France’s decision to expel Roma  people (Gypsies) and bulldoze their encampments has drawn sharp criticism from human rights groups, the European Union and the Vatican. Roma represent the largest ethnic group in Eastern Europe, with almost three million in Romania and Bulgaria. Because both countries are now members of the European Union, Roma people can migrate without visas to wealthier countries.
Funds to assist Roma people are available through the European Union’s social fund. Critics of the Sarkozy government’s deportation policy (over 1,700 Roma have been expelled since July), like the European Union’s justice commissioner, Viviane Reding, have claimed that this money is not being used to help them. She caused an outcry in France by calling the deportations ethnic cleansing and comparing them with World War II Nazi roundups of Roma and Jews. She later apologized for the comment.
In contrast to France’s negative policies toward Roma, Spain, with approximately one million Roma, has invested in education to promote their successful integration. Most of its Roma are literate and have access to public housing and financial aid, provided they send their children to school and health care facilities. Despite many years of victimization, they have become part of Spanish mainstream culture. But much effort will be needed to persuade other countries, like France and Italy, that expulsions are not a solution. They painfully reflect a discriminatory attitude toward a marginalized population that has been deprived of its dignity for far too long. Funds through the European Union are available and should be used to help integrate Roma residents.Reform Begins at Last
If the views of registered voters nationwide are accurately reflected in a New York Times/CBS poll conducted in September, then nearly half (49 percent) strongly or somewhat disapprove of the new health care bill. Other polls report even higher disapproval. Apparently neither the Obama administration nor health care reform advocates have been able to sell the American people on the merits of the reform. Surely the built-in delays in implementing the law have hindered advocates from making their case, for the law and its benefits have seemed more theoretical than real.
Finally, in September, some reform measures took effect. It is now illegal for insurers to deny health coverage to applicants with a pre-existing condition, for example, or to deny a customer’s claim for payment on the basis of an error made on the insurance application. Now insurers must allow customers to purchase coverage for their uninsured children up to age 26, a gain for unemployed young adults. Tax credits are available for qualifying small businesses to help them offer employees affordable plans. And the law prohibits insurers from gouging small employers by charging them much more (one executive reported an example of “18 percent more”) than they charge large businesses for the same coverage.
The law does not fully take effect until 2014, yet opponents’ efforts to repeal and diminish it have been under way since the bill was signed. At issue is whether voters’ experience of some benefits of the law now can build enough support to forestall its repeal or evisceration. If not, the health benefits lost will be more real than theoretical.Hidden From the World
Did you know that Eileen Mary Nearne was a war hero? Neither did her neighbors. The soft-spoken 89-year-old woman died recently in her home in Torquay, England. That her body went undiscovered for several days and that she was being slated for a “council burial” (pauper’s grave) indicate the hiddenness of her life. And what a life it was. The French government awarded Miss Nearne the Croix de Guerre for her courageous actions during World War II. She helped operate a secret radio from Paris that facilitated weapons drops to the French Resistance, paving the way for D-Day. When she was captured by the Gestapo, the young woman was sent to the Ravensbruck camp, where she was tortured. After being moved to another camp, she escaped and linked up with American troops. It is a story that begs to be made into a novel, or at least a movie.
Not many of our friends or neighbors live lives out of a John le Carré novel. But Miss Nearne’s death and near anonymity in her neighborhood (one obituary noted that she was known mainly for her love of cats) show how little people often know about the quiet heroism of one another. A co-worker may be caring for an elderly parent, quietly. A neighbor might volunteer at her church, stocking the shelves of a food pantry, silently. The hidden quality of these actions somehow lends them greater dignity, since they are done with no expectation of public adulation. As Henri Nouwen once said, the key is performing acts that are “hidden from the world, but known by God.” That goes for both a reclusive World War II spy and the self-effacing parent of an ill child, both of them quiet heroes.