September 20th, 2010
Newspapers across Europe are dominated by the deportation of gypsies from France and Italy. The European Union has gone as far to declare it “a disgrace” and is threatening some form of disciplinary action. A community that is used to living on the fringes of society is suddenly thrust into the spot light. One country that is increasing held as an example for successful integration is Spain.
During the Franco era, gypsies were treated as second class citizens.
They were prevented from studying, working or even gathering in groups of more than four. Nowadays things have changed dramatically.
The Spanish government has gone to great lengths to integrate the gypsy community into main stream society.
Spain has the second largest gypsy population in Europe. Of the 10-12 million Roma living in Europe, an estimated 970,000 are living in Spain, representing 2% of the population.
The Spanish government is spending approximately 36€ million a year on projects aimed specifically at the gypsy community.
The country has embraced the Roma community, giving them rights and celebrating their history.
Traditional gypsy culture has even made its way into Spanish main stream society with flamenco and traditional dress (particularly in Andalucia) all coming from gypsy origins.
The key to integration – education
Most importantly, Spain has concentrated on education. Nearly all gypsy children start primary education (although only 30% complete it) and unlike anywhere else in Europe, over 85% of the gypsy community is classified as literate.
‘The Gypsy Secretariat Foundation Acceder program,’ is often cited by experts as being one of the best of its kind in Europe. Taking the young and unemployed, putting them through a technical training program, at the end of which, they are given a job, has proved incredibly successful. Although figures are hard to come by, it is estimated that around 75% of Spain’s gypsy community has some form of regular income.
There are numerous reasons for this social ‘acceptance’ of the gypsy community. The Spanish, generally speaking, are a very accepting lot, they are traditionally very warm and welcoming to new cultures. With time, this is beginning to change, with nationalism taking a stronger hold on society.
But, post Franco, the changes that Spain experienced happened at such a fast pace, that society as whole (including the gypsy community) was pushed very quickly in the 21st century.
In the 80s, the gypsy community was the single most impoverished section of society, thereby attracting huge amounts of development funding – both National and EU.
Whatever the reasons, with only 5% of gypsies living in make shift camps and close to 50% classified as homeowners, the Spanish gypsy community has certainly made Spain home.