Yurts Cause Controversy in France
The nomads in Outer Mongolia created yurts out of necessity, now many people in France are living in them as part of an alternate lifestyle decision.
But the French government has come up with a new crime bill that will enable it to crack down on Roma (gypsy) camps. Yurt dwellers are being caught up in the ensuing controversy because of fear that they too can be easily thrown out of their homes.
The French government, starting with the President, has started raiding Roma camps and expelling them. Thousands of Romanian and Bulgarian gypsies have been deported over the past few years. To facilitate this, the government has proposed a crime bill which includes a clause giving local officials more powers to break up "illegal installations that threaten public health, security or tranquillity".
Here's where the trouble starts: many yurt dwellers are afraid that this legislation will be used against them. They fear that they are being put in the same category as the Roma which are being singled out by President Sarkozy as a menace to society.
In the south and southeast of France hundreds of people have bought or built their own yurts and they are part of growing movement of those who want to scale down their life style and their consumption. Live a simpler life, closer to the land.
Sounds familiar to TreeHugger readers. There is a growing and flourishing community of yurt dwellers, as evidenced by their lively websites and photos.
However the proliferation of yurts is becoming a local planning issue in some villages. Local councils can't decide whether "the structure should have the legal status of a tent, in which case yurtists can bed down in pretty much any field with the owners' approval, or whether it should be seen as a house, in which case France's rigid planning laws apply."
In protest against the new crime bill they have held demonstrations in provincial cities which have ended up in clashes with the police. "We have chosen to live in a yurt in order to educate our children in a spirit of sharing and freedom, said one, but we feel that we are being treated like terrorists."
Things have come to head in a small village in eastern France where a couple built a yurt on the husband's parent's field.
The mayor of the village of 600 people said they needed to apply for planning permission, and informed them that it would be refused since their yurt lacked a bathroom. The couple said that they had access to a bathroom at the nearby house of his parents, so that they should be considered the same as a camp site.
As the very reasonable woman of the house said: "We're integrated into society, but we find it healthier to live like this rather than in the flat we were renting before."
The conflict has caused great dismay in the village as the yurt dwellers call for calm and the freedom to live a quiet life.
It has become a cause celebre in the press, as they debate whether it is an "installation", like a tent or a "construction" , subject to urban rules.
The mayor denies that his decision has anything to do with the new proposed crime bill. Instead he says that it is outside the law to inhabit self-constructed buildings such as the yurt. The government's architects are coming in to take a look and attempt some sort of reconciliation.