Hope for Gypsies in Europe: The Spanish Example

At a lunch attended by twenty-seven heads of state last week in Brussels, President Nicolas Sarkozy lost his temper vociferously when the E.U. President, José Manuel Barroso, publicly said things to him about his decision to deport one thousand gypsies – now usually called Roma – from France he did not want to hear. Sarkozy’s enraged voice could be heard in the nearby council chamber. Apparently, Barroso had said the decision reminded him of Nazi deportations.

In Europe no one’s hands are clean in relation to the Roma, not least the E.U.’s, which up to now – so it is generally said – has been much too passive. Prejudice against them is ancient and almost universal. However, hundreds of academic studies and editorials and humane government programs in many countries have improved the situation considerably.

Surprisingly, the greatest progress has been made in Spain, so much so that, according to Time Magazine (September 16), the governments of Bulgaria, Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Romania are looking to Spain for ideas to apply themselves.

The numbers are huge. Of the between 10 and 12 million Roma living in Europe, Spain has the second biggest community (after Romania), estimated at about 970,000, or around 2% of the total population. Gypsies have melded into Spanish mainstream culture – Flamenco dancing and traditional Spanish dress are both borrowed from the community. Of course that can also be said of Hungary. Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies and Brahms’ Hungarian Dances are inspired by gypsy music.

In Spain today, only 5% of gypsies live in makeshift camps and about half of them are homeowners. Just about all gypsies in Spain have access to health care, and while no recent figures exist, at least 75% are believed to have some sort of steady income. Almost all gypsy children start elementary school (although only about 30% complete it) and more than 85% of the country’s gypsies are literate.

Spain’s two-pronged integration approach has been instrumental in achieving these results, pairing access to mainstream social services with targeted inclusion programs. For example, Roma can have access to public housing and financial aid on the condition that they send their children to schools and healthcare facilities. The Gypsy Secretariat Foundation Acceder program, moreover, which experts say is one of the best integration initiatives in Europe, takes young unemployed gypsies, teaches them technical skills and helps them earn the equivalent of a high-school degree. At the end, they are placed in jobs through a series of agreements with private companies. It’s been such a success that Romania’s National Agency for Roma is now trying to implement its own version.

Even if other E.U. countries do follow in Spain’s footsteps and learn to love their Roma, that only solves half the problem. The best way to stop countries such as France and Italy from deporting gypsies is to ensure the gypsies are happy enough at home so that they don’t need to go to France or Italy in the first place. “Spain has done much more than other old member states [to integrate Roma], but now we have to make sure that success transfers to new member states,” says Ivan Ivanov, executive director of the Brussels-based European Roma Information Office. “Then Roma migrations might stop.” Deportations are futile, he says: “The gypsies will just come back in a few months.”

Once President Nicolas Sarkozy has learned this lesson he will be able to devote his tantrums to other issues.

Source: Time Magazine

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10 responses to “Hope for Gypsies in Europe: The Spanish Example

  1. How a country deals with an underclass tells much…be they “guest workers” or Roma…. perhaps a whiff of Vichy still lingers in the French air.

  2. Elisabeth Ecker

    I understand that both Johann Strauss and Elvis Presley had at least some Gypsy blood in them. There are also now some great Gypsy bands in Toronto.
    Not everything is bad about Roma.

  3. Django Reinhardt made a significant and positive contribution to music.

    I seem to recall that the UK’s treatment of Roma caravans was not exemplary.

  4. “Of no fixed address” as a descriptor is not regarded as respectable in a world where every square inch of territory is owned or otherwise accounted for. As nomads, the Roma have no place in such a world. That is why they are required to “Move along, now,” to make sure the untidiness is in some other jurisdiction.
    Who has set out a conceptually viable scheme for coexistence between nomads and the settled population on a given (intensively inhabited) territory? How can the consequent cultural dissonance between the two groups be mediated?
    In Canada, through luck or good judgment, we seem to have been able to cobble together other kinds of cultural variety with modest success — though aboriginal attitudes to the use and enjoyment of territory have yet to be respectfully integrated with the mainstream culture of “real estate.”

  5. Is there any possibility that some of the Roma’s problems are caused by their own attitudes, which obviously get others annoyed? Spain is held out in the article as an example of a relatively successful accommodation, but 70% of Roma children do not complete primary school. Why not? Because their people don’t value education, or don’t trust the state, or just want to be alone? How employable are such people? So non-Romas may tend to conclude that Romas will live from theft. In short, Roma are not integrated in part because it is far from clear that they want to be. Nowadays of course no one is starting from square one, and attitudes are entrenched on both sides…

    • I cannot answer your question. No doubt Gypsologists can.
      All I can say, as far as I know, is that the 80,000 gipsies in Canada are behaving as well as you and I, or perhaps better.

  6. In reply to John G,
    Substitute the word aboriginal for Roma and you summarize the attitude of many North Americans about our Indian children. A Nomadic life is not easily compatible with 21st century economy and political structures. Both groups have different concepts of private/public property. The Canadian Indian success story (yes things are improving) comes with role models children can relate and aspire to emulate, as well as the prospects of a real future. There was a lot of trial and error before this began to take root. Have the Roma getting any of this anywhere in Europe today. Do they have an MEP? Corporate leader? Movie or TV Star? Believe there may be a few musicians,… but they need poster people for higher education. This takes a lot of gritty development work, compassion, and understanding.

    Mike Sky