12:00 pm - March 10th 2010
On March 1st in France, immigrants were encouraged to stay at home, protest, and spend nothing as a nationwide protest against the country’s latent problems with immigration and national identity.
Peggy Derder, Nadir Dendoune and Nadia Lamarkbi, three French professionals in their thirties, hit upon the idea of la journée sans immigrés, or the day without immigrants, after years of endless police checks and discrimination. The trio were encouraging anyone who is an immigrant, of immigrant origin, or who feels solidarity with immigrants and wanted to contest their treatment to take these three simple measures for just one day. In a political system where there are no black or Arab representatives, despite the fact that these minorities make up 10% of the population, people of immigrant origin wanted to make their invisibility and silence symbolically evident in workplaces around France.
Their aim was to make their compatriots see how different their country would look and sound if France’s minorities did not exist. The demonstration also sought to highlight the economic contribution that minorities make, and the range of industries they operate within France. Demonstrators were hoping to empty offices, stop public transport and close stores. The idea quickly spread and similar demonstrations were seen in Spain, Italy, and Greece.
In Orléans, one hour south of Paris, protesters from region gathered in front of the mairie (mayor’s office). Their leader, Sabrina Kecheroud, said:
“We intend to protest against the growing stigmatization of immigration in the discourse of our political elites, when in reality immigration enriches our country. March 1st was not chosen at random. It is the anniversary of a law that began selective immigration into France. We think racism is still a problem in France. Otherwise how could a minister (Brice Hortefeux, then Minister of Immigration and National Identity) say what he did last summer, with no action being taken against him?”
M Hortefeux was caught on video by Le Monde newspaper saying of immigrants “When there is only one, it’s okay. It’s when there are many that problems begin”.
The journée sans immigrés was also politically apt given that a UMP (Conservative) mayor recently called a black socialist candidate, Ali Soumaré, a “délinquant multirécidiviste chevronné” (a seasoned and habitual criminal-delinquent.)
M. Soumaré spent a few months in prison for a stealing a car when he was in his late teens, and was later charged with driving without a licence. A more recent charge has yet to come to court. However, these offences mostly took place over a decade ago, and he has assured the public that he has left his criminal behaviour behind in order to help his community progress. M Soumaré is now the great hope for the politically unrepresented minorities of France and, on a personal level, in his neighbourhood. The rising star comes from the Val d’Oise, a struggling Parisian suburb close to Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport, north of the city.
The problem of ingrained racism in French politics is well known. The current President, Nicolas Sarkozy, said memorably in 2005:
“quand je dis qu’il faut les nettoyer au Karcher, cela veut dire qu’il faut les nettoyer en profondeur.”
“When I say that we must clean them out [immigrants] with Karcher (a high pressure hose), I mean to say that we must really clean them out properly”. M. Sarkozy is himself of Hungarian origin.
The journée sans immigrés allowed French people to see how integral immigrants have become to their nation, and what would be lost if they, and their French born descendants, were not a part of France’s ethnic landscape.
Mme Kecheroud expressed her hope to build on the success of the first demonstration in the run up to a repeat next year:
“We are now taking stock after the success of our first “Day Without Immigrants.” We are now intending to go further with our new perspective, in particular through the forthcoming creation of a vigilance committee. But we will be sure to do our best again to continue this great event next year. Immigration is badly considered and not seen as it really is: an asset. A large proportion of France, and of Europe relies on it.”
On March 1st, the land of supposed liberté, égalité and fraternité was forced to listen up to a resounding cry of accusation from its minorities. It can only be hoped it will take heed.
The movement’s official website is here
Jennifer is a regular contributor to LC. She blogs here and is on Twitter here.
· Other posts by Jennifer O'Mahony
Story Filed Under: Blog ,Civil liberties ,Europe ,Immigration ,Race relations
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