Expelling the Victim by Demanding Voice: The Counterframing of Transnational Romani Activism

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article traces how Roma are crafting and changing their representation in the media and thus discursively moving from passive victims to active subjects by engaging in strategic framing and advocacy. I focus on public discussions of the French expulsion of Roma in the summer of 2010. The nature of the coverage and the engagement of Romani voices mark a shift away from the traditional trope of Roma as criminal, victim, or absent. This is part of a shifting process where Roma use media as a political tactic, even to mobilize transnationally as a subaltern counterpublic. This article demonstrates how the tactic of counterframing is employed within Romani and mainstream English-language media and how Roma engage in media activist strategies to shift the frame away from demands for Roma to prove their worth as humans to the need for members of the European Union to prove they are not engaged in systemic economic, political, and social human rights abuses.

Keywords

Roma, media, counterframing, counterpublic, European Union

Activists are necessarily concerned with doing things--trying to advance change. They are committed to the possibility of social actors being able to exercise or construct meaningful agency through their activism. (1)

Introduction

At the end of July 2010 President Sarkozy, facing lagging polls and a struggling economy at home, made international headlines by publically announcing the "voluntary" expulsion of 300 Roma camps from French soil. These 1,230 citizens of Romania and Bulgaria are citizens of the European Union (EU) and thus guaranteed free movement in and out of EU countries as well as the right to seek employment. In the public statements and internal memos dated August 5, 2010, President Sarkozy singled out the Roma as a population that needed to be removed because of "public disorder." The expulsion was publically justified as "voluntary" because those who "agreed" to be refimled to their country of origin (Romania and Bulgaria) would receive a plane ticket and 300 Euro while being escorted out. (2) That said, according to investigations by Amnesty International, public statements by the European Parliament and the November 10, 2011 report by the Council of Europe, orders of removal were produced en masse. Those targeted were not given individual hearings, thus violating both International Human Rights and European law, most notably the EU Directive on Freedom of Movement which guarantees the rights of EU citizens to move freely. (3)

The response to Sarkozy's statement was swift and sweeping. He faced public rebuke from the governments of Bulgaria and Romania as well as the European Commission, ending in a bristling public "row" between EU Justice Minister Viviane Reding and President Sarkozy on September 13, 2010, which received wide coverage in the European and international press. Although this policy of expulsion was not new (from January 2007 to April 2011 over 10,000 foreign born Roma have been deported from France), this specifically ethnic targeting was seen as "inappropriate" and an "affront" to European identity; many international publications were quick to highlight parallels with policies of the Nazi and Vichy regimes. In addition to the international outcry, there was also an outpouring of domestic criticism and resignations within Sarkozy's administration.

And yet, in all of the public discussion surrounding the forced expulsion of Roma from France, the voices of the Roma themselves remained curiously absent. Although the mainstream press and European governance bodies continue to generate an abundance of coverage about Roma, there has been little discussion of Romani participation in, let alone crafting of the activism and framing of either problems and/or solutions. Although great attention has been paid to the "Romani expulsions," the Roma have consistently been portrayed as passive objects in a chess game of great powers France and the European Union--rather than active subjects. …