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Sarkozy's attack on Roma: Deporting hundreds to poison the minds of millions

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Michael Pröbsting shows how the Sarkozy government in France whips up racism against the Roma and migrants to deflect public anger against social cuts

France’s right wing President Nicholas Sarkozy has declared war on the Roma community. The government has ordered some 300 Roma camps to be closed down. Already dozens of Roma people – including many children – have been arrested and had their camps destroyed by bulldozers. After this they were “voluntarily” – as the government claims – deported to Romania, each adult receiving €300 and each child €100. The fact is if they refuse they face the grim alternative of a long prison sentence. Hardly a choice. The government has set itself the target of deporting 700 Roma by the end of August.

The pretext for these reactionary measures is the outbreak of rioting by Roma in protest against the killing of a 22-year old, Luigi Duquenet, at a police checkpoint in the village of Saint Aignan on 17 July. According to the Irish Times the local Roma community rose up in protest against the shoot-to-kill policy of the police: “Friends of Mr Duquenet dispute the official version of events and some 50 Roma, armed with hatchets and iron bars, attacked the local police station and burned cars.”1

The government and the bourgeois media whip up the usual slanders against Roma people; that they are “lazy”, “thieves” and “criminals”. This is pure cynicism since the French state – along with a number of other EU countries – has imposed heavy restrictions on the rights to work and residence for citizens from Romania and Bulgaria, until December 2013. Indeed, France has done the same for the ten Eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004. The Roma in France are amongst the poorest layers of society. The 12-15.000 Roma who are citizens of Romania and Bulgaria have come to France legally since their countries joined the European Union in 2007 and are now being made the scapegoats for the social problems in France.

The right-wing forces can base their anti-Roma campaign on a long tradition of racism against the Roma whose horrific high-point was the Porrajmos (devouring) – the Nazi Holocaust of the Roma when between 500.000 and 1.5 million Roma were killed. This genocide was the tragic climax of a century-long history of oppression and persecution of the Roma in Europe. Yet the Porrajmos was not even mentioned in the Nuremberg anti-Nazi war crimes trials. Today the Roma are still amongst the poorest and most oppressed layer in Europe.2

Killing a migrant too

But the anti-Roma campaign is just a part of a broader racist offensive the Sarkozy government has launched against migrants and national minorities living in France.

A day before the murder of Luigi Duquenet, the police killed the 27-year-old North African immigrant Karim Boudouda near Grenoble, a petty criminal who according to locals tried to give himself up to the police. Here also hundreds of Muslim migrants rose up and rioted against the racist police.3

Here too Sarkozy tries to use this to whip up racism. A few days after the riots he flew to Grenoble to make a fierce speech condemning violence, blaming “insufficiently regulated immigration” that has “led to a failure of integration.” According to the New York Times “he vowed to deny automatic citizenship at 18 to French-born children of foreigners if they are juvenile delinquents. He said he would also strip foreign-born citizens of French citizenship if they had been convicted of threatening or harming a police officer, or of crimes like polygamy and female circumcision, which are widespread in North Africa.” He continued: “French nationality is earned, and one must prove oneself worthy of it. (…) When you open fire on an agent of the forces of order, you’re no longer worthy of being French.” 4

Banning the Burka

Another example of the government’s racist campaign against minorities is its desire to ban Muslim women from wearing the burka in public. We support all women from Muslim communities who do not wish to wear religious clothing, but this is not the business of the state! And in particular this is not the business of a state that super-exploits and suppresses millions of migrants with origins in Muslim countries and wages a terrorist war against the Muslim population in Afghanistan!

Therefore socialists must unconditionally defend the right of Muslim women to wear religious dress (veil, niqab, burka) if they wish, in all areas of public life.

State debts and social cuts

In fact the capitalists in France – as in nearly all other imperialist countries – rely on migrants as cheap labour. In France there are officially 3.3 millions foreign born workers (and many more second generation migrants) or 11.8% of the whole labour force.5 They are nationally oppressed and super-exploited by the bosses and form an important source of profits for the capitalists. They are also utilised as competing labour force against the French workers.

This is the objective background against which the government tries to deflect the attention of the working class and to turn the workers and youth of different national origin against each other. As in other countries the government has become unpopular because of the social cuts. During the Great Recession of 2008-2009 they helped the banks and corporations with billions of state support. This has lead to a budget deficit of -8% in relation to the annual output (Gross Domestic Product) and an accumulated public debt of 83.6% in 2010. 6 This debt is supposed to rise to 88.6% next year. 7

Now the government wants to reduce the deficit on the back of - not of the millionaires who benefited from the state subsidies - but the millions who are already suffering from the crisis.

