as sarkozy finds himself ever more embroiled in an international polemic, i can’t help but wonder, what was he expecting when he began forcibly demolishing illegal camps and deporting nearly 1500 roma (eastern european gypsies) to romania and bulgaria in the first place? i’m guessing he was hoping his position wouldn’t be anything new, given that anti-roma sentiments are about as european as the euro itself. from greece to portugal, across europe, throughout history roma communities have suffered the violent manifestations of racism and xenophobia. by the 16th century anti-roma legislation had become common place on the continent. in the france of the louis XIV roma were shaven and branded to distinguish them as a separate race, while in england they were expelled from the island or faced public hanging. in germany, roma were prohibited from trading or seeking shelter. and in what is today romania, hungary and bulgaria they were captured and sold into slavery, a practice that continued up to nearly the end of the 19th century. in 1912 the republican government of france passed a variety of different laws prohibiting vagrancy, but it wasn’t long before it became clear who was the real target of this legislation. the roma were forced to register with the government and received special identity cards defining them as nomads. following the first world war, french roma were herded into “special centers” (internment camps), and some were stripped of their citizenship. the fascist vichy government that followed continued along the same logic, collaborating with the nazis to send thousands of roma to death camps. the nazis had slated the roma for extinction, even before the formal extermination camps were opened. in 1933 the german government began a program of forced sterilization and prohibition of inter-marrying between roma and non-roma. at nuremburg, nazi defendants in quixotic logic justified their crimes against the roma by citing the innate criminal nature of the roma ‘race’. they claimed that the majority of roma sent to the concentration camps were sent there not because of their race but because of their criminal histories- huh?.
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