Immigrants have enough of their ghettos

Stanislaw Klimaszewski

Why have cars been torched in France and why are the immigrants' children frustrated? Will the tension between 'us' and 'them' come to other Western European countries?
One of the British correspondents wrote that the motto 'libert(, (galit(, fratern(' that was carried on the banners of the French Revolution fades when confronted with 'r(alit('. This 'r(alit(', reality, is revealed in the inability to integrate some immigrants' environments and conflicts can become a clear sign of the times of the first half of the 21st century. Ethnic riots will occur in other countries as well.
Fr Piotr Mazurkiewicz, Professor of the Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University in Warsaw, thinks that this is both a French and European problem. Similar groups of immigrants, mostly the followers of Islam, have settled suburbs of other European cities in various countries although their social integration is different. 'In fact we do not know to what extent these are spontaneous actions, which would make this problem more French and to which extent they are planned. We have signals that in recent months Al-Kaida tried to destabilise the situation in France. If the riots on the River Seine were part of their plans the problem would concern Poland in more directly way', he said.

Other camps

Prof. Krzysztof Rutkowski, Warsaw University, writer and journalist of the French FRI Radio, who has been living in Paris for over 21 years, reminds us that the French society consists of immigrants' children to a great extent. Throughout the 20th century, and even in some parts of the 19th century, there was a process of mixture of various cultures and races. Today one can hardly say who is a native Frenchman and who is not. 'On the other hand, from the early 1960s, from the war in Algeria, to the so-called decolonisation, there were new phenomena in France, which led to what we are witnessing now', Prof. Rutkowski explains. 'Inhabitants of the former French colonies, mainly African ones, but also Asian, have begun leaving their liberated countries on a large scale and coming to France. A considerable number of them were French citizens. They were needed for economic reasons. They were to do worse, low paid jobs. Officially, people spoke about freedom, equality and brotherhood, about equal chances for each person, regardless of his/her skin and origin and their access to social achievements but at the same time they were isolated in a geographical way. New gigantic blocks of flats were built around big cities and these blocks were terribly ugly, horrible', Prof. Rutkowski notices, 'Concrete ghettos, some sort of camps without wires'.
The second and the third generations are living there. People are frustrated, rejected. They do not feel French or, for example, Algerians. But they know that they are on the margin of any society. Last year the secret report of the intelligence French services said that there were 2 million people of that kind. The services observed 670 suburbs and said that 400 were ruled by Mafia and the police was afraid of going into such areas.

Weakening the spirit

The French policy concerning the immigrants is regarded as cowardly and ostrich-like. The problem was not noticed. 'Apart from that', Prof. Mazurkiewicz notices, 'in the republican French tradition we can see the conviction that religion, race and cultural affiliation should be devoid of meaning. This thinking occurred quite recently when it was ordered to remove religious signs from clothes of school youth. The problem was noticed and it was decided to hide it. This is quite characteristic of the French policy concerning immigrants'.
The earlier activities were similar. Immigrants were placed outside cities and problems were not solved. Today one of the elements of the present crisis is that state authorities face organised crime. Most people living in such blocks are unemployed; thousands deal with drug trade, smuggling and other illegal activities. Young people cannot write and read. They do not speak French correctly. In schools they are involved in drug trade, frighten teachers and brutally treat their female colleagues. 'Cars have been torched for two weeks but we should not forget that for a long time the favourite 'sport' of the young people who are living in suburbs has been torching cars', Prof. Rutkowski says.' During every New Year's Eve several thousand cars are torched in big cities'.

Towards equal dignity

The opinion that is becoming more and more sharp is that France brought about ghettoization of suburbs. Unemployment is 20-30 % in these social groups; the average unemployment in France is 10%. The wages are 40% less. The grandchildren of the immigrants go out in the streets. 'The third generation expects that they will be treated as all Frenchmen', Prof. Mazurkiewicz says, 'They want the same careers as others have and that religion and ethnicity are not reasons of their discrimination. This is the question to propose people hope and vision for future. They must have the possibility to acquire education and proper start in their professional lives'. Prime Minister Villepin proposed a set of activities that are worth over 35 million euros. Scholarships, schools, easier access to jobs, better flats, etc. However, one of the inhabitants of such blocks uttered a simple sentence with bitterness, 'Stop talking to us 'you'... That means that the French have not learnt to look at people as their fellow citizens and they still look at them as subjects. 'We continuously notice that there is no equality for people of different colours of their skins', Prof. Mazurkiewicz observes. 'For that we need education, but not the education of those who protest, we need education for those who feel threatened now. It is also the question of the law to have the same feeling of dignity'. Today we have heard more detailed news that the police did not chase any criminals but tried to check boys who were playing football. The boys decided that they would not allow the police to treat them in such a way and began running away. They felt that their dignity was threatened and tried to defend it.

"Niedziela" 48/2005

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: