What’s Behind The Spike In Violence Against France’s Most Vilified Minority

A Roma encampment set up near a highway west of Paris. CREDIT: AP
A Roma encampment set up near a highway west of Paris. CREDIT: AP

French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday condemned an attack on a Roma teen that has left the young man hospitalized, a welcome move in a country whose right-wing has increasingly targeted the Roma as the subject of verbal and physical assaults.

Describing the assault as “uspeakable and unjustifiable,” the president urged “everything to be done to find those responsible for this attack.” France’s LCI television reported Tuesday that a crowd of about a dozen people seized the 16-year old, who they suspected of committing a robbery, from his home in a Roma camp in Paris’ northern suburbs last Friday before imprisoning him in a cellar and beating him until he lost consciousness. The boy was left for dead by the side of a nearby road, where he was later discovered by police in critical condition. He is now in a medically-induced coma.

According to an Amnesty International report released in April, the Roma in Europe are at “increased risk of racist violence and discrimination” and “excluded from access to essential services” administered by the state. Amnesty also concluded that hate crimes against the Roma often go uninvestigated and unpunished. Making matters worse, they are frequently barred from politics and 40 percent of Roma live on the poverty line, according to the U.N.

Frequently, nationalist politicians from Europe’s right wing fringe have echoed popular anti-Roma sentiments in order to gain political clout. The arrival of thousands of Roma immigrants from Eastern Europe since 2010 has led some French to stigmatize the Roma as unwanted intruders and blame their make-shift encampments for a recent spike in crime. Politicians play on these fears and amplify xenophobia by vocally contributing to negative stereotypes about the Roma.

Notable among far-right European parties for its fiercely anti-Roma rhetoric is France’s National Front. Led by Marine Le Pen, daughter of controversial French right winger Jean-Marie Le Pen, the National Front swept France’s elections last month to choose new representatives for the European Parliament, the governing body of the E.U. While formerly marginal right wing parties racked up votes across the continent, the National Front’s success in France was unprecedented allowing the party to come in in first place. The party that once compared Muslim prayer to the Nazi occupation of France is unsurprisingly totally willing to stir up animosity against the Roma whenever they can. In March, a National Front candidate running for mayor in Paris said he would “concentrate” the Roma in “camps,” and described them as “an invasion of lepers.” The Roma suffered losses second only to Jews during the holocaust, with the Nazi genocide claiming as much as 25 percent of their population during the holocaust.

Anti-Roma sentiment isn’t limited to the far-right parties only starting to gain influence: it’s unfortunately widespread throughout French politics. Former conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy gained notoriety among the Roma for forcibly clearing their settlements and deporting thousands. While Hollande promised not to evict any of the Roma without a plan for their relocation on the campaign trail, deportations have actually ramped up since his socialist party took office in 2012, with 20,000 evictions occurring in 2013 alone.

French Interior Minister Manuel Valls has also publicly called for the forced deportation of the majority of Roma people living in France, claiming “there is no other solution.” A memo calling on Paris police to “systematically evict” the city’s Roma population that leaked inApril suggests Valls’ orders are being followed.