Open Letter to President Macron: How is a “Gypsy” Supposed to Speak?

By Ðorđe Jovanović  

Dear President Macron,

We are writing to protest and to express our dismay at your anti-Roma statement on 5 January 2019. As reported in French and international media outlets, a conflict between “Yellow Vest” protesters and the police on 5 January 2019 involved a Yenish1 boxer named Christophe Dettinger. The conflict left a number of people injured, including two police officers. Later, a video emerged of Dettinger defending himself against the accusation of violence towards the two officers. In response to this video, you qualified his statements using discriminatory language to journalists from The Point on 31 January 2019:

"The boxer, the video he made before he surrendered, he was briefed by a far left lawyer. It shows! The guy, he does not have the words of a Gypsy. He does not have the words of a Gypsy boxer."

Your statement carries heavy racial connotations and has no place in public discourse in France or the European Union. Your rhetoric refers to persistent racial stereotypes of the supposed lack of intellectual capacity of French Roma & Travellers. This statement is discriminatory and an insult towards the entire Romani & Traveller communities and it is in complete dissonance with your previous statement describing French society as “(…) of all nations, one of the most fraternal and egalitarian.” I would add that it is also highly unlikely that this sort of statement would be allowed to pass in mainstream public discourse if you were talking about a different minority group in France. So why is it acceptable when you are talking about Romani or Traveller people?

According to the European Comission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) 2019 report on France “racism is still present in the discourse of French politicians. The Roma in particular, are a recurrent target of that discourse.” Research from the ERRC and ECRI has exposed a number of outbursts of hate-speech from French politicians including Jean-Marie Le Pen (former president of the National Front) on 22 September 2012, Gilles Bourdouleix (member of the National Assembly, formerly of the UDI, and mayor of Cholet) on 21 July 2013 and Manuel Valls (then Minister of the Interior) on 14 March and 24 September 2013.

We remind you of ECRI’s 2016 recommendations to end the proliferation of hate-speech and hate-crimes against Roma and other minorities by taking measures “to stop politicians exploiting public speaking opportunities to stigmatise vulnerable groups”. We echo ECRI’s call to French authorities to “fight racial and homophobic/transphobic stereotypes and prejudices effectively to deal better with the concrete challenges that arise due to living together in an intercultural world.”

Your statement exhibits a callous indifference for the security of Romani & Traveller individuals and communities, which may further lead to outbursts of hate-speech or even violence against those who you stigmatise as “Gypsy” in France. We urge you to take this opportunity to apologise for this discriminatory statement towards the Romani & Traveller communities, and we call on your office to take measures in accordance with your earlier statement proclaiming everyone’s protection of “their rights and in their freedom of opinion, conscience, belief or philosophy”. These actions would go some way to allaying the concerns of Roma & Travellers across the country, and also help ensure that Christophe Dettinger receives equal treatment before the law, without the ugly biases and aspersions of antigypsyism clouding the matter.

Yours Sincerely,

Ðorđe Jovanović  

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1.  According to the Council of Europe definition, the Yenish are “an indigenous non-Roma community, mainly living in Switzerland and some neighbouring countries who originally had an itinerant lifestyle. However, like the Travellers, most Yenish (over 90%) are now sedentary.”

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