Roma woman vies for seat in the French Senate

French Senate

When Anina Ciuciu's family left Romania and immigrated to France, they embarked on a journey towards what they thought of as "the land of human rights." They crossed minefields in Yugoslavia and lived in a refugee camp in Rome all for the sake of escaping a Romania shattered by economic downturn.

When they arrived in France, Ciuciu and her family were refused asylum and forced to beg on the streets.

Anina Ciuciu and her family are Roma, pejoratively known as Gypsies. The Roma people have historically been a marginalized group in Europe. As many as 220,000 Roma were killed during the Holocaust, and the discrimination continues all over Europe to this day.

Ciuciu, now 27, is putting her name on the ballot next month for a seat in the French Senate. A career in political activism — an internship at Amnesty International in London and involvement with two Roma activist groups in France — inspired her to use senate candidacy to make the Roma voice heard. After all, one of the activist groups of which Ciuciu is a member is called "La Voix des Roms," The Voice of the Roma.

As Ciuciu writes in her book, "Je Suis Tzigane et Je le Reste" (roughly translated to "I am Roma for good,") she was lucky enough to catch the attention of a schoolteacher she calls "Madame Jacqueline," who ensured that she and her sister were able to receive an education. Many Roma children in France aren't so lucky. Around 67 percent of school-aged Roma do not regularly attend school.

Of her candidacy, Ciuciu says: "And on the ground, in the working-class neighborhoods and slums, I see the hope this gives people who are suffering and people who are losing interest in politics." The suffering, the marginalized, the discriminated against, the French Roma community that she calls home — these are the people to whom Ciuciu hopes to give a voice on her road to the French Senate.

Ciuciu's chance of winning the election may be impeded by the fact that she does not belong to a major political party. The Romani candidate is a member of the small leftist party Notre Avenir ("Our Future".) But if Ciuciu does get elected, it will be a historic moment for the French Senate, which is often ridiculed for being a politician retirement home as most of its 348 seats are held by men over 60.

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