Posted on August 28th, 2010
Growing up in the 1960s, I watched women gypsy fortune tellers pass by my neighborhood to engage the “proper Christian ladies” for a session of fortune-telling. At the time, I did not know that the priest in the 1960s as the Pope 500 years before, in collaboration with governments Catholic and Protestant alike, launched a campaign to criminalize gypsies who posed a threat to Christendom. “Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday (Aug. 22, 2010) urged French-speaking Catholics to ‘accept legitimate human diversity’ and practice ‘universal fraternity.’”
Periodically, EU politicians trying to win popular support or in trouble with the public try to use the gypsies as scapegoats, as did Silvio Berlusconi in spring 2008 and now Nicolas Sarkozy. It has been many years since I was in France, but the last time I was there the socio-cultural ambiance romanticized in my mind appeared friendlier and more cosmopolitan than any other western country I have ever visited. That Sarkozy, who traces his lineage to Eastern and South-Eastern European Jews, has decided to exile Roma from France is reminiscent of the Nazi persecution after 1935, leading to the “gypsy holocaust.” Today’s civilized and pluralistic France cannot throw gypsies in concentration camps. Instead, it pays them 300 euros to leave for Romania or Bulgaria, both associate EU members whose citizens have the legal right to live in EU countries–an issue debated by legal scholars, but who really sheds tears and treasure for gypsies! Presumably, if a few thousand gypsies leave France, the country that gave the world the first modern socio-political revolution would be free of crime, free of social chaos, free of social ills, free to be “purely French.”
Mired in political scandals, suffering Bush-like approval in public opinion polls, confronting very serious social opposition owing to the current global recession and trimming of the welfare state, and losing the movie-star luster that he and his model wife commanded a couple of years ago, Sarkozy chose to persecute the “Roms.” For centuries gypsies have survived on the margins of the institutional mainstream, engaged in legal and illegal activities as the rest of mainstream population, as one would expect of a nomadic people not integrated into the mainstream. Sarkozy is engaging in “rightist populism,” and he is safe knowing that the majority not just of the French population but Europeans, especially Eastern Europeans, dislike gypsies. Naturally, “political correctness,” yet another treacherous brick on Liberal society’s wall of hypocrisy, does not permit them to say so openly, no matter the Vatican’s noble protestations. Sarkozy knows how to and he ably exploits popular prejudices on the cheap. But a Jew of the diaspora, a Jew who should empathize with the holocaust’s “other victims,” a Jew in charge of one of the most advanced countries in the world with a history of permitting dissidents to seek sanctuary in Paris! Maybe he is denying his heritage, and is more proud that his grandmother was Greek and he identifies with the Gentiles more these days as he implied when he spoke before the Greek Parliament, “I, the grandson of a Greek!” But is France any different than the rest of EU, should it be, and isn’t Sarkozy doing what he needs to survive in politics whether he is a Jew or not? Europe has a history of admiring the werewolf for its defiance of civilization, a history of chasing the werewolf away, confined back to its gypsy tent far from the view of the flag and the cross.