- “Even the Rats Don’t Come Here”The Eastern European Roma in Contemporary Paris
1. Cioran’s Paris
In this article I offer a psychopolitical reading of insights drawn from recent ethnographic work in the eastern suburbs of Paris and in particular Noisy-le-Sec, or “the 9–3” as it has become known to residents. The objective of this work, which is part of a larger project on the reality and fiction of urban utopias, was to explore the relationship between neoliberal urban modernization strategies and the lived experiences of marginal people, who often become the waste product of such efforts to regenerate urban space. Building upon Kevin Robins’s (2011) work on the relationship between urban modernization and the Roma community in Istanbul, my work in the old Communist district of the 9–3 became a launching pad for a wider exploration of the situation of the Roma in contemporary Paris in the last days of Nicolas Sarkozy’s term as president. The specific focus of my ethnography was an old industrial ruin in the 9–3 that has become the scene for the construction of a temporary squatter camp built and inhabited by Romanian Roma immigrants (figs. 1–3), who consider the space to be a kind of urban enclave. As one squatter explained, “The camp is a kind of city within the city . . . we would like a normal life, but we have to live here, cut off from the rest of Paris.” Extending this view, and to launch my discussion, I take the ruin, which is soon to be regenerated and turned into riverside [End Page 1] apartments, as symbolic of neoliberal urban politics, because it can be seen to function as a conflicted space of the marginalized other that is soon to be absorbed by the market and propertied elites. Indeed, this political situation is literally written across the ruin, because it is not only the site of a squatter camp for Roma immigrants and prime real estate for neoliberal developers, but it also functions as a kind of concrete canvas for various tags and graffiti, which I suggest can be seen to represent and communicate the squatters’ social exclusion from normal French society.
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Expanding upon my exploration of this particular ruin, the bidonville constructed in its shadow, and the urban art of social exclusion painted upon its walls, I seek to discuss in this article the situation of the Romanian Roma immigrant in contemporary Paris. In order to understand the situation of these people in a wider social context, I also consider the politics of the Sarkozy regime, which responded aggressively to the apparent threat of the monstrous other from the Balkans, and explore the fatal relationship between the state and the Romanian Roma other through a spatialized psychopolitics of the Parisian suburbs. Here my work is informed by Edward W. Soja’s (2010) theory of spatial injustice, which explains how social exclusion is reflected in spatialized marginality, because this allows me to understand the Romanian Roma’s poverty in terms of a relation to the environment, or a mode of being-in-the-world, that is constructed as problematic because it exists outside the traditional nation form. In seeking to understand this mode of phenomenological exclusion politically, I include examples of photographs taken during my ethnographic work, since these may be seen as representations of the Roma’s attempt to communicate their own marginality. Here I rely on Walter Benjamin’s (1999) notion of photography as a mode of writing with light, to show how the Roma inscribe their own social exclusion upon the walls of the city itself.
Since Romania and Bulgaria entered the European Union (EU) in 2007, there has been a perceived problem of Eastern European Roma immigrants in contemporary France, and in particular the major urban centers such as Paris, which has led the state to condemn their criminality, destroy their squatter camps, and deport them back to their homelands. In reading the history of the Roma, it is clear that there is nothing particularly novel about this situation. David Crowe in...