Spain's Tolerance of Gypsies: A Model for Europe?





Of the 10-12 million Roma living in Europe, Spain has the second biggest community, estimated at 970,000, or about 2% of the total population. And the country spends almost €36 million annually bringing them into the fold. In Spain, only 5% of gypsies live in makeshift camps, and about half of Roma 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....

But can the rest of Europe replicate Spain's success? Much of the country's good work in integrating Roma is thanks to its specific history with the community. In order to guarantee stability in a country split along nationalist lines, the constitution written after Franco's death was inclusive of all ethnic groups and cultures, thus shielding Roma from institutional exclusion. And because Gypsies were the single most impoverished population in the 1980s, they attracted the most development efforts.

Despite centuries of victimization, Gypsies have melded into Spanish mainstream culture — flamenco dancing and traditional Spanish dress are both borrowed from the community. "Spanish Gypsies also resisted integration efforts less than in other countries because they have been sedentary for centuries," says José Manuel Fresno, an adviser to the E.U. commission on Roma issues and head of the Spanish government's anti-racism commission....


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