Nice mayor Christian Estrosi came under fire when he called on mayors around France to “revolt” against what he sees as wide-scale abuse by les gens du voyage (travellers).
You’ve seen their caravans from Menton to Mougins and beyond. The “Roma” arrive and demand the right to taxpayer-funded water, electricity and a place to park their caravans. When a suitable site isn’t offered they may take over a public park or private field; if the site is barred they have been known to break down barriers, or cut through chains and fences.
According to Estrosi, “When you enter a place by infraction, you’re a delinquent.”
The Mayor’s 7-point plan includes surveillance cameras, the noting of licence plate numbers and, in the case of illegal conduct, the confiscation of “their big and beautiful cars towing their big and beautiful caravans”.
As would be expected, civil rights groups attacked the mayor’s proposals as xenophobic and several lawsuits have been filed against him for inciting racial hatred. Interior Minister Manuel Valls, an unusually popular Socialist minister for his harsh stand on crime, has come out against Estrosi’s “diatribe”, which Valls says puts all travellers under a banner we might find reminiscent of Cher’s lyrics to Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves.
Estrosi denies all discrimination charges and sticks to the illegality of many travellers’ camps under the 2003 interior security law.
Disturbing developments in the story include an e-threat to the mayor – “You’ll get a 7.65 calibre in the head so prepare your grave. Signed: We the Roma” – and on 10 July 2013 a postal sorting office discovered a white powder in an anonymous envelope addressed to Estrosi. The powder proved to be harmless.
The mayor’s reaction? “Nothing frightens me [...] I’ve beaten others and I’ll beat them too.”