Sofia Echo


The Gypsy Baron

Author: Bill Drysdale Date: Fri, Aug 27 2010 6 Comments, 22452 Views
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This week I range from my primary school days in rural Scotland to the recent remarkable activities of an itinerant family from Eastern Europe whose half-French son married a singer from Italy who now prefers to live in Paris. 

My side of the story is vivid recollections of my first school in the depths of the countryside. Between the ages of five and eight I was one of just 10 pupils, three of whom were from gypsy families living in tents and temporary shelters in nearby woods. My exposure as an impressionable child to these Romany people gave me early practice in the compromises needed to live in today’s multi-ethnic society in Europe. It also helped me understand the dilemma and difficulties which exist today in Bulgaria in integration and acceptance of our Roma people. One thing I’m sure about is that when I was a small boy in the 1940s, neither Winston Churchill or Clement Attlee (who succeeded him) tried to bulldoze the gypsy camp-sites or to deport the "tinkers" (as we called them) back to where they came from.

The French connection is another matter. An immigrant boy who was an aristocrat, not a gypsy, came from Hungary. He was almost certainly, as France’s interior minister, a supporter of the EU sponsored "Decade of the Roma" project launched in 2004 while I was working as an adviser to Bulgaria’s then-prime minister, Simeon Saxe-Coburg. His father’s name was Pal Istvan Erno Sarkozy de Nagy-Bocsa. The beautiful young woman Nicolas married not so long ago was Carla Bruni. The situation which came to a head last week involving Roma people in France from Bulgaria and Romania would in my view be a perfect plot for a modern grand opera, as a sequel to the original one of Johann Strauss II, in which president Sarkozy plays the lead role as the new Gypsy Baron. 

The classical opera by this name fits the family profile superbly. Set in Hungary in the 18th century, it is the story of the marriage of a landowner (returned from exile) and a gypsy girl who is revealed as the daughter of a Turkish Pasha, and the rightful owner of hidden treasure. It involves a fortune-telling Romany Queen, an absurdly self-important mayor, a rascally Commissioner, a military governor, a band of gypsies and a troop of Hussars.* 

I now press the "fast forward" button. It is hard to believe that about 700 Roma present a real threat to France and the French way of life. From a security and crime statistics point of view the problems are already much greater from the country’s long-established ethnic minority groups whose younger generation are being seriously excluded from equal opportunities and have been demonstrating violently in Paris suburbs like Neuilly-sur-Seine where Nicolas Sarkozy was mayor for almost 20 years till 2002.

The present small groups of Roma in France are seeking to assert their status as EU citizens to find seasonal work and improved recognition, even perhaps integration, which has till now been such a problem for them at home in Bulgaria and Romania. A life of crime and oppression was in my view not what they were looking for, but they have been driven to that by the icy welcome they received from French society at large. The peremptory annihilation of their camps with minimal advance warning is in contravention of all human rights. The one way flight home with 300 Euros in their pockets is not much compensation. 

It is an interesting contrast that many Roma families have, over the years, exported honest and enterprising representatives to Western Europe and other continents. Their professions have included show business, the arts, the circus – but also regrettably the world’s oldest profession. Eastern European prostitutes in Paris far outnumber the 700 rural and suburban Roma being repatriated through the latest Sarkozy initiative from French communities where their continued presence is probably illegal but certainly inconvenient. I have a sneaking suspicion that some vested interests would not lightly agree to the peremptory deportation of this other side of the Roma society in France – the young, beautiful, female ones who during the hours of darkness can earn in an hour or two the 300 euro their unfortunate compatriots are being sent home with. 

Nothing I have said makes valid excuses for the continued failure in Bulgaria (and of course in Romania) to educate and integrate Roma people, to increase the employment openings for them, and to give them better opportunities for healthcare and social security. Prejudices against them are widespread, and for all the above reasons their birth rate continues to be excessive including a high level of under-age pregnancies. The "Decade of the Roma" project mentioned earlier which applied to all Eastern European countries failed partly because grant and loan funding to support it has found its way into the wrong hands, especially the Gypsy Barons who help to perpetuate the inequality the Roma suffer. 

We do have a need in Bulgaria to re-prioritise our actions to help the Roma at political and executive levels both nationally and municipally. My dream is to find a persuasive champion for this effort, perhaps by identifying a new and statesmanlike Gypsy Baron who will be the star of my 21st Century opera by that name. Failure to act now will call for even more resources to be devoted in the years ahead to assist this under-privileged sector of our society. A couple of hundred returnees from France, sent back here by our French/Hungarian friend, will not make much difference either way and will soon be a forgotten news story.  


*Source: verbatim from Wikipedia


  • Another wall separates Roma from non-Roma in eastern Slovakia
  • TV report shows Bulgarian Roma bride bazaar
  • UN committee urges France to stop collective deportation of Roma
  • Bulgarian Foreign Minister: Roma issue was distorted by media and blown out of proportion
  • Bulgaria's Schengen Accession will not be affected by Roma expulsion from France - EC official
  • Romania, EU concerned about deportations of Roma from France
  • France begins Roma expulsions - report
  • Rejection and reception
  • First group of Bulgarian Roma departed from France arrive in a week
    • AnonymouszzSun, Nov 07 2010

      This comment has been removed by the moderator because it contained

    • Anonymous
      Seedy Rating:
      #5 21, 13, Tue, Aug 31 2010

      It's quite true that Roma are discriminated aginst. It's also quite true that many of them are uneducated and untrustworthy. It may well be that the discrimination causes them to adopt the attitude that they might as well behave in what they are told is a typical way for them. On the other hand, it's also possible that the discrimination is justified in view of their behaviour and attitude.

