Roma woman eyes Chair in Senate elections

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August 28, 2017

Anina Ciuciu’s journey to contest a Senate seat in elections was nothing if not unusual.

But the Romania-born woman wishes to use it to the benefit of her marginalised would-be constituents in Seine-Saint-Denis, a district that comprises some of Paris‘s roughest suburbs.

Ciuciu‘s profile is a far cry from the statistical mean. The French Senate, set in the stately gardens of the same name and housed in the opulent Luxembourg Palace of central Paris, has become the domain of greying male politicians. Three-quarters of senators are men and the average age is 64. Sorbonne alumnus and future attorney Ciuciu, meanwhile, was born into a Roma household in Romania only 27 years back. She decided to pursue the “adventure” of vying for a senate seat all the same.

About half of the Senate’s constituencies are up for election in this year’s ballot, or 171 of the chamber’s 348 red-velvet seats. Elections to renew about half of the body at a time for terms that are new take place once every 3 years. Senators win election by indirect universal suffrage, meaning an electoral college composed of other elected representatives like parliamentarians and the selection is ultimately made by councillors.

© Alcyone Wemaëre, FRANCE 24

Interning at Amnesty International in London, Ciuciu met with FRANCE 24 to her Paris neighbourhood on a trip home. She lives in the 20th arrondissement, even though she spends “most of her time”, she states, in Seine-Saint-Denis, a department of suburbs farther north. That’s where both of the organisations the young lady works with are headquartered: “La Voix des Roms” (The Voice of the Roma) and “Le Mouvement du 16 mai” (the May 16th Movement). The latter is named after the day in 1944 when Romany concentration camp detainees at Auschwitz rose up against the Nazis due to send them into the gas chambers. “The Romany genocide was the height of a racism that, I hope, will never be repeated,” says Ciuciu. “But it is important to discuss the past and to be cautious because, just about everywhere in Europe, we see tools of discrimination and exclusion resembling those of that era reappearing.”

Still, turning from activism is a jump. “When Europe Ecologie — les Verts [the Green EELV celebration] offered me a spot on its [senate elections] list, I was not immediately convinced,” she says. “I did not think in politics as a means to effect change. And I’d had an initial experience that I had not found pleasant.” That was in 2014 when Victor Ponta, the then-prime minister of Romania, named her honorary adviser. “I stopped as soon as I understood that it would change nothing for the folks that are suffering,” she says.

Ciuciu says she has an affinity for EELV. “It is the political movement I feel closest to. They do not consider Roma to be ‘pests’. Moreover, social justice is frequently linked to environmental issues, like access to a healthy environment,” she says.

Who persuaded Ciuciu to throw her hat in the senate ring? “In talking with activists, I saw the enthusiasm that the notion of the candidacy elicited. For them, it’s the potential for me to become their voice,” she says. “And on the floor, in the working-class neighbourhoods and in the slums, I see the hope that this gives people that are suffering and people that are losing interest in politics.”

© Alcyone Wemaëre, FRANCE 24

That phrase again, “people that are suffering” — it is a byword that comes up again and again talking with Ciuciu, whether she is speaking about Roma children in the slums, Calais migrants or young people in the more challenging banlieues, or suburbs. It echoes her own life story, one she told in a book, the name of which translates loosely as “I am Roma and will remain so”. The book tells the story of a girl born in the streets of Craiova, Romania, at a settled Roma household burdened and that, facing discrimination. In the distress of a Roma refugee camp in Italy into the shame of having to beg on market squares after arriving in France, Ciuciu’s family, subject to an order to vacate French land, owes its salvation to a “Madame Jacqueline”. Thanks the schoolteacher from Bourg-en-Bresse provided for the administrative needs of the family, her sisters and Anina were able to go to school. While all children in France have the right to attend school, an administrative address is required by some mayors.

“I was lucky but that should not depend on luck. Access to instruction for all children of the Republic, that’s the promise I wish to hold the associations to,” Ciuciu states, 20 years on. Beyond access to instruction, ending the state of emergency that has been in place in France and fighting police brutality are conflicts she wishes to wage if she wins election.

That result is far from certain because the Greens have yet to finalise their party’s electoral list for Seine-Saint-Denis. In late-July, on Bondyblog, 150 luminaries signed an appeal for “political parties of the ecologist and progressive arc” to give Ciuciu a place on her record that would make her eligible for election. Will that be enough to silence regional EELV members who point out that Ciuciu hasn’t joined the party and “remains unknown to a majority of our members”? The solution should come. If she does make that cut, Ciuciu will still have to convince the panel of electors to vote for her on September 24.

Whoever has motivated her activism and political engagement, Ciuciu titles South African dissident-turned-president Nelson Mandela, the American political activist Angela Davis and former French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, in addition to her own mother. She also cites Larissa, “who lived in a tent pitched on the floor on [Paris’s] Place de la République for a couple of years, with her children in school and her husband working”. Ciuciu circles back to the marginalised, the forgotten. In fact, if she is elected to the Senate, Ciuciu wants to open the Luxembourg Palace’s doors to them, remembering the two young girls she met during a flashmob that La Voix des Roms had organised who stated they had never seen Notre Dame Cathedral, even though they lived only a few Metro stations away from the Paris monument, in social housing in the city’s 19th arrondissement.

Ciuciu would be the first Roma woman. “It happens that I am Roma. I’ve always asserted that side of my identity… even when people advised me to hide it,” she says, adding that getting a legislator, representing the public, could be “a strong symbol, historic even, in France, the country of human rights and the Revolution”.

This guide was translated from the original in French.

Date created : 2017-08-29

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