Burial politics and intolerance seem to have been involved in an incident concerning the burial of a Roma (gypsy) baby during the holidays in France. The mayor of the town of Champlan, where the baby lived and died, allegedly refused her family the right to bury her in the local cemetery.
According to the BBC, “The girl was born in mid-October and died on 26 December of sudden infant death syndrome. The conservative mayor of Champlan, Christian Leclerc, was reported to have refused to bury her. He was quoted by Le Parisien newspaper as justifying the decision by saying that his town was running out of burial space and that ‘priority is given to those who pay local taxes.'”
The refusal to allow the Roma girl to be buried in Champlan has led to outrage by many French people and a political scandal for the mayor of Champlan. Several French groups claim that the refusal of burial access amounts to a violation of human rights.
An indignant Prime Minister Manuel Valls reportedly commented that: “Refusing a child a burial because of its roots is an insult to its memory, an insult to France.”
This incident is certain to generate further debate in France, where the Front National (FN) party regularly promotes anti-Roma and anti-immigrant messages. Meanwhile, a judicial investigation into the incident has been opened.
Burial politics and cemetery disputes have been a part of many religious and racial conflicts in the early modern and modern periods. Burial disputes were common during and after the French Wars of Religion, as historian Keith Luria’s work has shown. Historians of the First World War, such as Jay Winter, have examined the commemoration politics surrounding the burial of soldiers killed during that war. Historians of the Holocaust have examined the racial burial politics that the Nazis used against Jews and other peoples deemed “undesirable” by the Nazi governement.
Historians of religious history and intolerance have started to re-examine the issue of burial politics, questioning who has access to burial and under what conditions. Historians of iconoclasm have also questioned whether past episodes of grave damage represented vandalism or subtle forms of religious conflict.