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Watch: Roma circus struggles to pitch its tent amid the rise of the French far right

Cirque Romanes has encountered confrontation with skinheads in Paris
Cirque Romanes has encountered confrontation with skinheads in Paris Copyright Reuters
Copyright Reuters
By Lindsey Johnstone with Reuters
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During a far-right rally held in 2015 near the site, "aggressive skinheads" blocked the circus tents' doors and asked performers if they were French and Christian.

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Every winter for the last 25 years, Roma circus company Cirque Romanes has set up its big red tent in Paris's 16th arrondissement, putting on its final show of the season in spring before roaming around the rest of the country performing for the summer.

In recent years, however, the company has found it harder to find places to put on a show outside the French capital – and they think they know why.

"We are stuck, and I'm convinced… that it's the word Roma that gets us stuck," said showrunner Alexandre Romanes.

He said the company's application for permits in the French cities of Lille, Strasbourg and Rennes have this year been denied, with authorities citing the size of their tent and the number of their vehicles as grounds.

But Romanes believes the rise of populist and national opinions in France, and their increasing acceptance in the political mainstream, is what is really to blame.

He said: "Big circuses go to all French cities. Some of them have tents measuring 80 metres, they all have animals. Big circuses have about 100 vehicles on their site. We have a 20-metre tent, we don't have animals, we have eight to ten small caravans and a truck. What's bothering them? Well, it must be the word Roma."

A spokeswoman for the city of Rennes said their request was denied because circus representatives addressed their application to the wrong department. The refusal had been reversed in early May, she said.

Strasbourg will take a "final decision" on the matter on 12 June, a spokeswoman said. Lille has not responded to a request for inquiry.

While Cirque Romanes' contortionists, jugglers and trapeze artists have continued to draw an enthusiastic crowd in Paris, their camp there has been vandalised several times since they moved to the site in the city's upmarket 16th arrondissement in June 2015. Romanes said they have had caravan windows smashed and electrical installations ripped apart, as well as being the subject of bizarre rumours.

"People wanted to kick us out [of the Paris site]. And it's even laughable. They were saying, 'There are no more cats in the 16th arrondissement, the Romanes have eaten all the cats.'

"And so, I told the press, as a joke, that they were right, we've eaten all the cats of the 16th arrondissement of Paris, and now that there are no more cats, I'm warning you, we'll eat your dogs. It didn't make people laugh at all."

During a far-right rally held in 2015 near the site, "aggressive skinheads" blocked the circus tents' doors and asked performers if they were French and Christian, Romanes told French newspaper Le Parisien at the time.

And with right-wing extremism gaining ground in France, Romanes is worried about the future of the circus. Marine Le Pen's far-right Rassemblement National (National Rally) rode a wave of nationalist sentiment to win the highest number of French votes in the European Parliament elections last month.

For one Paris audience member, the continued existence of Cirque Romanes could actually be part of the resistance against the far-right tide.

Caroline Peorio said: "The rise of nationalism is unfortunately present in a lot of European countries. Seeing the last results [of the European Parliament election], we can say it's continuing. There's the fear of the 'other'.

"I hope they can find encouragement from regions, city halls and mayors, just like in Paris, to be able to set up in other cities and places, because I think it's necessary to avoid the rise of extremism."

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Video editor • Ivan Sougy

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