Governmentality and the Deportation of Eastern European Roma in Italy and France

By Carmen Radu
2011, Vol. 3 No. 04 | pg. 1/2 |


This case study asks the following question: given the symbol of the European Union as the ultimate supranational, rights-based, compliance-inducing international organization, why have member states France and Italy escaped punishment for their blatant violations of international law, reflected in their mass deportations of Roma and the dismantlement of Roma camps during the period of 2008 to 2010? Inspired by a Foucauldian theoretical framework, this paper analyzes how discourses and practices reveal power relationships at the EU and state levels, and argues that the mass deportations are a site of governing and biopower as defined by Foucault. The main theoretical Foucauldian tools used are governmentality, discourse, biopower, the archaeology of knowledge, and the genealogy of practice. Given that this case study analyzes factors that lie both inside and outside the state, the paper draw upon scholars who explain why governmentality is relevant to the study of international politics. Finally, because of the dire poverty in which Roma live, governmentality studies are used to highlight the government of poverty, and show how the government of poverty today entails the criminalization of the poor.

The main contention is that the discourses and practices surrounding the 2008-2010 Roma deportations reveal a power struggle between the EU’s governing of France and Italy, and France and Italy’s governing of the Roma. This power struggle allows us to understand why France and Italy were able to evade punitive measures. Because of its lack of power of norm formation in the socioeconomic rights sphere, EU discourse reveals that the EU understands the Roma situation within the context of ethnic discrimination. By governing the Roma within the context of poverty as a social danger, France and Italy escaped punitive measures because the EU has been weak in alternatively shaping the government of poverty. The Eastern European Roma remain caught in intersecting persecutions due to their status as both ethnically different and poor.

Theoretical Overview

Michel Foucault developed Governmentality in the 1970s. Foucault challenged the notion of the centralized state, arguing that power does not necessarily lie in a central authority but can be dispersed; governing can take place through normative regimes, i.e. the norms and practices of everyday life. Examples of regimes include public safety, the institution of psychiatry, or the institution of police. These regimes employ techniques, have end goals, make assumptions about the identities of the governed and are informed by knowledge. To problematize regimes is to question an aspect of the conduct of conduct, or government.1 Problematization uses the archaeological and genealogical approaches. The archaeological approach traces the history of knowledge to identify crucial turning points and show how a concept came to be understood in a certain way. Archaeology analyzes changes in discourse informed by knowledge through history. Genealogy traces the evolution of a practice. Foucault linked power to discourse, arguing that there is a political element to the construction of truth, and that truth itself has a history.2 Discourse informed by knowledge reveals the power relationships that are at play.

Foucault argued that the rise of liberalism in modern societies has led to the idea of the self-governing individual. At the same time, control of territory has been replaced with the need to control populations. Governing took more subtle nuances, resulting in the governmentalization of the state.3 The governing of the population involves biopower. Foucault introduced the notion of biopower in 1976. He traced the emerging discourse on population regarding the monitoring of births, death rates, and life expectancy. This signified that everyday life was being introduced into the realm of politics, becoming subject to regulations and governing.4 Biopower also entails the governing of others (i.e. those categorized as different), such as the insane, the beggars, heretics, criminals, paupers, and the poor.

Procacci, a seminal scholar on governmentality, traced the history of the understanding of poverty in the field of social economy. She argued that discourse beginning in the 19th century conceptualized poverty as the counterpoint to wealth and as something natural within industrial society, unable to be eliminated through intervention. Pauperism and paupers were defined as men injured by society who consequently rebel against it. This discourse separated paupers from the regular poor. The aim was not to address inequality, as this was seen as impossible, but to govern difference.5 Governmentality hence provides tools to analyze the conduct of conduct in a variety of normative regimes, such as those described above. Most importantly, governmentality can be applied to international politics. Neumann and Sending state that although Foucault did not systematically reflect upon international politics, governmentality can indeed be used in this regard. Traditionally, international relations has been explained either through the idea of state power and competition, or state identity shaped by international norms. The rise in global governance, however, has not diminished the sphere of politics. Rather, that sphere has shifted, resulting in the politicization of international law. Neumann and Sending argue that the international is a political sphere, and that today’s global system of norms are indirect forms of power that seek to constrain states, i.e. the governmentalization of international politics.6

