition of anonymity said that “It is evident that the Roma are important to us, and we invite France and other countries to respect them.” He refused to answer questions which wanted to know whether or not there had been official bilateral contacts made on the issue.
As if that wasn’t enough, Human Rights Watch has also expressed its wish that the French government comply with the EU demand that France stop expelling Roma.
Elsewhere, the government and President Sarkozy lambasted the EU demands, and there was fierce condemnation of remarks made by EU Commissioner Viviane Reding which drew a parallel between the French expulsions and the treatment meted out to minorities during World War Two.
All this has clearly rattled the French, who now feel that it’s time to use the “attack is the best form of defense” principle. Snide remarks about the Americans by politicians are rife, the EU is a dirty word, as is the UN. Even the political left, theoretically supportive of the Roma (I said “theoretically") is up in arms.
A measure of French frustration and hurt pride is contained in leaked details of Sarkozy’s unbelievable outburst during a lunch meeting with senators yesterday in which he said “It’s scandalous that Europe says this kind of thing about France, and if the Luxembourgers want to take the Roma in I have no problem with that.”
It is evident from all this that the French have no intention – at least for the moment - of giving in to demands from other countries and organizations on the Roma question. They are both rattled and more than annoyed by what they consider to be international bullying.
But there is no bullying here. Moreover, if France is known for anything on the international stage, it is its constant tendency to give moral lessons to all and sundry on any subject under the sun, and to the EU, the USA and the UN in particular. But now that the shoe is on the other foot, it is clear that although they feel they have a god-given right to dish it out they are incapable of taking it.
Sarkozy’s outrageous remarks about “Luxembourgers” and Viviane Reding are openly racist in nature. She was born in Luxembourg, she is a citizen of Luxembourg and for him to attack her and her tiny country in such an outright manner is insulting, degrading, and it gives a good idea of just how capable the French are of bullying when it suits them.
If targeting others is how the French are going about teaching the world to believe that they are not targeting minorities it’s high time they changed their methods of going about it.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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