Roma, a springboard for Sarkozy: 300 Euro per person and a free ticket
While the second consignment of Bulgarian Roma is about to arrive from France at the Varna airport, the truth about the Sarkozy - Roma - Eastern Europe relationship is about to come out in the open.
According to the French authorities, 13 Bulgarian Roma had to land at the Varna Airport on a flight from Sofia on 25 September. Still, their arrival was shrouded in complete silence: the staff at the Information office avoided any information related to the flight, and security officers shunned any questions having to do with the returnees. In front of the arrivals gate we met Ruzhdi, a 50 year-old ordinary-looking man who was waiting for four people. I accosted him with caution, trying to strike a conversation. “I am waiting for my wife and three other people”, he said timidly, after telling us that he is from Targovishte. You could see the distrust in his eyes and feel it in his behavior. But after 15 minutes of talking to him in Turkish, we won his trust and kept him company while he was waiting for his fellow Roma, the people who caused an international scandal involving Nicolas Sarkozy and the European Union.
"We’ve been in France for seven years. My wife works legally, in an ironmongery shop. I collect used materials together with my son, and then we deliver them to recycling points for plastics and metals. This work is not only well-paid but also prestigious, because the French firms involved in it don’t do it just for profit, but for protecting the environment as well. And we are happy to be part of it. My two grandchildren study in a French school, smiled Ruzhdi. He had returned from France a year ago. Before that, he has been living in Paris in a rented apartment, together with his family. Their monthly rent was 700 Euro. His wife received around 600 Euro per month, a sum which, together with his and his son’s earnings,gave them the possibility of leading a comfortable life in the capital of France.
“I came back the same way as they are about to, I was paid 300 Euro by the French authorities and signed a paper stating that I have not been forced to return, and I received a ticket to Bulgaria. In fact, I wanted to go back to Targovishte, so I took advantage of the procedure”, said another man who was also from Targovishte. According to him, this practice has existed for many years in France. Every Bulgarian immigrant who wants to return receives a certain amount of money and a ticket, in return for signing a statement certifying that he had not been extradited, and that his return home was voluntary. “I am mad at Sarkozy, he went too far this time. I don’t understand why he said all those things on television, given that this practice has existed for a long time”, commented Ruzhdi in an angry voice. He added that the scandal that followed wasn’t necessary: his wife knew about the procedure, and all she had to do was go to one of the offices and declare that she wanted to return to Bulgaria.
The time is ripe for Ruzhdi to answer the standard question- whether he considers himself Roma. Our curiosity was received with a light smile. “I am just like millet”, he says, keeping silent when I asked him whether this means that he is Roma. "I know a little Romani. Chat-pat, not very well“ he says shyly. In fact, during our conversation we were left with the impression that he considers nothing offensive in being Roma. But he disagrees. “This is the reason why we are abused everywhere we go, why we are treated like second-hand people, even in Europe. And everybody is trying to take advantage of us”, said Ruzhdi.
We asked him if he would return to France with his family. “Probably not, since I was the one who asked them to return to Bulgaria. I returned for a reason, and, at the present moment, I know that the current ban keeps me from leaving my country”. Reading between the lines, we understood that there are things that Ruzhdi prefers to keep silent about.
Our conversation is coming to an end. It is around 21:30pm. The expected group of Roma hasn’t showed up. The information desk is silent, while the security officers claim that there are no more passengers. Still, we continue to wait patiently.
I asked him what does he plan on doing, now that his wife was in Bulgaria. “You can find jobs here as well. My wife will probably start working as a cable operator. I am a builder by training, and I think that we could make a living here. Of course, we would make more money in France, especially since the rest of the family, ever since I left, failed to save any money- everything was spent on food and accommodation "explains Ruzhdi.
A little later we find out that the flight from France to Bulgaria has a delay of 5 hours.The Roma will spend the night in a hotel in Sofia and arrive tomorrow in Varna on a different flight. We say good-bye to our new found friend and wish him all the best. He will probably have to spend the night in his van parked in front of the airport.
Smile Bulgaria. Your Roma are not as bad as the media and opinion polls describe them- not to mention Sarkozy’s opinions of them. They don’t live in caravans and tents. And they are striving for better conditions- some of them even care about the environment. Unfortunately, neither Bulgaria nor Europe is willing to see them as normal people.
So far, the Roma have been a springboard for many NGOs, political parties and even individuals, a springboard meant to improve their social position. Such measures as the recent ones taken by the French government have existed for a long time, but nobody has heard of them – neither politicians, nor public figures and Roma NGOs. Sarkozy's ratings have collapsed swiftly and, in order to raise them, he took a practice that existed for years and rebranded it as a new measure. Perhaps his intention was to target the Roma that committed public order crimes; but, in any case, he didn’t single out Bulgarian Roma. This is why many politicians and media personalities should apologize for accusing the French of discrimination. And Sarkozy should fire his PR department.
Published at Roma Transitions