All over Eastern Europe Roma Gypsies are on their bikes, which is a figure of speech for old vans and caravans.
Eastern Europeans, who have been inundated with gypsies for much of their modern history, don’t mind. Let the Gypsies be someone else’s headache.
European borders now hospitably open, Gypsies have learned that France or Italy are better places to live than Romania or Bulgaria. How long they’ll remain better places, given the influx of Gypsies, is anybody’s guess.
The problem isn’t racial, but cultural. Gypsies, who originally were probably Indian outcasts, are nomads. As such, they seldom seek steady jobs or try to integrate into host countries.
If they ever did so in the past, it was usually by working in what today would be called the entertainment industry. If you read Pushkin and his 19th-century Russian contemporaries, you’ll notice that, when the night was still young, the gilded youth inevitably went ‘to the Gypsies’.
This meant restaurants featuring singers of lachrymose songs on stage and somewhat naughtier delights backstage. For most Russian youths of a certain class ‘the Gypsies’ provided the same initiation rites as those that used to be available to young Texans at La Grange, the home to what was later immortalised in a musical as ‘the best little whorehouse in Texas.’
Those Gypsies who in the old days didn’t have musical talents usually made their living by rustling, fortune telling, begging or petty crime. Horses are few now, but the other occupations are still practised widely and profitably.
In France, where I’m writing this, there are now about half a million Gypsies, most living in dingy and frankly dangerous shanty towns. Many ply their trades in Paris, for which we had another confirmation the other day.
Paris is even emptier now than it normally is in August. “Toute la France est en vacance,” say the natives, which means that most factories, offices, restaurants and just about everything else are closed for the month.
Visitors like us have the glorious city all to ourselves, with only German, Dutch and American tourists there to keep us company. And Gypsies of course.
You see them begging at every corner or engaging in what New Yorkers call panhandling (trying to wash windscreens unsolicited) at busy crossroads. Many beg on tube trains, much to the disgust of the locals. We heard one of them tell a beggar that she had a laxative effect on him (‘Vous me faîtes chier’ if the Francophones among you are interested).
More enterprising Gypsies run mugging and pickpocketing rings, mostly using children and teenagers. These artful dodgers can relieve a tourist of his possessions in seconds, as some did a week ago by surrounding two Americans in the centre of Paris at breakfast time. Within 20 seconds they were gone, and so were the tourists’ phones, wallets and cameras. One has to admire skill, however misapplied.
Some rings, just like the Soviet factories of the past, have production quotas. One crime boss, for example, employs girls who are each supposed to deliver at least €300 a day. Failure to do so is punished by beatings, cigarette burns or sometimes rape.
The gangs operate around most tourist attractions, but the pickpockets have their really productive periods next to the prominently displayed ‘Beware of pickpockets’ signs. When espying one of those, almost every man instinctively touches the pocket containing his wallet, thereby communicating its exact location to the Gypsies.
The French being less forbearing than the Brits, and their police being just as accommodating to petty thieves, citizens often take the law into their own hands. Gypsy camps and shanty towns are routinely attacked with weapons ranging from baseball bats (their sales are soaring even though nobody plays baseball) to petrol bombs.
Rather than solving the problem, such attacks create a new one. Lawlessness goes up, respect for the law heads in the opposite direction – society suffers every which way.
Unless you plan a visit to France, you may think all this has nothing to do with you. Alas, that’s not so.
Chris Bryant, Shadow Minister for Borders and Immigration, has just admitted that Labour, when in power, overestimated the number of potential arrivals from Eastern Europe. That’s putting it mildly.
When our borders were open to the Poles in 2006, the government’s highest estimate of the number of possible immigrants was 13,000. This proved to be out of kilter by a factor of 50.
Nor was the bad arithmetic necessarily accidental: Peter Mandelson admitted honestly if somewhat cynically that there was method to this madness. Not to cut too fine a point, Labour was importing Labour voters.
When it’s Poles, who are after all Christians, the problem is manageable, just. When the imports involve millions of Muslims, the whole fabric of society risks being torn to tatters. Gypsies fall into the same category.
On 1 January, Romanians and Bulgarians, which will probably mean mostly Gypsies, will be welcomed to Britain. HMG led by our heir to Blair assures us that the total number won’t exceed 10,000. Applying the ironclad quotient to this estimate, one multiplies it by 50 and gets 500,000.
That’s about the same number as in France. Now if you’re excessively mindful of your possessions, t’s easy to give Paris a wide berth on this summer’s holiday. Doing the same to our homes next winter will be harder.