An email exchange with the Independent’s Mary Dejevsky ([email protected]) regarding her recent article which referred to Roma as “parasites”. Starts at the top.
Sent 9 September 2010:
Dear Ms Dejevsky
I have been reading quality papers such as the Guardian and Independent every day for over 10 years.
Your recent article in the Independent about France's expulsion of Roma families ('Sarkozy is right about the Roma', 3 September 2010, http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/mary-dejevsky/mary-dejevsky-sarkozy-is-right-about-the-roma-2068991.html) was perhaps the most racist, unpleasant and vindictive thing I have ever read in a broadsheet newspaper in the UK.
I refer, in particular, to the following sentence: "As it is, though, they are parasites on a state of civilisation, material and cultural, they have done nothing to build and could not reproduce for themselves".
According to the BBC, there are approximately 400,000 Roma living in France "who are part of long-established communities" ('Q&A: France Roma expulsions', 4 September 2010, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11027288). Could you confirm how many of the 400,000 Roma living in France are "parasites"? You might also like to change the word "Roma" in your article to "Jew", "Muslim" or "Black people".
Shame on you for writing – and the Independent for publishing – this hateful and racist article. I will be making a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission.
Sent 9 September 2010:
oh my goodness. i did, in my mind, as i was writing, do exactly as you suggest, and replace roma with jews, muslims, etc. i felt there was a big difference: first, i know there is quite a big gypsy population in france, as there is a traveller community here. but this is not the issue. the issue is roma who have come from east/central europe and built shanty towns on the edge of french cities. this is a matter of living standards and regulation and the living conditions for those who are affected by the proximity of these illegal and insanitary settlements. you may disagree, but i did do as you suggested and decided there was no parallel. you may well disagree, but that was my judgement.
regards, mary dejevsky
Sent 14 September 2010:
Dear Ms Dejevsky
Thank you for your response.
What Roma have in common with Jews, Muslims etc (at certain points in their community's history) is that they are one of the most powerless and discriminated communities living in the EU. as evidenced by numerous studies. For example, in April 2009 Amnesty International noted "The Roma community suffers massive discrimination throughout Europe. Denied their rights to housing, employment, healthcare and education, Roma are often victims of forced evictions, racist attacks and police ill-treatment."
Moreover, while shanty towns populated largely by Roma from Eastern Europe may be a problem in France, I would note three things:
1) Is it necessary to use such emotive and hateful language as "parasites"?
2) Is expelling the Roma from France going to help them or their situation? Won't it just move the problem on?
3) Most importantly, shouldn't we be discussing WHY Roma live in such terrible conditions?
Regarding point 3) I wonder if systematic discrimination and racism could be a major reason? The problem is as your article is riddled with prejudice and latent racism it is unlikely you will be able to honestly discuss the many problems Roma people face everyday in Europe.
I do hope you seriously consider the small effect and influence your writing has on the debate. Your arguments have real consequences for some of the most powerless people living in Europe.
i didn't get beyond observing that there was a problem and that it was not enough to criticise sarkozy. a good comment piece in the wall st journal earlier this week, by a bradford academic, suggested a sort of solution – a big EU-funded project, staffed largely by volunteers, to be based in romania and bulgaria designed to improve roma living conditions, provide consistent education and encourage integration. but he warns that it would be a very long term project and could take decades, while suggesting that it would appeal to the idealism of those who campaign for the roma. regards, mary dejevsky