France and the Roma Go Back a Long Way




France’s Socialist Interior Minister, Barcelona-born Manuel Valls, has carefully cultivated his image as a tough, no-nonsense figure as keen on clamping down on Islamic extremism as he is on Roma encampments. 

A Polish Romani woman (Credit: Wikipedia)

A Polish Romani woman (Credit: Wikipedia)

However his latest remarks (see here) have drawn a sharp rebuke from Brussels reminding him of French obligations under the EU’s freedom of movement principles applicable in equal measure to the citizens of Romania and Bulgaria which both joined the EU in 2007.

This piece examines some of the history of the Roma in Europe and is cross-posted here by kind permission of Philip Dawson of the   blog

They were called Gypsies

September 26, 2013 by Philip Dawson of the   blog

Europe has a long and diverse history so far as the Roma or Gypsy are concerned. The Roma population is not homogeneous in nature, it is divided through the events of history and the passage of time.

The Roma populations right across Europe share common parts of their language and expressions but the stories they tell are very different indeed.

In France the first record of Roma is from the Bohemian populace and dates from the Middle Ages. In Romania, Moldovia and Wallachia there could be found a very high concentration of Roma peoples linked to the oft-found enslavement of these people. Slavery was abolished in the 1850′s and it was recorded that in Romania there were more than 200,000 Roma in a total population of 4.4 million people.

Today there is presently around 10 million Roma right across the European Diaspora and notably about 14 million world-wide, so a European issue really. Roma peoples in Central and Eastern Europe account for anything up to 10% of the populace. In Western Europe the story is very different. In France for example there are 250,000 Roma derived from the group formally known as the ‘nomads’; these were people engaged in itinerant occupations recorded in ‘The Plan of the Nomads’.

Spain and Portugal also have very defined groups with a very strong sense of identity. After the Great Plague of 1347 in the Middle Ages people migrated from Graeci, Albanasi and Cingari to Southern Italy, Spain & Portugal. In Spain the Roman Catholic Monarchs practiced against the Roma in the same way they practiced against the Jews; conversion or death. This policy led to a concentration around Andalucia where the Flamenco culture comes from. Back in France Roma collected in the Catalan towns of Marseille and Montpellier living a sedentary lifestyle.

Today the reason for Roma movement is driven by the factors of economic activity and a place to live freely.

Roma populations are broadly speaking rejected right across Western Europe , but this is nothing new. In France there have been many notable attempts to purge the Kingdom of the Roma. Into the 19th century the Roma had a much better time of it and were tolerated in France. This changed in 1907 when things turned very violent, the policing of the wandering risk , the abject race as they became known. By 1930 most Western States had made legal arrangements to control the Roma, to record who they were, where they were and what they were doing.

Romani population in Europe (Credit Wikipedia)

Romani population in Europe (Credit Wikipedia)

In 1940 the French State went further in requiring full assimilation of the Roma. They were no-longer allowed to just drift and to have an independent identity. They were either French of not French. But things relaxed some in 1969 when the Roma with no fixed place of residence were given the name of traveler.

In the modern era life for the Roma is once again becoming difficult through social and cultural mistrust. The political climate is again moving against the Roma. But there is confusion; the Roma from Southern France, Spain, Italy as well as Central Europe share a common identity. The Roma from the UK, Northern France, Switzerland and the Scandinavian Countries are not joined by a common heritage.  The status of these Roma is still and shall remain subject to national identities. The proposed French administrative system of travelers permits is perhaps a way of dealing with the activities, movements and work arrangements but will rely on some level of European integration or assimilation.

One of the central European dreams is freedom of movement of people and the Roma typify freedom of movement, its just that the national administrative systems cannot hope at present to keep up with the movements of the Roma. Nonetheless the total movement of people is near to 15,000 across Europe so nothing like the 250,000 people who made their way into France in the Middle Ages.

Protection of the rights of the Roma is important but the stateless sense of the Roma people has to be addressed. The Roma bring mistrust among local populations, crime and localized environmental issues that need to be tackled. The Roma cannot be allowed to become stateless and therefore free from tax liability, free from social accountability and free from cultural inclusion but they must be allowed to maintain their very essence.

Of course the effects of the travelers from Northern Europe are all together a different matter. These Roma are not ethnically identified, they are people who have chosen to adopt a life-style, something short of homeless. They have a home, they have a national identity, they do not need assimilation, they do not form part of a Diaspora, they bring social, cultural and legal difficulties and they add little in the way of economic or societal contributions.

To understand the Roma is to understand their history and who they actually are.

AuthorPhilip Dawson

Philip Dawson

Philip Dawson


Philip Dawson, who edits the PD-Iinspire Blog and is based in Greater Manchester UK, says his blogging inspiration comes from “people, places and events, politics, art and music”.

He aspires, he says, to “owning a small place in the South of France, perhaps with a small wine shop in the local town” but till that moment arrives he pursues his UK business interests in Management Consulting.

Philip Dawson published the above blog after the latest row blew up in France over plans to expel a large number of Roma on the grounds that they had no intention of integrating into French society.  French News Online acknowledges with thanks his kind permission to let us cross post his piece here.

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