Let’s not forget

September 14, 2008 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

Let’s not forget The Holocaust (and people who don’t believe it occurred, please don’t bother emailing me). It was a deliberate programme of extermination of Jewish people, around six million. Perhaps, Italy hasn’t learnt the lesson of WWII because apparently they are actually considering rounding up and fingerprinting the Italian Roma/Gypsy community.

I have to admit not knowing terribly much about Gypsies. I’m probably guilty of a huge stereotyping exercise if I say that I think of circuses and theft when the word “gypsy” is mentioned. My husband’s family who live in Portugal carried on about “those evil gypsy people” when I was recently in that country.

So a dive into Wikipedia gives us some history. But this post is not about stereotypes – it’s about the Italian Government infringing on basic human rights.  Apparently, a few months ago, a Gypsy woman in Naples allegedly abducted a baby girl and racial violence ensued. The incident promptly led the Interior Minister, Roberto Maroni, to declare  “that is what happens when gypsies steal babies”.

So a police round-up of Romany people in Italy has been taking place. Starting in Rome, approximately 9,000 Gypsy people will be subjected to enforced registration, which includes fingerprinting and forcible rehousing (and this includes children).  The European Parliament on July 10 announced that this is an act of racial discrimination (obviously some smart dudes in the Euro Parl).

So are non-Gypsy citizens of Rome fingerprinted and relocated? Nope. The Times is quite rightly suggesting that there is a strong echo of Nazism in all this rather than a desire to crackdown on crime or sort out immigration issues. Rome’s Chief of Police is against fingerprinting children under 14 and is calling for photographs instead.

There are 152,000 Romany people in Italy in 700 camps and Mr Maroni wants to dismantle the lot. Now, if it’s an issue of illegal versus legal immigrants, that’s fine. But if this is about racial targeting, then it’s not fine. I was recently in Rome. I saw quite a few Gypsies. I wasn’t harrassed by them. No Gypsy street kids came running up to me begging.  I saw and talked with quite a few of them as they quietly went about selling clothes, jewellery and paintings in the various markets I visited.

So if the Italian Government believes there’s an issue with Gypsies, then why not provide them with affordable housing, access to education and health care?  I find this rounding-up business very disturbing indeed. If you would like to help a group that is trying to stop persecution of the Romany people, you can sign a petition that is going to the European Parliament here.

Whilst I’m at it, I’m going to sling a few comments at the French. Talk about Big Brother. This is HUGE brother is watching you. Exploitation documentaire et valorisation de l’information gènèrale (Documentary Utilization and Development/Evaluation of General Information) or Edvige is the name given to a new database that will allow security officials to monitor anyone considered a security threat. Okay, so what you say, it’s good to nab any would-be terrorists!

However, to know who might be a “security threat”, this database is snooping into people’s lives as it will collect personal information such as: sexual preferences, activities in political and civil life, religion, what trade unions a person belongs to, health issues, whether a person is likely to disrupt public disorder, social connections and so on.

So let’s call it what it is:  a surveillance system that snoops on its very own, law abiding citizens (aka poor French dudes) for the purposes of controlling the population. Children as young as 13 years could be included in this surveillance system.

The French Government was not transparent in its actions. Most of Europe holidays over the summer period, so the Government gazetted the decree for Edvige whilst the French people were relaxing on beaches, sipping some French wine and scoffing a snail or two. Imagine the average French worker’s surprise on returning to work to find out that private details of citizens’ lives would soon be plastered all over a database!

But the French people haven’t taken this lying down. There is fierce opposition to Edvige.  LeMonde calls it an electronic Bastille. And Vive la France: some 700 organisations, associations and unions, as well as 90,000 people, have signed a petition designed to block Edvige. Fifteen lawsuits have been filed.

Sarkozy has egg on face as members of his Cabinet broke ranks to complain about the snooping.  Edvige (which is apparently a female name to add to the insult) is also known as Sarkozy’s Big Sister because it is part of his campaign to crack down on crime. Yes, well I’m sure knowing whether someone is or is not gay; or whether one is a Roman Catholic or Christian Scientist will really help to nab criminals and terrorists.

I am struggling to remember the exact quote but was it not Foucault who said that statistics measure a State’s strength? That the power of the State is always limited by incomplete knowledge. Should Edvige   overcome the storm of opposition swirling around it and be stuffed full of intimate, private details of French citizens, then the French State gains enormous power and knowledge.

UPDATE: seems the French are a sensible lot after all. From Reuters:

“The Edvige electronic database will still go ahead, but the government will come up with a new decree that significantly tightens the rules so that only people considered a security threat can be included. The decree will explicitly rule out the collection of any data on people’s sexual orientation or health,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement. The first decree had made it possible to store such data, drawing widespread criticism”.

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Entry filed under: Politics, Surveillance society. Tags: , , , , .

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