Faced with a growing trend of vigilantes forcibly burning Roma camps and evicting Roma travelers, French politicians this week stirred up far-right groups like the National Front and Movement for France with more hateful rhetoric and racial discrimination. While touring a Roma traveler site in the town of Cholet, French MP Gilles Bourdouleix was reported as saying, “Maybe Hitler didn’t kill enough of them.”
Bourdouleix, a rising star of the center-right UDI party, is currently facing expulsion from his own party and may face criminal prosecution for racial incitement. Prime Minister Francois Hollande and Interior Minister Manuel Valls said, “He should be punished very severely for the unacceptable remarks.”
Bourdouleix has tried to defend himself, saying that he was just repeating the words of the journalist who recorded him.
The incident occurred when Bourdouleix was surrounded by 30 to 40 Roma travelers seeking solutions to their illegal occupation of private land near Cholet. According to Le Courrier de l’Ouest, tension between police and Roma travelers had been growing. Bourdouleix was involved in the stand-off with travelers and reacted badly to the Nazi salutes the travelers made in his direction. But he is not the only politician to make xenophobic remarks about the Roma.
National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen is currently being investigated for his inflammatory remarks calling members of the Roma community “smelly” and “rash-inducing.”
The European Roma and Travellers Forum, SOS Racisme and the French Union of Travellers Association have joined to launch legal proceedings against Le Pen. Le Pen made his comments in the southern city of Nice, where he called Roma “stinging and let’s say, stinking.”
“I’ll give you a prognosis: you have some concerns, it appears, with a few hundred Roma who have a stinging, let’s say stinking, presence in the city… That’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Le Pen said while addressing party members. “I announce that within 2014 around 50,000 Roma will arrive in Nice. Also, from the 1st of January, the 12 million Roma that live in Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary will have the possibility of moving in all the other European countries.”
The rise of far-right parties in France and throughout Europe is causing some concern for EU governments. With unemployment reaching 11 percent in France, 26.5 percent in Spain and Greece, and 17 percent in Hungary, the far-right policies of anti-immigration and nationalism are gaining traction and having some impact on the growing levels of violence toward the Roma.
The European Commission says many of the 12 million Roma now living in the European Union face prejudice, social exclusion and poverty. According to Amnesty International, persecution and forced evictions of Roma travelers is a reality in many European countries, including France, Italy and Romania.
More worrying is the rise of violent attacks on Roma travelers. According to Amnesty International, there were 120 serious violent attacks against Roma traveler communities in Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Bulgaria between January 2008 and July 2012.
The incidents recorded include not only evictions but also shootings, stabbings and arson. In all these countries, law enforcement was slow to act and failed to prevent or thoroughly investigate attacks.
In 2000, the EU adopted the Race Equality Directive, which prohibits discrimination based on race or ethnicity. However, so far it has not stemmed discrimination against the Roma or any other ethnic minority.
“The European Commission has the powers to make a lasting impact on the lives of marginalized and discriminated communities in Europe, including the Roma. Regrettably, it has so far been hesitant to act against states which have violated the human rights of Roma,” said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia program director at Amnesty International.