Tag Archives: Sarkozy

Sarkozy ousts more Romas

As French President Nicolas Sarkozy deports another round of Romas, he is becoming increasingly entrenched in a hell of his own making. Calls of condemnation have poured in from the European Commission, while human rights organizations are calling Sarkozy’s actions an attempt to purify French culture, much like the Nazis did during World War II.

Much of the debate centers around the fact that most of the Romas – or gypsies – in France come from Romania and Bulgaria, which entered the European Union in 2007. As the European Commission explains on its website:

“There are between 10 million and 12 million Roma in the EU, in candidate countries and potential candidate countries in the Western Balkans. Roma people living in the European Union are EU citizens and have the same rights as any other EU citizen.”

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The reasoning behind Sarkozy’s deportations are shady at best, and an example of ethnic cleansing at their worst. He claims that Romas are only contributing to more prostitution, crime and violence in the country, and are a burden to the already overloaded social welfare system.

Regardless of the merits of these claims, Sarkozy is in a pickle. Not only are Romas EU citizens, but their wandering lifestyle is protected. As stated by French law, towns of a certain size are required to designate an area specifically for traveling folk and gypsies – or “gens du voyage” – where families have access to schools, churches, and medical and shopping facilities. While some of the people living in these camps are regular French-born citizens in search of a more adventurous way of life, an increasing number are from Eastern Europe.

Sarkozy is no doubt well-versed in French law, but much like Bush’s embarrassing Weapons of Mass Destruction campaign, is trying to pull the wool over our eyes. Perhaps it is his attempt to distract everyone from his very poorly-received retirement bill that recently passed, which will up the retiring age from 60 to 62 by 2018. Or maybe he’s still trying to disentangle himself from the whole Bettencourt affair, where he and his ministries seemed to have taken part in, or at least known about, the L’Oreal heiress’ massive tax evasions.

Or maybe Sarkozy is just trying to implement the most outlandish and shocking new laws before he is ousted from office in April 2012, which he is sure to be. In any case, the French president should plan to feel the wrath of not only his countrymen but of the international community in the days to come.

A Bad Case of the Wants

It is just another Saturday afternoon in Paris. I am being pushed along with the hoards of tourists near Opéra, admiring the sales of 30, 50, even 70 percent off! As fashionistas stroll by me effortlessly by the dozen, I grab my purse with a death-grip and keep on walking…

Madonna said it best when she sang, “’Cause we are living in a material world and I am a material girl.” Try as we might, we are all products of our culture, which in the West has come to favor consumerism and capitalism and all the nasty things that come along with them. Unless, of course, you are French, and then you might be able to proclaim socialism (which has become a serious gros mot in America) and weasel your way out of the blame-fest.

Lately, I can’t step foot into a Monoprix or Galeries Lafayette without enduring the wrath of insults about Americans and their spendthrift ways. As a friend said to me a while back, “I don’t understand you Americans – you make tons of money for the sole goal of spending it on more and more things.” Unnecessary, gratuitous things, is what she meant.

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Maybe my friend is right. Maybe we Americans are just gluttons for the latest new lipstick, speedboat or washing machine. But in the past few years, it seems that the French are catching up.

At a recent babysitting gig, I couldn’t help but choke over the inane amount of miniature plastic Petshop animals lying about the little girl’s bedroom. This was only seconded to her brother’s piles of Playmobiles, which threatened to burst out of the toy box. Granted, the family came from a certain moyen, but the consumer-driven sickness of wanting “more, more, more” seemed to be descending upon this innocent French household.

Cases of “The Wants” are even more prevalent in the French countryside, where home fix-ups and expansive yards give way to the ever-present desire for more useless stuff. A friend in the southwest told me she felt a thrill every time she made a purchase, whether it was a sparkly top for herself, the jungle-gym for her 2 year-old son or that new dryer for the garage. Some of the items still had the price tags on them months later, leaving little reminders of the sheer joy of spending her hard-earned cash.

