gypsies, roma, kosovo

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Remzija tells Emir about the sea

"Emir", Remzija tells her nephew, aspirating her ancient tongue from the land of the Rajputs, "you crossed the sea on a boat... and as you were fleeing from Clinton, grandfather Bajram was looking at you from out of the window, and he fell down... he fell into a pan with boiling oil and scorched his forehead, and that is why he is bald in front." 

Remzija is magnificent, her large tragic eyes, her unceasing mirth, her hair cut short and died a strangely punk red to make it harder for her husband to recognize her, her youthful body and the mystery of her heart: how does one feel when one has been deprived, suddenly and perhaps forever, of all one's children? Now that she is free to smoke and dress like a lady (envied by all the women in the camp), her clothes picked up from charity, with high-heeled shoes as she slips on the frozen mud of the camp. And she falls down while arm-in-arm with her sister. I am frightened, since Reska had already fallen down the stairs and ended up in hospital little more than a week before. 

We are at the office for foreigners at the trade union in Brescia. We start explaining the problem.  Everybody lives in a single room without a bathroom or running water; an invalid is forced to live in such conditions on the first floor. With her handicap, does Reska have the right to a better life? The answer is no, her "70% invalidity" is just a little too low to earn her a pension. 

Bajram works for a co-operative which sends him out to work for various factories. ficty years old, with failing health, the whole family depends on him, but he doesn't know from one day to the next whether he will go on working. This is the "flexible" labour market, where you eat today but don't know what will happen tomorrow. Bajram can only count on the fact that his very helplessness and lack of guile make him more worthwhile exploiting than others.

His place should be taken by his children,  Lulzim and Remzija, both in excellent health and with a great desire to make themselves useful. Absurdly, Lulzim, as a refugee awaiting a recognition which never comes, has no right to work. As of the day I am writing, nearly ten months have gone by without any answer - is Lulzim a refugee or not? Although the law obliges them to answer within thirty days, our requests for information about which stage Lulzim's papers are at has received on reply. In the meantime, he and his family have vague and contradictorily defined rights to arbitrarily granted "help" from the government. The law actually obliges them to be parasites.

Maybe I can do something for Remzija. 

I innocently make a suggestion - as an Italian citizen working and living here, can't I somehow guarantee for them? Here I discover a mechanism which can only be described as insane. Every now and then, on its own whim, the Parliament decides how many foreigners can come into Italy. Come in, notice - being here already, perhaps with a home and an illegal but honest job is of no use. In the year 2000, a mere 63,000 foreigners will be allowed into Italy, accurately subdivided by nationality, job and province of Italy.  

Remzija, who is bursting with boredom and the wish to do something - could she be one of the eleven Croatian electricians assigned to the province of Brescia?  

There is no real answer to this question, since the mechanism is so complicated that it is virtually impossible to apply. A law (which in any case comes late) is not enough; it needs decrees to implement it, decisions by the local police and by the chamber of commerce of each province.  

In any case, I rush to the police to ask. I tell them that I read the statement by the minister who said that the new law on foreigners would come into effect in a few days' time. The policeman laughs: "The last time they said 'in a few days' time' it took two years." 

For two weeks, Reska has been feeling depressed. First she stopped eating, then started crying for long periods, and finally started thinking seriously of committing suicide as the only way out of the maze. She listens to the  trade union official kindly and patiently trying to explain the law. Remzija watches silently, trying to follow the legalese - all she can say in Italian is "hello" and "idiot". Suddenly, Reska's face lights up and she bursts into laughter as the trade union official says "by way of example, imagine that I am married to a woman who lives in the camp..."  Reska's imagination flies away, away from the paper and the laws and the life-crushing traps.  

The Berishas certainly are a strange family. They take their shoes off before entering their house, they grind their own coffee; and of course each of them is also eccentric individually. They sometimes forget to pay their bills, and when the watch TV they know all about the horoscope and nothing about the government. But this eccentric family does not throw litter on the ground, and they drive carefully. They have come to Italy driven by an endless chain of disasters, and not to take advantage of anyone. Bajram works hard to enrich Italy, without any hope of having a pension; Lulzim and Remzija are only too ready to do so themselves. And there are many Italians willing to put them to the test. Italy would have everything to gain by saving these people from the monsters threatening them on the opposite shore of the Adriatic. Also because Italy has been a full partner in the destruction of Yugoslavia, it has taken part in the bombing of Kosovo and has helped create the KLA. In other words, one of the reasons Lulzim is here in Italy is because the Italians went to Kosovo. 

Undestandably, laws cannot be tailored to individual cases. They have been drawn up to make life difficult for the most astute, setting up an endlessly increasing series of obstacles along their path. The astute, of course, are the first to find how to get past these obstacles, while the less astute are left out. In the end, it is not too difficult to get into Europe: all you really need is a very, very good lawyer. Indeed, some have good lawyers - my friends told me about some Roma who steal, but before setting out, they ask their lawyers for advice on what to say if they are caught.  

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