Stigmatizing vs. acceptance of ‘the other’

Posted on 09. May 2012

by Doru Toma

Doru TomaIn the last couple of years, due to the financial crisis (but not only), there are more and more radical voices with regards to immigration within the European Union. Not surprisingly, the immigrants issue was a key element of the presidential campaign in France. Both Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy tried to magnetize the voters with dashing visions on immigrants. On one hand, Nicolas Sarkozy promised to halve the number of legal immigrants in the next five years and on the other hand, Francois Hollande militated for a continuous fight against illegal immigration, while giving rights to legal immigrants.

Some days ago, two young journalists – Marianne Rigaux and Jean-Baptiste Renaud – launched the web-documentary “Stigmatisés – Parole des Roumains” which gathers testimonials of Romanian people who live in France and feel stigmatized by their nationality. For a significant number of French citizens, a Romanian living in France is nowadays synonymous with robbing, stealing, playing the accordion, begging or prostitution. They are not the only ones having to overcome severe preconceptions when trying to integrate: Bulgarians, Moldovans, ex-Yugoslavians, Turks or North Africans, all in search of a better life are confronted with similar barriers.

We live in a world of stereotypes and preconceptions, in which categorizing is much easier than distinguishing between majority and minority, between appearances and the invisible people around us. How many of us enjoyed the so called stereotypes maps circulating on social networks? How often do we judge a nation by scandalous news or an unhappy incident? How often do we have an impulse against ‘the others’ in our society? The result of such judgmental attitudes is felt exactly by those respecting the laws of their adopting country.

Looking from a larger scale, the documentary gives us some food for thought on several issues that should be a priority within the European Community: immigrant rights and free movement of persons within the European Union, discrimination, integration and acceptance in another society.  From the young couple arrested by the French police (for a presumptive robbery, only because of their nationality) to legal workers with limited labor rights, students and artists; all are living examples European leaders should learn to listen to.

As a final remark, one of the most striking points of the documentary is the motto that gives the title of the last chapter – “Être utile pour être accepté” (in English: Being ‘useful’ in order to be accepted), an untold truth of Western societies towards immigrant citizens; in other words, one is accepted only if s/he brings an added value to the society. Behind the motto, we can find two stories that emphasize the idea very well, in spite of the fact that they are so different. First we get to know a young married couple of Romanian doctors working in the public clinic of a small village in France. Perfectly integrated in the community, the two – like thousands of other Romanians – choose to work in a medical system in which they feel appreciated and rewarded for their knowledge and efforts. The second story is of former swimmer Roxana Mărăcineanu, the first women to be world champion for France in this discipline, currently working as a swimming trainer in Ile-de-France. From her perspective, the moment she stood on the podium she felt completely accepted and integrated:  “We had to prove we deserve to live here, […] I don’t think you have to be a world champion in order to be normally treated“.

All in all, Europe is more and more dependent on the immigrant labor force. That is a fact that cannot be by-passed anymore. The future of Europe depends to a certain extent on how politicians, as well as citizens, understand to act and react when it comes to ‘the others’.

STIGMATISES – Parole des Roumains was launched on 30th of April (29 minutes, in French) and can be watched for free on the official website.