In his article, “Consumerism and the New Capitalism,” American-turned-Switzerland resident Rip Cronk writes: “Consumerism is the myth that the individual will be gratified and integrated by consuming…. Self-worth is gauged by buying power.” Yet, the more we spend, the more empty we feel. We don’t ever seem to have as much as what’s-his-name next door, and the envy greens us from the inside.

The issue of Big Business and mass media controlling our consumer habits is not just an American problem anymore. A quick flip through French TV channels offers a bombardment of French and foreign-born ads hoping to catch you or your little one’s eye.  Advertisers have even snuck into the cinema with us, eating up our 10-euro ticket with over 15 minutes of commercials for everything from the local pizza joint to the latest Fanta flavor.

But maybe I should just hold my tongue and wait for better days ahead. After all, President Sarkozy has promised to eliminate TV ads from public channels by 2011. The phase-out has already begun, with ad sales dropping 5% in 2009 from its $4.6 billion of spending in 2008, according to ZenithOptimedia. The change is estimated to cut $700 million in advertising for state-owned stations, nearly 15% of France’s total ad dollars – bad news for business, better news for the average Joe.

So, while there’s still hope for the French, it would seem that we Americans are just too far gone to save. With our super-size mentality and increasing dependence on corporate America, all we can do now is hold on tight to our La-Z-Boys and giant slushies and hope for the best. Only our TiVOs can help us now.

Also published in Brit’mag

European Union: membership denied

As I read about the Eastern Partnership, the summit meeting in Prague last Thursday that attempted to lure six former Soviet republics towards the European Union and away from Russia’s influence, I got to thinking about this whole immigration/E.U. thing.

Politicians in every E.U. country seem to be bewildered by the influx in immigration, the rampant crossing of European country borders, the migration of people towards better jobs in wealthier European nations than their own. What did they expect? If you create a club for people, you can’t exclude those same people months later when they actually start wanting to get more involved than simply paying the joiner’s fee.

The European Union was created in 1993 with the notion that it would create a stronger bond between nations, become a world economic and political power, and allow freedom of movement between member countries. Now in its 16th year, it seems that the original creators of the group forgot to outline a few things.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy aboard Mistral warship...

French President Nicolas Sarkozy

Like work, for example. How do you allow people to cross borders freely but then put restrictions on employment? Do you pull a “Sarkozy” and try to send everyone home? Is this whole E.U. idea just globalization at its worst?

And the biggest question, where does it stop? E.U. member countries are having an increasingly tough time deciphering who is European and who isn’t. The Czech Republic? Yup, they’re mostly white and mostly Christian. How about Poland? Why of course – they’re also mostly white and mostly Christian. And Turkey? Oops, sorry. They’re not so white and not at all Christian. But they touch all the right country borders so technically…

I have a French friend who is diametrically opposed to the European Union. He wants his precious franc back and not to worry about yet another European immigrant taking a job from him. He is proudly nationalistic and protectionist.

But is that such a bad thing? Yes, the European Union has succeeded in becoming a world power, giving the U.S. and China a serious run for their money. And tourists everywhere are having a hay-day, no longer worrying about changing money at every border or dealing with exchange rates. But lately, it seems that there are some serious kinks in the plan. Not to mention the joiner’s fee, which is a small sum in comparison to the price people pay with their souls once they officially become members.

France’s immigration crisis: a nation of wasted talent

After seven months in Périgueux’s cultural void, I finally found an Arabic class. Upon answering an online ad by a Moroccan woman, I found myself in a stranger’s living room, sucking down apple juice and sweet honied cakes, and learning the first three letters of the Arabic alphabet.

Instead of absorbing the sounds “ba,” “ti,” or “koo,” I took home with me something much more tangible and disturbing. My teacher lives in an HLM, which are like the American projects, only instead of row houses or half-collapsing shanties, the French ghettos are set up in a series of barren apartments. But unlike those found on the seafront or even in the middle of the city, these complexes are pushed to the outskirts of town, the eyesores far out of view from middle-class citizens. They’re gray and dingy, with streaks of black streaming down from the outside windows, as if someone had set fire to them long ago, aired them out for a bit and then deemed them habitable. Grass is available, that is if you’re comfortable with generous amounts of weeds, litter and dog poop.