      In Bulgaria, Roma are happy to dump their kids if they are disabled in a way which doesn't suit the parents; they justify breaking the law in [...]

      Read the full comment terms of age of marriage as some sort of social requirement; they steal any metal which isn't screwed down (and, to be fair, sell it on to unscrupulous Bulgarian metal-dealers); they appear on the London Underground picking pockets; they happily profess that they'd rather steal my father-in-law's grapes than be paid by him to help him tend them; theft of electricity is common-place (and dangerous for all consumers); doctors are threatened/attacked if a Roma patient dies for any reason...there are thousands of examples of them choosing NOT to be part of main-stream society, so why should they be given the rights they apparently desire so much while avoiding the responsibilities that the rest of us are required to accept?

      To answer a few of the naive points trotted out previously:

      Working Bulgarians DO know their Roma neighbours well - too well to like them much or to trust them at all.

      If the "majority" of Roma are indeed prepared to work then they would certainly be accepted into main-stream Bulgarian society; sadly this is NOT the case.

      It's all very well trotting out airy-fairy socialist theories but how many "normal" people would like to go and live in the Roma ghettoes with their horses, rats and piles of rotting rubbish to get a real "flavour" of how many Roma CHOOSE to live?

    • Anonymous neutral
      #4 19, 57, Mon, Aug 30 2010

      what is wrong with these people.We all live in a christian scociety.Why keep putting the boot into these people.They are human beings and the majority of them are prepared to work.Give them a chance they deserve it.scroungers out gypsies in,Many of my friends are gypsies and you could not wish to be inany better company.I was a gypsy counciller in the UK before coming to Bulgaria, they have rights the same as anyone else.

    • Anonymous
      1 Rating:
      #3 18, 32, Mon, Aug 30 2010

      Stoian - typical familly name for a Gypsy in Romania.I wonder if in Bulgarian - Stoianov is the same.

    • Anonymous
      Iulian Stoian Rating:
      #2 15, 16, Mon, Aug 30 2010

      September 6th... The Infamous French Summit against Roma!

      Saturday, 28 August 2010

      Appeal to all fundamental rights of Roma and supporters worldwide

      September 6th... The Infamous French Summit against Roma!

      Stop the ethnic cleansing policy of the French government!

      Roma brothers and sisters, friends of all ethnic groups, all those committed to the principles of equality and discrimination in our societies, we call to join our international protest series organized simultaneously on September 6th at 11:30 a.m. (Bucharest time). The [...]

      Read the full comment protest is initiated and supported by the Roma Civic Alliance of Romania Roma community leaders from Bihor, Botosani, Braila, Brasov, Constanta, Dolj, Hunedoara, Iasi, Ilfov, Neamt, Salaj, Timisoara counties, in response to the summit organized by the French President Nicholas Sarkozy in Paris.

      This infamous summit is organized against all Roma ethnics everywhere.

      This summit proposes to stigmatize the entire Roma nation!

      We call to join us and protest in front of the French Embassies wherever you are.

      We all will protest:
      - Against the ethnic cleansing policy carried out by the French government against Romanian and Bulgarian citizens of Roma origin,
      - Against collective expulsion and repressive measures and victimization of an entire ethnic group,
      - Against the abolition of the presumption of innocence as regards the Roma citizens as well as against the collectively criminalization of an entire ethnic group,
      - Against the illegal fingerprinting of the French authorities.

      The public calls of the international human rights organizations, those of the Catholic Church, and of the NGOs remained silent in the French cabinet.

      Europe-wide boycott of French products and services

      We invite you all to disseminate the call for boycott of French products and services, in order to make the French rulers more aware of the fact that the fundamental rights are not subject to negotiation.

      Join us!

    • Anonymous
      Vulcho Rating:
      #1 01, 17, Sat, Aug 28 2010

      Bill has many insightful comments. Yet racism and discrimination remain a barrier to Roma who get an 'education' here. There are many verified instances of Roma teachers being fired from schools if their 'origin' is revealed. Parents don't want their kids taught by 'tsiganki'. Almost no Roma even with degrees are teaching at Bulgarian universities. In the service sectors, many proprietors will not hire Roma women as waitresses or (G'd forbid) at the checkout counter. Roma women are often not hired as maintenance personnel because, as one director of a school told me, "can I give a key to a [...]

      Read the full comment Tsiganka"?

      Roma are the worst victims of the dysfunctional market-oriented system.

      The Roma don't need a 'baron. They could use a Gandhi but won;t find one. It has to be local initiatives and self-help, the State and the NGOs won't do much for the ordinary families across the country. The top-down model is wrong. Transformation has to be bottom-up.

      The 'plight' of Europe's Roma as desperate economic migrants and a despised outsider underclass should be telling us: Figure out something better, far more egalitarian than the present capitalist system. For all of us.

      And stop this 'trait ascription,' as psychologists call it: 'Roma are x, Roma are y.' Roma are individuals as diverse as any group in the population. Ordinary working Bulgarians Roma and non-Roma should be getting to know each other far better, at the people's grass roots, in the neighborhoods.

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