The Sarkozy’s government additionally lacks political legitimacy since it has been discredited by allegations his party accepted funding from billionaire Liliane Bettencourt while helping her evade taxes. These objective factors are driving the government’s attacks on the Roma and their whipping up of racist hatred.

The workers movement must take a stand!

The workers movement must defend the Roma and the migrants against the racist campaign of the government. It is not the Roma and not the migrants which cause the millions of French workers poverty and unemployment but the capitalists and their system which is in a deep crisis.

The Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste/New Anticapitalist Party has strongly condemned the attacks on the Roma and travellers. On 17 August it stated:

“The NPA strongly condemns this policy of hatred and persecution against Travellers, almost all French citizens, and against Roma, who have the right to travel within the EU. With this policy, the Sarkozy-Fillon government is adopting the demands of the National Front. We must build a wide network of solidarity to oppose the evictions of Roma and Travellers, to enforce their right to stay on serviced sites.“

The NPA is calling and called for the demonstrations planned against the governments pension cuts on 4 and 7 September to take up this issue.

Revolutionary socialists in France must fight for a perspective to bring the protests against racist deportations and killings together with the struggle against the social cuts. For this the working class parties and the unions, the organisations of the migrants and of the Roma must be won to a programme of equal rights for migrants and Roma and against any social oppression and for jobs for all paid by those who caused the crisis – the capitalists.

The League for the Fifth International is convinced that such a programme must include the following demands:

* No to all deportations of Roma
* Full citizenship including the right to work and the right to live were they like for the Roma
* For massive housing program to build decent houses and apartments for migrants and all those in need
*For campsites to be provided in all municipalities, equipped with full facilities
* Police – Hands off the Roma and travellers camps and migrant quarters! For multi-national self-defence units of Roma, migrants and French workers and youth against police repression
* For the right of Muslim women to wear religious dress (veil, niqab, burka) if they wish, in all areas of public life – and for the right of women in Muslim countries and communities not to wear religious clothing, free from legal, clerical or family coercion.
* No to all social cuts, no to short-work, no to flexibilisation - Defend all jobs
* For a public works program to create the millions of jobs needed
* For swingeing taxes on the rich to fund services, schools, hospitals and a massive programme to abolish poverty
* Seize the private wealth of the super-rich including parasitic billionaires like the Bettencourt clan
* Nationalise the banks and corporations under workers control

Socialist revolution and a revolutionary party

The struggle against racism and against social must be combined with the perspective of a socialist revolution. This means arming the working class and the oppressed – including the migrants and the Roma – with a strategy to carry out the overthrow of the ruling class and to build a society where the majority of people democratically plan and decide all economic and political issues.

The organisation our class needs to carry this out is a revolutionary party. Such a party unites all militants who dedicate themselves to the liberation of the working class and the oppressed, i.e. a struggle for such a perspective of socialist revolution. It will not represent the interests of the better-off layers of the society – as most parties do – but it will be the tribune of the whole working class and all oppressed. The great revolutionary Marxist Leon Trotsky once expressed well the kind of party we need in our struggle:

“The sense, the strength and the essence of Bolshevism lies in that it addresses itself not to the labour bosses but to the mob, the underdogs, the millions and to the most oppressed of the oppressed.” (8)

This is the perspective that supporters of the League for the Fifth International are fighting for, within the NPA and the trade unions.


1: Ruadhán Mac Cormaic: Rioting over Traveller killed by police sparks debate on security, 21.7.2010,

2: See Michael Pröbsting: The Roma, Europe’s forgotten nationality (Fifth International, Theoretical Journal of the LFI, No. 1, 2004),

3: See Daily Mail Online. “France fears widespread rioting as youths rampage after police shoot robber”, 18.7.2010,

4: Steven Erlanger: Utopian Dream Becomes Battleground in France, The New York Times, 8.8.2010,

5: OECD: International Migration Outlook, p. 350

6: European Commission: Statistical Annex of European Economy SPRING 2010, p. 184

7: European Commission: Public Finances in EMU 2010; in: EUROPEAN ECONOMY No. 4/2010, p. 16

8: Leon Trotsky: Perspectives and Tasks in the East. Speech on the third anniversary of the Communist University for Toilers of the East, April 21, 1924