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