Romas and Racism
— S. MODELIAR
In the wake of the expulsion of Romas from France there has been an international condemnation of that action. Romania is part of the European Union (EU) and the Roma are European citizens. The EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Viviane Reding has expressed strong condemnation of the French decision in the following words: The Second World War found its origin in the annexing of territories in Europe by Hitler and the extermination of Jews.Racism is again a topic that is very much alive in Europe.
It has become very fashionable to use it in electoral campaigns. Recently we have seen how in Italy, in France and even in the United Kingdom immigration has become a hot and convenient topic to whip up. The whites feel concerned about immigration. In his famous ‘River of Blood’ speech made on 20 April 1968 to the Midlands Conservative Political Centre in Birmingham, Enoch Powell warned his audience of what he believed would be the consequences of continued immigration to Britain from the Commonwealth. Two extracts from that speech are very illuminating. The first one is: “In fifteen or twenty years, on present trends, there will be in this country three and a half million Commonwealth immigrants and their descendants. That is not my figure. That is the official figure given to Parliament by the spokesman of the Registrar General’s office. There is no comparable official figure for the year 2000, but it must be in the region of 5-7 million, approximately one-tenth of the whole population, and approaching that of Greater London. Of course, it will not be evenly distributed from Margate to Aberystwyth and from Penzance to Aberdeen. Whole areas, towns and parts of towns across England will be occupied by different sections of the immigrant and immigrant-descended population.”
The whole of Europe ganged up against the Nazis to save Europe from the ugly head of hideous racism and ethnic cleansing.
France herself suffered a lot under the German occupation and General Charles de Gaulle had to rally the French against the German occupation of France from Great Britain. During that war Europe and later the USA joined forces to combat the Nazis of Germany and the Fascists of Italy. In addition many volunteers from the former British and French colonies joined in that struggle. Unfortunately these volunteers of African, Arab or Asian origin are the ideal targets of racism from the white Europeans today. After the Second World War, when Europe needed manpower to reconstruct the battered continent and its economy she resorted to workers from Africa, Asia and Arab countries. Many of those who participated in the venture stayed in Europe. Today their descendants are the target of white racism because it is felt that the non-whites are not needed anymore and that they are a burden to the economy and social services of Europe.
“I can only express my deepest regrets that the political assurances given by two French ministers officially mandated to discuss this matter with the European Commission are now openly contradicted by an administrative circular issued by the same government.
The second one reads: “As time goes on, the proportion of this total who are immigrant descendants, those born in England, who arrived here by exactly the same route as the rest of us, will rapidly increase. Already by 1985 the native-born would constitute the majority. It is this fact above all which creates the extreme urgency of action now, of just that kind of action which is hardest for politicians to take, action where the difficulties lie in the present but the evils to be prevented or minimized lie several parliaments ahead.” And Enoch Powell ended his speech by stating: “Like the Roman, I seem to see ‘the River Tiber foaming with much blood’.”
At the time Enoch Powell was censured because it was felt that it was the rational thing to do. But that was more a political move rather than a deep belief that racism by the whites against the coloured should be condemned. In the name of democracy, extreme right-wing parties have been allowed to flourish in many European countries. In the United Kingdom the extreme right-wing party won enough votes to be represented at the European Parliament. In France President Sarkozy pandered to the wishes of far right-wing supporters of Le Pen to get those votes to be elected as President.. Once he was elected, he established a Ministry for Identity and one for Immigration. That is highly reminiscent of the Nazi days when Jews had to wear a specific identity tag. The coloured immigrants are regularly searched by the police. A few days ago, France voted for a ban on the right of Muslim women to wear the veil in public. The United Kingdom has made it more difficult for foreign students to obtain a visa to study there.
What does all this point to? That the Powell or Lepen philosophy however much deprecated in public is the one that is being applied. This is the reality. Whenever Europe faces economic difficulties, the ideal scapegoat is the immigrant. In the USA a hardly veiled racist campaign is being waged against President Obama. The so-called Tea Party is whipping up extreme right-wing feelings in order to win the control of Congress to the detriment of the Democrats. In Australia, Asian students and workers have been severely mauled and even assassinated. It will be more and more difficult for Mauritian students to go to Europe and especially France and the United Kingdom to study and even if they are there they will be subject to all kinds of hassle and humiliation. This is why Mauritius should look towards more local resources and facilities for studies and other matters. Stronger links should be forged with African and Asian universities of international repute to enable our students to pursue further studies.
Such a move will not succeed by the compulsory injection of the Creole language as a medium of teaching. Such a policy will only place more handicaps on our students in their quest for an international avenue for studies or training. Nor will that move be helped by always hampering on ethnic, religious and caste divides. A real overhauling of our approach to values and what is required of us as a small country to change our vision is needed. Unfortunately politicians, the press, socio-religious leaders, teachers, trade unionists and many others who should serve as role models are prisoners of their ethnicity and caste, of socio-cultural groups they belong to, and not infrequently of their own selfish self interests. They are unable to rise above these considerations to get this country out of that potted thinking and attitude that has beset it for so long.