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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Roms: Comment les institutions se défaussent sur les associations

by Stéphane Gatti for {La Parole errante} (The Wandering Word)

France: Institutions Pass Romanis On to Associations

Translated Thursday 30 September 2010, by Isabelle Métral and reviewed by Bill Scoble

Romanis are still on an invisible train, a train that has gone off track and has no known destination. Here is the testimony of a cultural institution in an eastern Parisian suburb. La Parole errante (The Wandering Word) [1] is the residence of Armand Gatti, the poet, dramatist and film-maker: [2].
The testimony, written by Stéphane Gatti, stage-director, shows the strange resonances of history.

In late August some Montreuil councilors [3] contacted La Parole errante (The Wandering Word) and its managing director Jean-Jacques Hocquard, to ask if we would and could be part of a chain of solidarity and make room for forty Romani for a fortnight on our premises.

The season had not yet started. The weather was still fine. We knew these families had been wandering all over the town for a year. We thought that the town council’s initiative amounted to acknowledging the need and urgency for finding a decent solution. During that fortnight, as chance would have it, we organized a full day’s workshop on “Romani in France and in Europe”.

The council took these families to our site in an impressive deployment of trucks and staff. We interpreted this as the promise of the council’s effective solidarity.

Two weeks have now gone by and the relay of the solidarity chain is lagging behind. There is no real chain, it seems. The town council is now turning to the local associations and asking them to face up to their responsibilities; it is now saying that it cannot take charge of the destitute from all over the world.

Here at the The Wandering Word, the situation is becoming hard to manage. The temporary rescue is turning into a most uncomfortable trap for these families as nights are getting colder and the sanitation is inadequate. Half of the indoor space cannot be used; workshops that had been planned cannot take place.

The urgent question now before us is how to articulate general professions of solidarity and the effective provision of concrete solutions locally. At La Parole errante, the Poet’s word is given pride of place: it took the form of a play les Sept Possibilités du train 713 en partance d’Auschwitz (the seven possible options for train 713 from Auschwitz). The play reminds us that already in 1945 there was no solution for death camp survivors. Little is known about the train that left Auschwitz a short time before the end of the war, packed full with death camp survivors, except that it started running through Europe in quest of a town that would welcome them, that it was sent back to Vienna, that it circled several times around the city, then vanished — no one knew how nor where.

Notably, on that train there was a group of Gypsies. “Where do off-railed trains go?” wonder the characters in Armand Gatti’s play. In that “off-rail” space (off history, off progress, off the promised land of plenty) train 713 puffs along. History says the train got lost, became silence - an impossible legacy. It is to this silence that the play gives a voice. Silence, today, is resonant. When we opened this place, the question at the heart of our reflection was: what is a cultural venue that questions its openness to others? The question remains an open question.

Our place is the property of the Seine-Saint-Denis département. The département’s council said that it was wrong of Jean-Jacques Hocquard to agree to the city council’s request. The town has no solution. From one meeting to the next, it seems that the train’s transported passengers still cannot find a fixed destination.

[1On this site were the warehouses where Georges Méliès invented cinema. With Armand Gatti for its artistic director, it is now a centre for international creation, where the works of authors writing in French can be confronted with diversified groups, from young people with no access to classical culture to professionals of the stage world.

[3an important suburban town just East of Paris

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