In order to apply the theoretical tools outlined above, this paper analyzes factors that lie both inside and outside the state, such as the discourses and practices of the EU, France, and Italy, and the Roma deportations as a site of governing. First, discourses and practices reveal that the EU seeks to conduct France and Italy’s conduct of the Roma through international norms that outlaw ethnic discrimination. Second, because of the Roma’s dire poverty, France and Italy govern the Roma through the government of poverty, explaining their poverty by depicting them as an ethnically rebellious group unfit to integrate into modern society, considering them as a social danger. The main argument is that discourses and practices reveal a power struggle between the EU’s governing of France and Italy, and France and Italy’s governing of the Roma.

This power struggle allows us to understand why France and Italy were able to evade punitive measures for the mass deportations. EU discourse reveals its lack of power to form norms in the socioeconomic rights sphere and to offer an alternative government of poverty; the EU understands the Roma situation within the context of ethnic discrimination. By governing the Roma through the government of poverty, France and Italy escaped supranational punitive measures. I show how France and Italy’s mass deportations and destruction of Roma camps are similar to other states’ actions against slum dwellers, which constitutes a global trend towards the criminalization of the poor. The Roma are caught in intersecting persecutions, both as ethnically different and as poor. I apply the genealogical and archaeological approaches to trace the origins of Roma poverty and provide an understanding as to why they would be considered nomadic. I use these approaches to offer an alternative understanding, dispelling the notion that Eastern European Roma today are unable to integrate into modern society.

Official Discourse on Roma Settlements and Deportations

The discourse on this topic can be divided into two categories. In one category lie the French and Italian positions, which are similar in that they perpetuate the image of Roma as nomads who are unwilling and unable to integrate into modern society. In a second category lie the positions of the EU and non-governmental organizations, all of which invoke ethnic or racial discrimination language. The entry of former eastern bloc countries into the EU in 2007 facilitated eastern European Roma migration to wealthy EU countries, particularly France and Italy. France and Italy began deportations soon after the EU Enlargement. Both countries claimed that Roma settlements posed a security and public health risk. The Italian state has a history of labeling Roma as nomadic. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Italian state passed laws for the “protection of nomadic culture”7 and created “Offices for Nomad Affairs.”8 Italian officials have been quoted as saying that “gypsies prefer to stay in their camps.”9 On May 2008, Italy issued the “ Nomad Emergency Decree,”10 which called for the undertaking of extraordinary measures to alleviate the perceived dangers that the camps posed to public security.

The state began forcefully evicting Roma and destroying camps situated at the outskirts of large cities such as Naples, Rome, and Milan.11 Whereas the Italian crackdowns occurred in 2008, the French intensified their crackdown on eastern European Roma in 2010. Between June and August, the state issued a series of memos in which it described camps as sources of crime, prostitution, illegal trafficking, and forced child begging. The state argued that the camps infringed on property rights and posed health and security risks associated with occupants’ living conditions, which also act as an impediment to integration. The Interior and Immigration ministries instructed police and local officials to dismantle the camps. Approximately 1,000 Roma were deported and 539 camps were destroyed. The state introduced laws to facilitate the deportation of migrants who committed crime. French president Sarkozy led the discussion within the context of “problems posed by the behavior of certain travelers.”12 The French state has maintained that the campaign did not target the Roma in particular.

However, a leaked August 5th memo revealed that Roma camps were specifically mentioned. Upon this revelation, the EU and the UN accused France of violating anti-discrimination laws by its singling out of a separate ethnic group. The EU threatened France with legal action and called for an end to mass deportations on the basis that these violated EU freedom of movement laws that call for deportations to be determined with due process and on a case-by-case basis. As soon as the French issued another memo stating that all illegal camps should be dismantled regardless of the ethnicity of the inhabitants, the EU dropped legal action and punitive measures against France and even recognized the state’s necessity to ensure public security by dismantling the camps. Human Rights organizations such as Amnesty International and the European Roma Rights Center also blamed France for discriminating against the Roma and for violating their right to freedom of movement.13

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