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Tony Gatlif: Chain reaction fear over Roma expulsions

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Tony Gatlif: Chain reaction fear over Roma expulsions

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Tony Gatlif is a man with a mission. For 35 years, Gatlif who is half Kabil (Algerian), half Gypsy, has produced and directed films about the Roma people in Europe, a people who he says are often misunderstood and discriminated against.

His latest film, “Liberté”, released this year, is about the estimated 30,000 French Roma or Gypsies who were detained and deported during World War II.

Although Gatlif is angry about President Sarkozy’s expulsions and the dismantling of illegal Roma camps, he insists that what is happening today can in no way be compared to the deportations of the Second World War.

But he warns it is an uncomfortable reminder of what happens when a whole race of people are targeted.

Valerie Zabriskie of euronews caught up with the film director in Lyon.

“Tony Gatlif, you are firmly against the dismantling of Roma camps, although opinion polls suggest 60 percent of French people support this ‘dismantling’ policy. Does that surprise you?”

Tony Gatlif:

“There’s nothing I can do about that. The only thing I can do, is to explain to all those who don’t understand this problem about the travelling people – that’s the administrative term. They are the Roma people, Gypsies who have been in France for a very, very long time, since King Francois the first, these Gypsies, who are in the South of France and Spain. That’s it. And these people who have been here in Europe since the Middle Ages, they have contributed to Europe, to its culture, to all that is European. And now today, we want them to become invisible. We don’t want them to exist. But how can a people of 10 million just stop existing all of a sudden? Because European heads of state decided to pass laws against them so they can’t move (travel) anymore. This means that when you don’t want a people to move, you confine them. This is what they did during the war.”

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“But now that Romania and Bulgaria are part of the European Union, you can’t do this anymore. They have the right to travel to other European countries but if after three months, they don’t have work or are said to be a social burden, they can be expelled.”

Tony Gatlif:

“This law was created for them but it’s not for everyone. Next to where I live in Paris, there’s a German homeless person. He’s been there for three years. Has anyone told him he has to return to Germany? He’s homeless, he’s German, he told me. So these laws are designed for certain people, for the ‘second class’ citizens and then there are laws for the ‘real’ citizens. That’s it. And so I believe these laws were created solely for the Gypsies to say, “look out, if we open Europe’s borders we’ll have all the Gypsies who will want to leave.” They know that’s what the Gypsies always do. So they say we’ll make these laws to block them and send them home after three months.”

euronews

“But don’t you think with what happened last month at the EU summit, with President Sarkozy and the European Commissioner, shows the European Commission is starting to pay attention to what we call the Roma problem in Europe?”

Tony Gatlif:

“They are shocked, I think, these countries are shocked because Spain doesn’t do this, there are EU countries which don’t do this. Greece doesn’t either. Greece likes its Gypsies. So France, all of a sudden, with these laws they introduced, wants to uproot these people, these Roma who have been here for I don’t know how long, maybe three or four years. And they round them up and expel them from their shacks, from their cardboard houses, in the woods, under the bridges, by the motorways. And they move them out in numbers, en masse. And this reminds us of a trauma. There are children who are half-naked, in their mothers’ arms. There is panic everywhere. They don’t have time to take their belongings. It’s panic. Of course it isn’t as bad as the round-ups, the (World War II deportations of 1940 but it’s still, let’s say, the thin end of the wedge.”

euronews

“People complain about seeing the Roma, the Gypsies with their big caravans, their beautiful cars and at the same time they portray themselves as victims, the women begging on the streets with their babies…”

Tony Gatlif:

“Here at the train station in Lyon when I arrived, there was a woman who stopped me at the station. She had blue eyes, didn’t look at all like a foreigner. She was French and she asked me for money for her children. She put her misery right in front of me because she was poor and miserable and I didn’t cover my eyes. But that the Gypsies beg, that bothers everyone. Why does that bother everyone? Because it reminds them of their own insecurity? Maybe they feel they’re being harassed? But I feel harassed as well by the homeless. But it’s normal that I’m harassed. That would be the last straw, that they just die in front of us without asking for anything. But this is what the new world is like today. The modern world.”

euronews

“But with all the media coverage of the expulsions this summer, maybe you are, perhaps not optimistic, but don’t you hope there is now more pressure on Europe’s heads of state to address this problem which is European?”

Tony Gatlif:

“I’m not scared of the European heads of state. I’m not scared of those who govern Europe. I am scared of the European people. Once a government like France – which is a country all of Europe looked up to during the communist era because it was the country of human rights – once France, the country of human rights, starts pointing its finger at a people who are fragile, I’m worried this will trigger a chain reaction. I’m worried that people in other countries will say we can do the same thing because these Roma aren’t good. That’s what the French government said, the French president said, well, he didn’t say they weren’t good, but he said they were problematic. So from that point of view, in countries such as Romania, or Bulgaria or Hungary and elsewhere, they can also say, ‘Yes we have a problem with these people (the Roma).’”

euronews

“There is a summit this month in Bucharest on the integration of the Roma people in Europe. What are you expecting will come out of this type of summit? What are you hoping for?”

Tony Gatlif:

“That they just leave these people alone. These Roma didn’t ask for anything. They’ve never made wars, never armed themselves, never used bombs. These people just want to live. So let’s just let them live and find the means to help them do that, like everyone else in Europe. And that we stop sticking labels on their backs, or creating laws that go against the way they live.”