Notes on European political culture




We are all Roma!

French officials have declared themselves ‘astonished’ after European Commissioner for Justice and Fundamental Rights, Viviane Reding, described as ‘appalling’ the French practice of mass expulsion of Roma groups from French territory. Reding’s comments were a reaction to a 5 August French internal directive instructing police authorities to target Roma for expulsion. The leaked directive was quickly superseded by a new one that dropped all reference to Roma.

To the degree that they are citizens of the European Union, individuals of all ethnic and racial backgrounds enjoy the same rights and privileges (and obligations) as all European citizens. These include, in general terms, a right to non-discrimination and, more particularly the right to free mobility with the external borders of the Union. In short, they have the same right to camp in Loir-et-cher as a gaggle of Brits in the Black Forest.

Today, as the European leaders meet in Brussels, the tone has not softened, but rather sharpened, with French President Sarkozy suggesting that he would prefer sending the Roma to Luxembourg. The European press has a story and Europe is in its natural habitat: a debate of principles.

Racism and other forms of profiling respect a curious logic. Yes, any exclusive act carried out on an isolate minority might constitute racism. But it is not racism by virtue of being carried out on a member of a minority. After all, its exclusivity might be coincidental. Inversely, the coincidental argument can very well be used to divert attention from actual racial profiling or racism. It’s only when the target individual becomes a class of people that the distinctions made with the worst–or best–of intents reveal themselves to be anthro-categorical, generalizing qualities, characteristics, priveleges, or pains invoked in the name of race or ethnic belonging. The politics of popluations, biopolitics, requires categories of populations in order to disaggregate the human.

The interesting message here is that the categories, racial, ethnic, gender, class, etc., end up rattled by the power of the apparently reinvented idea of the citizen, the European citizen. Against fashionable predications, the stalwart notion of the citizen is far from obsolete in today’s post-national nation-states. And yet its rights-based sharpness, the concentration of the principles in a certain idea of the person, has faded in the impatient flux and flow of information. The saga of the Roma, is a refresher in civics. The post-sovereign citizen prevails through powers we will have to look to understand as time rolls on.

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