The inside is not much better. Tiny kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms cram two, three, or even six people into any remaining space where a body can fit. Balconies are a luxury, as are windows, and don’t expect an elevator to take you up those four flights of stairs.

After my hour lesson, my teacher walks me out. She tells me that the electrical system in the building was installed back in 1958 and has not been dealt with since. If that’s not a grand scale, life-threatening fire, I don’t know what is. I ask her who pays for cleaning up the inside of the building, which is streaked with graffiti, marks of dirt on the walls and dust floating about everywhere. “The state,” she says, looking disgusted. I take this small conversational window to admit my own disgust with the French government and how no one’s doing anything about these walls, these hallways, these people.

My teacher tells me she has her masters in education and used to be an Arabic teacher in Morocco. But since coming to France ten years ago, where she still remains without legal citizenship or working papers, she has not been able to find work. In order to get said papers, she must live in France for five years as a resident. But since she is not considered legal, her ten years in the country can’t be verified and therefore, don’t count for jack squat.

Subsequently, her two children are not legal either, making applying for jobs nearly impossible. Her oldest son is 23 and her youngest is 18. She tells me they’re both in school, but I wonder, what will they do? Her oldest will graduate soon from law school in a few years but will he be able to find work? Will Sarko have figured out by then that we can’t just follow Bush’s lead and “send them all back to where they came from?”

More importantly, when is France going to figure out that ignoring the problem doesn’t solve it? After living in Marseille for two years, this urban ghetto in Perigueux is nothing. In Marseille, the HLMs are pushed even further out, 45 minutes from the town center with limited bus access and nowhere to buy groceries. As a result, the kids go to the local school, which is at the bottom of the stairs of their building, and play football in a parking lot filled with broken glass and littered garbage. Why? Because “the state” is turning a blind eye. The French government seems to think that putting people up behind four walls is enough of a gift that they virtually wash their hands clean of these new residents, mostly impoverished, mostly immigrants and mostly without resources.

What disturbs me perhaps more is my teacher’s story of being completely qualified to do a job but unable to get hired. How can a woman with a masters degree in education, in a language that is quickly becoming France’s second, be ignored to the point of near destitution?

Although mysterious, her story is not uncommon. I have other friends in France who have moved here, living for years without success in acquiring working papers, residency or citizenship. One friend in Marseille has been diligently trying to get his family here from Zambia for over five years, only to be rejected every time. A full-time architect who has benefitted from the French education system, he has now spent more than four years working for this country. Yet, with no explanation and no promise of his chances going up, each year he receives another rejected application. All he can do is make a passing comment about racism in France before going about his life and work. For if he cannot succeed himself, he surely won’t have the means to get his family here for a better life.

Immigration is the only topic I refuse to discuss with a French person, for I know that I can never understand and can never be understood either. Being born into a nation based on immigration (and lacking a certain palpable culture), how could I dare debate a person who has grown up with clear cultural mores, instilled in them since birth? In America, we may not embrace immigrants with open arms, but we have enough social services professionals awaiting their arrival to get them upright and going down the right track towards citizenship. At a minimum, we have a true interest in where they’ve come from, what they’re doing here and their hopes and dreams. In France, the arms are significantly more aggressive and seek to harm not to heal. Even regular French citizens seem to have a distaste for their country’s immigrant population. The motto seems to be, “put the immigrants far away until we can’t see them… and maybe they’ll go away.”

If a tiny town like Perigueux can inflict such a degrading situation on the nation’s poorest, I can only imagine Paris or Bordeaux. The French government needs to take a swift step back from Bush’s lead, stop thinking about what France used to be, and start realizing – and accepting – what France has now become. If not, the country will become saturated with even more broken hearts and wasted talent. And no amount of dingy high rise HLMs are going to hide the problem.