The Roma Conundrum Looking for Clues in a Romanian Village
Part 2: Last on the List
But how likely is it that Roma children will return to a country that is poor and where they are "last on the list," as an adviser to Romania's prime minister puts it?
That adviser is sitting at a conference table in Bucharest. Water is served in plastic bottles here and two iPhones rest on the table in front of him. The man has closely cropped hair, wears a suit and speaks English well. He himself is Roma and used to travel through the country making music. Romania has a Roma strategy, he says, but only because the European Commission, the EU's executive, requires one, and it's only on paper. "If you marry a woman knowing she's an alcoholic, you can't complain about it afterward," he says. In this analogy, Romania is the drunken wife and the EU the naïve husband.
He keeps asking: "Do you understand, Franziska?" If she has a problem, he says, he's glad to help. If too many Roma from Fântânele are going to Berlin, he suggests, he can initiate some projects in the village -- Giffey only needs to say the word. She laughs, and he laughs, when she tells him the child benefits that families can receive in Berlin are 20 times what they are in Bucharest. "Bullshit," he says over and over again, and rants about his country.
That evening, Giffey sips a glass of water at a reception on the 18th floor of a modern skyscraper in Bucharest, where she has come at the invitation of the German embassy. There are hors d'oeuvres of cream cheese and salmon, and men in suits are drinking sparkling wine. A foundation representative explains that mayors in Romania are glad to see their Roma residents go.
Shortly before flying back to Germany, Giffey meets with a diplomats' working group on Roma issues in Bucharest. The representative from Switzerland says his country has no problems with integration: Roma come over during the day to beg, then travel back to France to sleep. From the French representatives, Giffey learns that their country has quietly ceased its program of returning Roma to their home countries. There is no point, the representatives say, since the Roma always come back again and in fact are glad to have been sent away (with money from the French government), saying: "Thank you, (former French President) Sarkozy, for paying for my vacation trip home." Giffey notes all of this down in her black notebook. Outside, it's raining. She heads to the airport and back to Germany.
A Growing Number of Children
Five days after her return from Romania, Giffey is attending a district council meeting on the second floor of Neukölln's district town hall. It's early evening and some women are relaxing on the town hall steps, knitting pink sweaters. These are the long-established immigrants, but Neukölln's newest arrivals are here as well, represented by a Roma woman breastfeeding her child on the steps.
The topic before the district council today is school meals. There are sausages and slices of cheesecake in the lobby, where Heinz Buschkowsky, perhaps Germany's most famous mayor of a city district, is sitting by the counter. Buschkowsky, Neukölln's mayor, was recently re-elected by the district council for a term lasting until 2016. He's eating potato salad from a paper plate and looks tired.
Giffey, waiting at the next table, says that when she returned to Berlin she requested a list of new arrivals and learned that since the beginning of this year, 68 new children have entered the local school system from Romania and Bulgaria alone.
Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein.
- Part 1: Looking for Clues in a Romanian Village
- Part 2: Last on the List