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.

Discuss this issue with other readers!
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spon-facebook-10000061525 06/14/2013
I don't fully agree with the statement that Romania is the "drunken wife". Maybe if we look at this statement from history's perspective, it can be stated that the Russians provided the "vodka" in the form of communism. Of course Romania was invaded by the Russians after WW2, following the agreement between Churchill and Stalin, colloquially know as the percentages agreement
rumpumpel1 06/14/2013
2. Roma?
Romanian gipsies are not Roma. In fact, they don't like it at all to be called Roma.
nedhamson 06/14/2013
3. Roma immigration
It is quite common that people from one city or village will move to the same town in the new country because families and friends are going to where they have family and friends. The children under 7 are the key, since they learn the new language the fastest and can then help their relatives. They come for opportunities and a secure life out of desperation and inspiration. Ask the leaders in the community in Germany how to best involve people in the community in "fitting" in while still being Roma. 06/14/2013
I have no problem with immigrants in America, my wife is an immigrant from China. My problem is when immigrants come here and want to live exactly like they did in their old country while taking advantage of our benefits. I have a strong dislike of people who come here and then voice their displeasure of how women dress, our advertising images and so own. The question arises in my mind "Why did you come here?" I wonder how many people are here like those who bombed the Boston marathon. They and their mother benefited from our welfare system. If immigrants do not have a guarantor of their support or a much better than minimum wage job waiting for them they should not be allowed in them.
andre79799 06/15/2013
5. optional
Ms. Franziska Giffey's approach is truly commendable. She has enough courage to recognize and face the problem, to go to the source directly and try to see herself firsthand and understand what is going on with East, Southeast European swept under the rug, often denied Roma conundrum puzzle that slowly invades West Europe and threatens the demographic map and Europe's future if nothing is done about it.
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