Romani social participation

Democratic progress has led to an increase in both the number and diversity of associations. They organise themselves in a structured way and are beginning to exercise new functions in the social economy and political sphere. The rise of the Third Sector and a transfer of institutional responsibilities is underway. However, this process facilitates participation and gives a central role to associations, including Romani associations. In this scenario, Romani associations as well as Romani and citizen movements give rise to a school of civic and democratic attitudes and promote collective creativity; they are able to facilitate communication and participation networks and constitute a platform for the recovery and/or development of culture using the structures and procedures of the majority culture. In addition, opportunities for collaboration with payos (non-Roma) are arising: schools and associations have the capacity to serve as intercultural venues in a way that other institutions cannot, although this does not always happen. Both schools and associations play a key role in the formation of the types of relationships that could serve as alternatives to existing models.

Citizen participation in general, and the participation of Roma in particular, are indicative of the democratic pulse. However, they have yet to develop their full potential in this regard.

Participation should lead to processes of constant interaction between minority populations and the majority society. It is the majority society, because of its power, which bears the responsibility of organising participation under fair terms. This includes: the recognition of Roma as an ethnic group, respect for their culture, and the granting of representation and institutional participation. It is necessary to structure a social fabric which is democratic, plural and caring and that is capable of collaborating in the development and management of social policy.

It is necessary to progress towards a social pact/contract that legitimises the social responsibility of citizens in the definition and construction of cities, regions and public entities. Participation should be accompanied by a recognition of political considerations. Otherwise, it is rendered void of substance and ideologically conditioned.

Roma have made particularly worthy organisational efforts to adapt to associative structures which in many cases were foreign to us (given that in Romani society cooperation occurs strictly within one’s family without seeking relationships or commitments with other families). This process has necessitated the overcoming of resistance, of which there are two very obvious types: the lack of a participatory tradition within the Roma community and a system of internal organisation that relativises democratic processes in favour of other more hierarchical processes that are closely related to the roles that each person has within their group. Romani political organisation is structured around groups of blood relatives, and authority tends to centre around older men.

This largely explains the weakness of Romani associations, if compared with those of other sectors or groups, as well as the difficulties associated with establishing democratic processes for internal decision-taking. However, it would be unwise to establish the principle that only Romani associations are weak or that all Romani associations are weak, as stated by José Manuel Fresno [1]. However, it should be said that in general they find themselves in a disadvantageous situation.

Another problem to be added to those already mentioned is that references to participation and Roma refer directly to outside participation and the lack of it, while omitting the concept of inner-group participation. This concept could include family participation and solidarity as well as religious worship, which at present is frequently associated with the evangelical movement. The key is to know when they participate, what they participate in and what they get out of this participation.

[1] J.M. Fresno Garcia (1992), “El asociacionismo en el reto de la Europa Comunitaria” FSG Documentation Centre.
— (1993), “Las asociaciones: una forma de participación social”, in Los gitanos en la historia y la cultura, Actas de un Congreso. Granada: Regional Government of Andalusia. Department of Labour and Social Affairs.
— (1996), “Asociarse para participar”, FSG Documentation Centre.
Written by Carme Méndez.