France, under the directive of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s administration, began expelling hundreds of Roma this summer, claiming that they were in the country illegally, and today, thousands have come out in protest of the government’s new policies, the immigration issue being just one of them. Another contentious issue is Sarkozy’s plan to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 and to cut spending.
According to this Reuters article,
Critics see expulsions of Roma gypsies as part of a drive by Sarkozy to revive his popularity before 2012 elections and divert attention from painful pension reforms and spending cuts.((1))
… As if to say to his fellow countrymen: “Sorry about the economic measures I’m taking. Here, let’s expel some immigrants to make up for them.” This tactic doesn’t seem to be working terribly well.
As it happens, although Romania experienced a period of economic growth between 2003-08, the economic recession did not miss that nation either, and beginning in the fourth quarter of 2008, economic activity decreased significantly. Here’s a summary from World Bank.((2))
As their native country continues to struggle from economic stagnation, Roma are scattered throughout portions of Western and Eastern Europe, as the map to the right shows.
We can, I think, point to various similarities between the dilemma of Romanian emigration across Europe with that of Mexicans and others Latinos seeking to come to the U.S.
An ingrained underclass, Roma are the victims of prejudice, often violent, at home in eastern Europe. Thousands have migrated westward to seek a better life, particularly as the expansion of the European Union has allowed them to take advantage of freedom-of-movement rules. Yet although conditions may be better in the west, the reception has rarely been friendly and politicians like President Sarkozy have ruthlessly exploited hostility towards the newcomers.((3))
This “exploitation” of newcomers we know all too well here in American. From the near 400-year struggle of blacks to integrate as free people in America, to the denigration, and in some cases, dehumanization of Irish immigrants in the 19th century, from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the denial of citizenship to Chinese residents already living in America at the time, our history is rife with a near ubiquitous hostility toward newcomers.
Second, as an astute reader of The Daily Beast wrote, Roma exodus across Europe is most likely economically driven, not cultural, for it makes little sense to claim that Roma or Hispanics or any other immigrant would prefer another culture to their own. Immigration is almost always driven by a) economics or b) oppression or nearly unlivable conditions in the homeland. This applies to European immigrants as well as those who seek to come to America from Mexico or elsewhere.
Whipmawhopma had this to say in response to The Beast article on Roma immigration:
I am under the impression that generally speaking most (worldwide) are economic immigrants rather than cultural ones, and bring their own culture and keep it, while making some adaptations. Many only stay for a while and then once they have made enough of a fortune (relatively speaking) they then go home. Many like the hybrid cultural they live in and stay. Some adopt the local culture. Some hate the local culture – meaning how they are treated – so much that they set fire to cars and make much riot if they happen to be in France.
Last week’s The Economist had an article on this. President Nicolas Sarkozy is very unpopular and he’s playing the anti-immigrant card to make himself less unpopular, which isn’t really going to work since the real uproar is about the mild austerity program he’s attempting to put in place.
Third, and perhaps most profound, immigrants, by and large, will do whatever it takes to attempt to escape the economic trappings of their homelands, if it means a better life for their families and their progeny.
Here’s how The Economist article sums up the issue Roma dilemma:
Europeans would be swift to condemn the plight of the Roma were they in any other part of the world. However, eastern European governments are unlikely suddenly to tackle a problem that dates back centuries just because Brussels tells them to. Perhaps self-interest may prove a more powerful motivator. Roma families are far larger than those of the mainstream population: the pool of deprivation is only going to grow. In addition, a recent World Bank study estimates the annual cost of the failure to integrate Roma in Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and the Czech Republic at €5.7 billion ($7.3 billion). As the report notes: “Bridging the education gap is the economically smart choice.” If humanitarian arguments fail to carry the day, perhaps economics and demographics might.