The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

September 8, 2010


---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 7 Sep 2010 22:19:32
From: Portside Moderator <moderator@PORTSIDE.ORG>
To: PORTSIDE@LISTS.PORTSIDE.ORG
Subject: France: Behind the Expulsion of the Roma

France: behind the expulsion of the Roma

By Olivia Miljanic and Robert Zaretsky
Le Monde diplomatique
September 3, 2010

http://mondediplo.com/blogs/france-behind-the-expulsion-of-the-roma

On both sides of the Atlantic, commentators and activists
have reacted with growing fury to the French government's
expulsion of hundreds of Roma, or Gypsies, to Bulgaria and
Romania. Many critics liken these expulsions - as well as the
threat to strip lawbreakers of their French citizenship - to
the deportations of Jews organised by France's Vichy regime
during the second world war. It's hard to know what is more
outrageous: the policies practiced by President Sarkozy or
the analogies proffered by his critics.

Vichy has no monopoly on xenophobic reflexes and exclusionary
policies in the history of modern France. Over the course of
the 20th century, it was the French republic that laid the
administrative and legal foundations for official
discrimination against the Roma.

As in real estate, so in history: location-in this case,
temporal location-counts for a great deal. In 1912, the
French republican government passed a battery of laws
ostensibly aimed at vagrancy. Yet the government revealed its
hand when it created an identity card that specifically
targeted Gypsies. while the French law did not specify
'Gypsies' but instead used the term 'nomads,' the
instructions to local officials lent themselves to racial
identification. (This has recently been repeated in Arizona's
proposed anti-immigrant law.)

The identity cards allowed French authorities to track the
movements of Gypsies during the first world war, but they
were rarely interned in camps. This policy soon changed,
though. By the mid-1930s, with the great influx into France
of political and religious refugees from central and eastern
Europe, the republic created a new kind of identity card
that, as the historian Pierre Piazza notes, sought 'to
delimit more rigorously the contours [of the national
community] and to better locate those who did not make up
part of it.'

With relentless logic, there followed the creation of dozens
of 'special centres'-soon to become concentration camps-for
refugees recently arrived on French soil. At the same time,
the republic passed a law empowering officials to strip
recently naturalised citizens of French nationality. Finally,
shortly before the German invasion in the summer of 1940, the
republican government ordered local officials to herd
'nomads' into assigned areas. In justifying its action, the
government declared: 'Wandering individuals generally without
a home, a homeland, or an actual profession, constitute a
danger for national security - that must be removed.'

When Vichy came into existence a few months later, it built
upon policies and structures introduced by the now-defunct
republic. But the popular view of Vichy - as a rupture in
history, four years that had nothing in common with what went
before or what followed - cedes to a more accurate rendering,
which shows important and unsettling continuities between
democratic governments and authoritarian regimes in France.

Of course, the republic would never have applied a racialist
policy towards Gypsies and Jews as Vichy did, much less
participate in the systematic deportation of the two groups
to the death camps. In this respect, Vichy and the French
republic have nothing in common.

Nonetheless, the continuities between democratic and
authoritarian phases in French history lead to a more general
observation, often overlooked: the tendency of all
democracies to isolate and discriminate against certain
minorities. Democracies are as likely as authoritarian states
to practice xenophobic or racist politics. While Sarkozy's
policies may be unworthy of the French republic, as his
critics insist, they are not unprecedented.

Thinkers from Plato to Tocqueville have commented on the
dangers inherent in the rule of the majority - especially
when the majority is swayed by the passionate actions and
speeches of the few. The lot of the Roma in contemporary
France and Romania is a case in point. While these
democracies do not subject their Roma populations to the
punitive, at times fatal, policies pursued by P??tain's France
or Ceausescu's Romania, they do relegate them to the margins
of their societies.

In present day Romania, the Roma population has a poverty
rate three times higher than the national average, with low
life expectancy, low rates of literacy and 100% unemployment
in some areas. Since becoming a candidate and then a member
of the European Union, the Romanian government has
reluctantly designed initiatives aimed at facilitating
integration of the Roma. Affirmative action programmes and
the appointment of local level educational and health
mediators have been the most publicised. But the
effectiveness of these programmes has at best been limited,
and anti-Roma sentiments continue among Romanian policy-
makers, reflecting local public opinion trends.

Romanians now see the French expulsions as proof that
integration of the Roma into any European society is mere
utopia. So the actions of the French government are
undermining the already frail attempts at implementing
policies that would target Roma discrimination in Romania.

As for France, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, leader of the European
Green Party, says that Sarkozy has 'taken the French for
fools' in pursuing his anti-Roma policy. Perhaps. But
according to recent polls that reveal a nation evenly divided
over the issue, Cohn-Bendit's claim means that nearly half
the French population are fools.

We need only consider earlier republican laws aimed at the
Gypsies, passed in 1912, 1938 and 1940, to see that
xenophobia flared at those moments when France faced the
threat of war. Moreover, on the eve of both wars, France was
awash in fears over the nation's declining birthrate and its
capacity to maintain its historical legacy as a dominant
economic, cultural, political and military power.

While the French republic doesn't now face the prospect of
war, it does face other crises: economic stagnation, decaying
inner cities and a top-heavy state staggering under the
increasingly unrealistic expectations of the public. It must
also wrestle with perplexing questions of national identity
and national security provoked by an EU that continues to
extend its writ. Here's the rub for Sarkozy, and blessing for
the Roma: the EU, long criticised for its 'democratic
deficit,' may now become the defender of last resort for
Europe's last stateless people, the Roma.

[Olivia Miljanic is a lecturer at the University of Houston;
born and raised in Romania, one of her regional areas of
interest is Europe.

