September 19, 2010

The EU was not alone in daring to criticize Sarkozy and his interior minister for actions that, as stated in a French government directive to local prefects, was a clearly racist policy of collective punishment. Among those condemning the practice of herding people onto planes without indicting any of them for criminal offenses are the United States and the Vatican, neither of which is without sins of it own, the United Nations, every human rights group in the western world and most of the world’s press.

Lining up with Sarkozy, inevitably, is Silvio Berlusconi of Italy. The former crooner’s latter day brownshirts burned a Gypsy encampment in October 2007 and expelled its inhabitants, following the murder of an Italian woman. The culprit, whether a Gypsy or an Italian or someone else, was never caught. If there was any evidence, it disappeared in the police conflagration that reminded some people of fascist destruction of Europe’s Jewish ghettos two generations back. Berlusconi praised “€œFranco-Italian convergence”€ on what he called “€œthe Roma problem.”€ The Roma problem? Is that like the “€œJewish problem”€ of 1930s Germany? Or the “€œNegro problem”€ of 1960s America? Or the “€œIndian problem”€ of America in the 19th century? Or, indeed, Russia’s “€œChechen problem”€ in our time?

The problem is not the Roma, who have been abused and mistreated throughout Europe for centuries. European Union money earmarked for improving their lives in Romania, so that they would not have to emigrate to find work and live in houses without rats, disappeared into the post-Ceaucescu kleptocratic pockets. Gypsy life in Bulgaria, the other EU member state to which Sarkozy is deporting them, is little better. The problem in Europe was never the Jews or the Gypsies. It was the Europeans who were suspicious of the Other in their societies. The Negro and Indian “€œproblems”€ in America can be defined as the “€œwhite problem”€ for people whose lives were marginalized and were uppity enough to demand fair treatment. Russia has no Chechen “€œproblem.”€ There is a Russian problem in Chechnya, whose population demanded independence from the post-Soviet empire.

Mme. Reding is right. Sarkozy’s squalid selection of Gypsies for special, collective treatment is beneath contempt. It is a populist measure designed, as a few French officials have admitted and as leaked documents have shown, to divert attention from the Bettancourt scandal. That sorry tale involved post-prandial passing of white envelopes stuffed with Euro notes for Sarkozy’s party regulars. Sarkozy may stem the dive in his popularity with attacks on defenseless Gypsies that are proving popular with much of his electorate. Then again, Maréchal Pétain’s policy of turning Jews and Gypsies over to the Germans was popular among his supporters in Vichy. Mayor Daley, who distracted voters from corruption alegations with swipes at African-Americans who demanded their rights, would have been proud.


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