A FRENCH politician has been taped telling a group of protesting Gypsies that he wished the Nazis had killed more of them during the Second World War.
Gilles Bourdouleix, a member of the National Assembly for Maine-et-Loire in the west of the country and deputy mayor of Cholet, a town near Nantes, clashed with the Gypsies when he visited the site of an illegal encampment on Sunday.
A journalist from Courrier de l’Ouest, at the scene, reported some of the Gypsies made Nazi salutes at Mr Bourdouleix, who responded by saying: “Maybe Hitler didn’t kill enough of them.”
On Monday, the paper released a recording on its website of Mr Bourdouleix’s outburst.
Yesterday, Mr Bourdouleix, 53, told French television that he was merely repeating a statement the journalist had made.
The MP, who threatened to sue l’Ouest, also said that if he were to meet the reporter, “I’d want to give him a couple of punches.”
France’s interior ministry said it has asked prosecutors to investigate whether Mr Bourdouleix could be sued for excusing crimes against humanity, a crime which carries a penalty of up to five years in jail and a €45,000 (£37,000) fine.
“Nothing can justify, or excuse, that an elected representative of the republic dares such a reference to the worst barbarism of the 20th century,” the ministry said.
Europe’s travelling people were persecuted and deported to concentration and death camps by the Nazis, where an estimated 200,000 died. In France, one of the internment camps was located in Montreuil-Bellay, only 40 miles from Cholet.
Mr Bourdouleix’s comment was criticised by leaders of his centre-right political party, the UDI. He also came under fire from an activist and another political party.
“To me, these words are words of hatred,” said Christophe Sauve, president of ANGVC (the National Association of Catholic Gypsies), a group that defends travellers’ rights. “Some families are starting to be anxious,” he said.
Mr Bourdouleix’s words “reinforce rejection, discrimination and exclusion,” said Mr Sauve, who threatened to sue him.
“I’m appalled,” said Socialist Party spokesman David Assouline. “That’s far beyond all limits, once again. There are ideologies with which no compromise, no concession can be made, no indulgence from any politician can be possible. I hope there will be legal proceedings.”
Gypsies – referred to in French as “gens du voyage” (travelling people) – traditionally move by caravan around the French countryside, often following seasonal work. There are an estimated 400,000 Gypsies in France, 95 per cent of them with French nationality.
In France, Gypsies and Roma are considered separate minorities, with the latter made up of around 12,000 recent migrants from Romania or Bulgaria.
Tensions often flare when travellers set up illegal sites. French law forces towns of more than 5,000 people to provide sites for travellers, but the users often criticise them as inadequate.
President François Hollande has previously pledged to close illegal camps and provide permanent housing.