19.02.2015 - OPINION

Enlightened absolutism

By Juan de Dios Ramírez-Heredia

Spain will receive investment of 37,000 million Euros to resolve, among other things, the problems posed by Roma-populated slums 


When you read a news article such as this, it is difficult to know whether to laugh with joy or to cry. With this sum of money we would be able to, once and for all, bring an end to the slum settlements that still exist in Spain, reason enough to laugh with joy. However, the fact that Europe’s Alliance of Cities and Regions for Roma Inclusion, established by the Council of Europe, has not leant from the past gives us also a reason to cry. Enlightened absolutism first appeared in the 18th century and spread quickly through Europe during the former regime, an era of indulgence fuelled by the Enlightenment.   

‘Everything for the people, but without the people’. This was the prevailing way of thinking that was seen as justified during this period. It was seen as justified by the aristocracy who at that time fought for power, by the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, who always saw the people as minors, by Voltaire, who believed in the effectiveness of hierarchy over social equality, and by the very same Montesquieu, who defended the three separated democratic powers as long as legislative power remained in the hands of the aristocracy as an intermediary between the monarchy and the people.


Everything for Roma, but without Roma

This is the first thought that comes to mind when reading the news that, last Tuesday, 50 representatives from various public administrations - national, regional and local - as well as specialists on this subject, met in Malaga to discuss how the thirty seven thousand million Euros would be spent. Originating from European funds, this investment is earmarked to carry out various comprehensive plans that are aimed at, among other things, resolving the issue posed by slums in cities with the largest Roma populations.

Roma are conspicuous by their absence in this recent news. The list of attendees is filled with names that are more or less known but that is in no way representative of Spanish Roma. The most shameful thing is that among these names, as far as we are aware, there is not one individual from the Roma community. It is as if history just didn’t happen for Spain. In this country there is a distinguished group of Roma leaders that would surely have had much to say about this cosy assembly of intellectuals and specialists on gypsy related subjects. The organisers of this meeting have acted in the most ancient style of mild absolutism:

--“We will build houses for Roma, we will arrange relocation and evacuation programmes for Roma, we will ensure we meet their most pressing needs, but they will not be able to come forward to contribute themselves to the development of these programmes”.

Manuel Lezertua, Director of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, has emphasised the role of the Alliance of Cities and Regions for Roma Inclusion, of which 126 European cities are members, including Malaga. This role is to educate public opinion in Europe and raise the profile of the work carried out by the public Administrations. Lezertua’s statement is assuring, but we still ask ourselves: Where are the Roma leaders, advocates for the development of this community? Where is the proof of the work carried out by so many well-educated and prepared female Roma who work, or struggle, with the Administrations to be the true protagonists of this change? In Malaga they are nowhere to be seen.

Finally, Ms Secretary of State for Equal Opportunities, please be careful not to let goals pass into the net, goals that are the most challenging to prevent. The organisation that has the largest Spanish Roma representation is the State Council of the Roma Population, of which you are the president. There are many courageous Roma who sit on this council. Why did none of their names feature in the list of attendees?

We cannot forget that in the past, all so-called social development programmes aimed at Roma failed when the design, elaboration and implementation of these programmes was carried out behind the backs of Roma themselves. In other words, we cannot act in the same way as former leaders of the past, who adopted paternalistic attitudes and spoke of the happiness of their subjects in their speeches.


Juan de Dios Ramírez-Heredia


President of Unión Romani



Translated from Spanish into English by Katherine Selby within the initative PerMondo. Sponsored by Mondo Agit offering translations from Spanish into English.