presence of the Rroma in Spain dates back to the XVth century, when they
arrived to the Iberian peninsula through the Pyrenees. The first document
that gives an evidence of their presence dates from 1425, when the king Alfonso V, the Magnanimous confered a passing permit to Juan and Tomás,
who called themselves "Counts of Egypt Minor", to let them by. The name
"Egypt Minor" in spanish suggests the word gitano, they way the Rroma are
named in spanish. From then onwards, the Rroma scattered across Spain.
The Rroma are at the
present a community of 500.000 to 600.000 members in Spain. Andalusia is
the region with a higher number of Rroma, 300.000, wich means a 5% of the
population in this area. They have so much importance there that the andalusian
parliament declared the 22nd of november as the "Andalusian Rroma Day".
This day commemorates the date in which the first Rroma arrived to Andalusia
in 1465. After Andalusia, Extremadura, Madrid, Valencia and Catalonia are
the regions with a higher number of Rroma living there. Galicia, Asturias
and the Basque Country are the areas with a lower Rromani population.
The main problems of
Rroma people lie on education, employement, housing and culture. The Rroma
have always had exlusively an oral tradition. They never wrote anything.
Therefore, the level of illiteracy is still around the 60 % among the Spanish
Rroma. We are talking about people, then, who are not prepared enough to
face up the challenge of the present society and, more over, that are helpless
in front of the major society.
In regard to education,
we find a two-faced phenomenon. Several educational centers put some difficulties
for the Rroma children to study with the non Rroma girls and boys. The
schools are afraid of a parents's reaction against the Rroma, and they
don't want them to take their sons away from the school. In the same way,
the regular school doesn't include in its study programms some elements
of the Rromani culture or the social structure of the Rroma people. For
both reasons, neither all the schools have a disposal to receive Rroma
pupils nor all the Rroma parents and children see the school as something
useful for their future. The consequence is obvious: there is a high rate
of absenteeism from school among the Rroma children.
Something similar happens
in the labour sphere. Times when the Rroma were valued for their knowledge
of cavalry or their work in the forge are very far. Mainly, the Rroma live
now from the travelling sale. But this job has enormeous difficulties because
of the reluctance of the local authorities to give selling permits. The
rest of the activities in wich the Rroma often work, very far from the
number of travelling sellers, are agriculture, paper or scrap collection,
antiques or artistic activities. In other sectors the Rroma normally have
to deal with problems because of their lack of professional skills and
the prejudices they find at work. A few employers dare to employ or less
still to offer responsability positions to a Rrom. As a consequence, and
without any precise stadistic, the unemployment rate among the Rroma people
is extremely high. Fortunately, this situation is changing and nowadays
the number of Rroma university students is increasing every day.
In the field of housing
we find the same analogous phenomenon of discrimination. The few Rroma
people who still live as travellers all over the european continent see
how their movements are conditioned by the numerous legislations and ordinances
that veto the right to camp in the public terrains. At the present time
european Rromani population is mainly sedentary. An important part of them
have to live in unhealthy conditions because of their economic situation,
in marginal areas of the big european cities. The numerous programms to
accommodate the Rroma find its main obstacle in the rejection of the neighbours
to accept the Rroma in their neighbourhood. Lastly, at present Rromani
culture remains in the oblivion. The majority of the institutions has exclusively
a social conception of Rroma people, forgetting the cultural aspects. It
is evident that the prior problems are housing and work. But we must not
forget that the collective identity of the Rroma people depends in large
mesure on the fact of having a common historical past, their own language,
a certain social uses and, definitively, a common history. In this sense
the efforts to promote the Rromani culture or the teaching of the Rromano
language are not enough yet.
We face, then, that
the lack of academic and occupational training, the absence of decent houses
or the lack of recognition of the Rroma people idiosyncrasy lead an important
part of them to live in marginal conditions, sub-standard housing and to
find in very difficult conditions to make a living. Some of their members
have to resort to delinquency as a way to survive. As a consequence, the
discrimination of the major society against the Rroma people is accelerating
and deny them the opportunities to get out of this situation. This is also
responsability of many institutions and media. The media frequently base
their informations on stereotypes, something that doesn't help at all to
bring into harmony the convivence of the Rromani community and the major
The non-Rroma Spanish
owe a lot of things to the Rroma people. There are many contributions from
the Rromano in the spanish language and a lot of words that come directly
from the Rromano language (like chaval, for instance). There is also an
important influence of the Rromani culture in other aspects of the spanish
culture. It is said, for example, that in Andalusia "you don't know where
the Rrom ends and where the Andalusian begins".
Among the efforts to
improve the Spanish Rroma people quality of life and to promote their culture
it is remarkable the task of Juan de Dios Ramírez-Heredia, Rrom,
member of the spanish Parliament since 1977 to 1985 and of the european
Parliament (1986-94) as well. Nowadays he is the president of the Spanish
Romani Union and a representative of Spain in the Consultative Commission
"Racism and Xenophobia" of the European Union Council.
At present Spain has
several means of aids for the Rroma people through the central, regional
or local government. Generally speaking, we can affirm that it exists a
certain compromise of the authorities towards the Rroma people problems,
although it could be stronger. The main part of the incomes are given by
the own estate through the National Scheme for Rroma Devolopement, which
had a 500 milion (ptas) budget in 1996.
An important part of
the efforts in the social and cultural promotion of the Rroma have been
made by the own Rroma people. In the middle sixties the Spanish Rroma started
to organize themselves and to found associations dedicated to claim for
the recognition of their rights, the improvement of their standard of living
and the promotion of their culture. Nowadays the Rroma associations themselves
are the ones who channel a large portion of the state help.
Luckily, in Spain there
hadn't been many cases of violent racism, opposite to Germany, Austria
or the Estern Europe countries (Romania, Bulgaria or the Czech Republic,
mainly). The last case of violent racism took place in the village of Mancha
Real (Jaen, Andalusia) in 1993, when the major induced the neighbours to
set on fire the houses of the Rroma in order to expel them from there.
However, racism does exist. It exists in a subtle but constant discrimination,
which makes that when the word Rom is pronounced authomatically is associated
with criminal activities. To take an obvious example, the general secretary
of the Romani Union, Antonio Torres, couldn't come into a discotheque in
Santander last summer for the mere fact of being a Rom. These kind of circumstances
are very frequent, and it's still quite usual that the policemen ask for
the identification papers to the Rroma they find in the streets, simply
for being Rroma. We can't forget that until 1976 the by-law of the Guardia
Civil (a national security civil force) had some articles that let the
police to act at random with the Rroma and, for instance, stop and ask
them for the bills of the clothes they were wearing.
"The Roma in Spain",
by Agustín Vega Cortés, about the historical evolution of
the Rroma People in Spain.