In France, an Evangelical Gypsy group shakes up the immigration debate
In France, a movement from within the Gypsy community could temper what have been bad relations with European governments amid a hot immigration debate.
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Though debate in Europe about immigration is heating up, reaction in France to this policy has been withering: The Roman Catholic church, the Socialist Party, and even many in Sarkozy’s center-right party are publicly angered at a policy that appears to single out an ethnic minority as undesirable, in order to score political points.
The stereotype of the Gypsy doesn't work here
The Gypsy Evangelicals in Chaumont, France counter any stereotype. They park some 6,000 white trailers in neat rows on the grassy runway of a World War I air base. It is a “city” brought from “the north, the south, the east, and the west,” as signs replete with biblical language affirm, anchored by a tent that holds 6,000 and atop of which flutter the flags of France, Belgium, the US, the EU, Germany, and the UK.
The gathering joins these Evangelicals, whose numbers and faith have swelled to some 145,000 of the 425,000 Gypsies in France. Their tight organization, work and family ethic, regard for civil law, and stress on education has made them the “go-to” Gypsy group for French authorities, and a point of pride in a larger Gypsy community that has long suffered a stigma of criminality, drugs, and brawls. Beyond that, they help stabilize and keep a vanishing Gypsy identity intact, analysts say, as economic and legal pressures in post-industrial Europe are atomizing a nomadic life.
For example, they developed a model for negotiating lands to settle on. Many Gypsies, facing local bureaucracy, occupy land, then negotiate. But, “the Bible tells us to be wise and respect the authorities,” says Aladin Blivet, treasurer of this “Life and Light” gathering. “We call ahead, we do paperwork, we send a delegation, we do the organizing.”