Robert Zaretsky is professor of history at the Honors
College, University of Houston, Texas, and author of France
and Its Empire Since 1870, with Alice Conklin and Sarah
Fishman, Oxford University Press, March 2010, and Albert
Camus: Elements of a Life, Cornell University Press, 2010.]

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---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 7 Sep 2010 22:18:20
From: Portside Moderator <moderator@PORTSIDE.ORG>
To: PORTSIDE@LISTS.PORTSIDE.ORG
Subject: Summer of Our Sporting Discontent

Summer of our Sporting Discontent

By Dave Zirin
The Nation
September 7, 2010

http://www.thenation.com/blog/154545/summer-our-sporting-discontent?rel=emailNation

By any measure this country is in an ugly mood. Double- digit
unemployment and a growing sense that the environment,
economy, and empire are heading south, has Americans walking
with a stoop and a scowl. We have seen this national agenda
expectorate into the world of sports. The sporting summer of
2010 was supposed to be a joyous festival of the World Cup,
historic baseball pennant races, and the most dynamic NBA
free agent period in sports history. Instead, the nation's
fever dream has become the sports world's nightmare.

First, there was the intrusion on the sports page of
America's favorite doughy mascot of resentment, Glenn Beck.
Beck couldn't let the 2010 World Cup go [1]by without using
it to tap into his gravy train of paranoia: globalization, a
one world government, and our Kenyan President Overlord
Barack Obama. Obama represents "the World Cup of political
thought." Beck stated, "It doesn't matter how you try to sell
it to us.we don't want the World Cup, we don't like the World
Cup, we don't like soccer, we want nothing to do with it..The
rest of the world likes Barack Obama's policies, we do
not...I hate it so much, probably because the rest of the
world likes it so much, and they riot over it, and they
continually try to jam it down our throat." The most popular
sporting celebration on earth, had become just more fodder
for the 21st century neo-confederate culture wars.

We still had the most exciting free agency period in the
history of the National Basketball Association. Two of the
three best players in the sport, Lebron James and Dwyane
Wade, were unfettered to sign with the city and team of their
choice. Wade made the choice to stay with the Miami Heat.
Lebron chose to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers to join him,
creating a duo of dynamic wing players without precedent.
Lebron's decision, however, was handled with the diplomacy of
Dick Cheney. He teased cities around the country to maximum
media effect, and then announced his choice on a stomach-
churning ESPN special, that may have redefined callow
narcissism. Going to Miami, perhaps the worst sports town on
the planet to play with Dwyane Wade and fellow free agent
superstar Chris Bosh, turned the stomachs of NBA fans,
coaches, and the Mt. Rushmore of middle-aged NBA legends,
Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Charles
Barkley. [2]

But if his choice left something to be desired, the backlash
against James in Cleveland spoke to something far more
insidious. The Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert posted a bizarre
screed [3] where he accused James of "cowardly betrayal." The
next day he approached slander, accusing James of effectively
throwing playoff games during his Cavaliers tenure. Cleveland
"fans" took to the streets and burned James' jersey and his
family required a police escort to leave town. The NBA fined
Gilbert $100,000 for his comments and fans offered to pay the
fine.

The awful irony [3] is that Cleveland is the home foreclosure
capital of the United States and Gilbert earned his fortune
earned as CEO of Quicken Loans, offering zero money down
mortgages and reaping he benefits from the misery produced
(2009-20010 were the most profitable years for Quicken Loans
on record.) It's a remarkable sign of our times that a
person, Dan Gilbert, who has been one of the profiteers of
our collective misery becomes a Cleveland folk hero while
Lebron James has to run for his life.

But it's not the only sign of our times. Politics are not
only intruding on the world of sports from the right flank.
Boisterous demonstrations [4]have greeted Major League
Baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks whenever they play on the
road. 17 separate cities have become places where protest has
come right to the park. In some cities, the protest hasn't
confined itself to the front gates [5] but made its way onto
the field of play. The uniting theme of these actions has
been to move the 2011 All-Star Game out of Phoenix in protest
of the vile anti-immigrant legislation that now defines the
state. Sometimes you can tell the justness of your cause by
those who stand against you, and it was MLB Commissioner Bud
Selig who has damned protestors for daring to invade his
pristine sport with concerns "best left to politicians." [6]

By extension, Selig was also damning the several dozen
ballplayers have spoken out against Arizona's laws. As St.
Louis Cardinals superstar Albert Pujols said, "I'm opposed to
it. How are you going to tell me that, me being Hispanic, if
you stop me and I don't have my ID, you're going to arrest
me? That can't be." [7]

To have someone of Pujols' stature speak out was a moment of
hope. Then the star slugger decided to join his manager Tony
La Russa at Glenn Beck's 100,000 plus "I have a scheme" rally
at the mall. Sportswriter Buzz Bissinger tweeted that Beck
was a Nazi and excoriated La Russa and Pujols for lending
their legitimacy to the gathering. Word was that more than a
few of Pujols teammates weren't happy to see him do it
either. Then his first eight games after attending this farce
Pujols went 3 of 26, with one RBI, effectively ending his
opportunity to become the first National League player since
"Ducky" Medwick in 1937 to win the Triple Crown, while his
team went into a full-scale-swoon. This time, Bud Selig
couldn't rouse himself to criticize the people involved for
mixing his sacred, virginal-white world of sports with
politics. It was a fitting end to a polarizing, bitter summer
in the sports-lovin' USA... and the NFL season couldn't start
soon enough.

_____________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest
to people on the left that will help them to
interpret the world and to change it.

Submit via email: moderator@portside.org
Submit via the Web: portside.org/submit
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