DURATION: 51 min.
In times of economic recession and crisis, minorities are targeted. The Roma people, the most numerous and vulnerable ethnic minority in Europe, with a population of over 10 million across the continent, have always been an easy victim. Their persecution by the French state in the summer of 2010 brought back memories of past times we thought were never to be repeated. "No Place to Stand" records their fleeing from the country of human rights and the Enlightenment, it follows their tracks back to Romania, the efforts to start their life there over again, and the dead ends that repeatedly set them back on the track of emigration. "No Place to Stand" is the chronicle of a people under persecution.
Written & Directed by Yorgos Avgeropoulos / Produced by Georgia Anagnou/ Director of Photography: Alexis Barzos / Production Manager: Anastasia Skoubri / Editing: Yiannis Biliris – Anna Prokou / Original Music by Yiannis Paxevanis / A Small Planet Production for © ERT Greek Public Television 2010 - 2011
Original shooting format: HD 1080i50 / Languages: Greek, French, English, Romanian / Subtitles: Greek, English / Available Versions: Greek, English, International
"When they came for the gypsies I remained silent.
I was not a gypsy.
When they came for the Communists I remained silent.
I was not a Communist.
When they came for the Jews I remained silent.
I was not a Jew.
When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out".
(Pastor Martin Niemöller)
In the summer of 2010, France decided to massively expel gypsies from its territory. Citizens of Bulgaria and Romania belonging to the Roma community were forced to abandon France and return to their country. The Roma settlements were branded as “a source of illegal trafficking, shocking living conditions and child exploitation through beggary, prostitution and crime". French president Nicolas Sarkozy urgently summoned the cabinet and gave the signal for the manhunt.
“This is disgraceful! I have been appalled by a situation which gave the impression that people are being removed from a member state just because they belong to a certain ethnic minority. This is a situation I had thought Europe would not have to witness again after the Second World War", stated European commissioner for Justice and Human Rights, Viviane Reding, causing great diplomatic turmoil inside the European Union.
Diana and Gabriel saw their settlement be destroyed, along with their dreams for a better future. They had arrived at France in 2009, in search of a better life for themselves and their two children. "We reached an open space, we built a wooden shed. We tried to settle down, survive, make a small future for ourselves”, Diana recalls. "Conditions were hard, but in Romania we didn't even have a life".
Gabriel did any jobs he could find, Diana would clean houses, there were organizations that helped them with the food, they could send the children to school, they could live. But one morning their settlement was surrounded by the police, they were forced out of their houses and the bulldozers began to tear down their improvised houses. Within a few hours, they were back in Romania once again. Without a job "because no one will employ a gypsy”, no social assistance, nothing. "There is no future in Romania but destruction", Gabriel says, desperate. “All I can see before me is my death sentence. We will wait for another chance and disappear from the country as soon as possible. We want to leave. Go anywhere but here”.
Romania is the country with the biggest Roma population in Europe. The reason can be traced back to the Middle Ages. While in other European countries the gypsies were being burnt in the pyres of the Holy Inquisition or hunted down for fun by the nobility, Romania preferred not to kill them, but to exploit them. They were turned into slaves, bought and sold in slave markets. It was a bondage which lasted for 500 years, much longer than the one suffered by African Americans in the US, and deeply influenced the way in which the Roma see themselves even today, and the way in which they are considered by the Romanians. "They do not want to work and they are very bad. They don’t wash and are very dirty. They put pigs and other animals in the houses, they do not want to be civilized"; this is the prevailing opinion about gypsies in Romania, as a respectable old lady eloquently stated. And Elena Kalin, resident of a village 1 hour out of Bucharest called Barbulesti, knows that all too well: “They hate the race in Romania, they are racists. When you look for a job they close the doors in your face because you are a gypsy". The roads are not asphalted, they are full of holes and mud, the houses have no running water and electricity, and the school is like a prison. "You can't live in Romania. We go to other countries because there, even if they hate the race, they help us, we stretch out our hand and they give. 1 euro, 2 euro, that is valuable for us in Romania. They ask us why we came here. I came because in Romania there is no food, there are no jobs. What else can I do?
Gypsies have always been the “familiar” stranger. While they are amongst the oldest people living in Europe, they have never fitted in, they have always been living --literally or metaphorically-- outside the walls. They have been the recipient of our fears, but also our romantic stereotypes: On the one hand the thieving, enchanting and deceiving gypsy and, on the other, the untamed traveler who plays music and dances carelessly under the moonlight. “No other people would have survived the persecutions in Europe, the Holy Inquisition, the Fist World War, the Holocaust of World War Two of course, the Communist regimes, modern capitalism... No other people", historicist Henriette Asseo stresses admiringly.
The gypsies are currently being targeted as the enemy once again. With extreme-right tendencies on the rise in the whole of Europe, the Roma are suffering violent racist attacks and xenophobic policies that stress the issue of "security". It became obvious this summer in France and earlier on in Italy, Denmark, Germany, Sweden...
“Because of the speculators and the bankers we are undergoing a situation of economic, social and political crisis in most European countries", observes Laurent El Ghozi, president of the association of organizations for the Roma people in France. “So all European countries are unfortunately retiring into themselves and reacting to the difficult situation by targeting foreigners. The impoverished foreigners, the different foreigners. In this annoying ideology, the Roma are obviously a perfect scapegoat!"
And Romanian reporter Mircea Toma, adds: “We like to talk of a modern Europe, but as far as mentalities are concerned we are not that modern, we are still in the Middle Ages!".