A Modest Proposal

I started to suspect some time ago that in Italy there could be a problem with gypsies, or, to employ a more politically correct term, Roma people.
Not much of a news, you say? OK, right, sometimes I’m sort of slow in catching up with the current news.

However, I did a small research, and yes, I’m positive: we have a problem. Only, it’s a bit worse than I expected. The good news is that there is a solution. A rather simple one, in fact. And quite obvious. It somehow emerges naturally if only one cares to give a closer look at the issue, and it could be both effective and not too difficult to implement.

Bear with me, you won’t be disappointed. I hope. Most likely you would be surprised.

It all started last week when I come upon a mention in an article on Repubblica of a recent survey put in place by the European commission about discrimination and inequality in Europe. Repubblica reported that Italy resulted the EU country with the highest dislike for Roma. Of course, the few random percentages mentioned in the newspaper couldn’t possibly give a comprehensible view of the situation. I was intrigued however by the fact that France was mentioned as much more tolerant than Italy. I live in France, and I know that Roma are much more numerous here than in my country of origin. I resolved I would check the numbers some other time.

Well, I have found some time now, so I retrieved the original report and I looked for Rom population estimates in Wikipedia,  with the aim to check for correlations.

The survey, for the part of interest, involved two questions, put to population samples across EU countries:

1) How comfortable would you feel in having a Rom as a neighbour? (Scale from 1 tot 10, highest more comfortable.)

2) Do you have any Roma friend ?

I thus plotted the survey results against the percentage of Roma over the entire population of the different countries, and here are the results (including error bars for estimate uncertainties):

So, there is hardly any overall correlation between the number of Roma in a given country and how they are perceived. there. In Italy the Roma are only a tiny fraction of the total inhabitants (less than 0.2%), as in most of Europe, but all countries with similar low Rom densities are much more tolerant than Italy, and their score show a rather large spread. The western Europe countries with a relatively high Rom density are amongst the more tolerant, while east Europe countries, with the higher number of Roma, are slightly below average but show, interestingly enough, a positive trend (higher Rom density = high tolerance). Therefore, the claim that in Italy there is a reaction to the too high number of Roma starts to look a bit fishy. What’s so special about Italy, then? Somebody particularly malignant  could be tempted to answer that Italy is the only EU country with a prime minister with a dominant position in the mass media and a very strong interest first in creating dissatisfaction with the previous government and then in distracting the public from more important issues (for which he has no clue about possible solutions). However we should dismiss here such hypothesis  as unscientific, on the ground that it’s impossible to either prove it or disprove it in this context.

It’s however interesting to look at the plot below, dealing with the answers to the second question. of the survey It is not surprising that only four percent among Italians admit to have a Rom friend, since it’s so hard to find one at all. On the other hand, almost half of Bulgarians have friends among Roma. It looks like xenophobic reaction are damped by increased presence of minorities, thus more opportunities to meet and understand them.

Eventually, I find the last plot the more intriguing. I compare here the reaction to Rom neighbours among the countries supposedly closest to Italy for culture, social structure and standard of living. I include UK and Germany, the other larger western states, for comparison. It is very tempting to admit a trend towards higher acceptance in case of a stronger presence of Rom minorities.

The conclusion is blatantly obvious: Italians are not comfortable with Roma, because there are not enough Roma in Italy. An increase in their number would give Italians more chances to know them better and therefore be reassured.

So, if the present government really want to reduce social alarm caused by Roma people, it should first of all try to attract more of them. It may not solve completely the problem, since Italy looks like such an anomaly, but this simple study show that it can only improve it.

Unfortunately I suspect that, as is often the case for simple, logical solutions based on a scientifically sound analysis, the political power would gladly ignore such a suggestion. Pity for them us.


11 Responses to “A Modest Proposal”

  1. Could it be that that the correlation is backwards, that is there is a small number of Roma people in Italy because Italians are not comfortable with them? Maybe, Roma people flow where they are loved the most.
    If so, Maroni could said “let torment them so that they go in those dirty Roma-loving countries”.

  2. I’m particularly malignant, you know… 😉

  3. In principle, I am not against your conclusion. However, I am worried that it is a bit too much to infer it from the data you show. As one of the previous messages suggests, there might be an issue of reverse causality there. Moreover, it might me that Italy, compared to other European countries, is not doing a good job in integrating them and this affects both sides of the relationship (omitted variable bias). It would be nice to have a look to data disaggregated by region.

  4. I think this article is missing the core of the problem: many of those gypsies in Italy are recent immigrants. They don’t have regular sources of income and so many are dependent on begging and thefts. In countries like Romania and Spain there are many gypsies, but most have a regular source of income. So they are much less felt as a nuisance.

  5. Roberto Says:

    @ Caminadella:
    Could be, but the more pro-Roma countries is Poland (score of 7.5), with even less Rom density than Italy (0.09% against 0.17% to be precise). Among the highest scores are also Sweden (0.23% of Roma) and the virtually Rom-free Luxembourg and Denmark (0.03%). Therefore, Roma don’t go sistematically where they are better accepted. Of course, tormenting them is likely to discourage them to stay in Italy, but do you really think a lower presence will decrease the social alarm?
    @ klochov:
    You know I’m malignant as well. Therefore I answer my previous question and predict that the social alarm linked to Roma will decrease with time, independently from their actual presence in Italy, but proportionally to their declining presence in the news, especially on television. A similar prediction can be made (and is already being fulfilled) for garbage in Naples and Alitalia deficit…
    @ Mauro:
    See above for my answer to reverse causality. I agree with your remarks however, and I know my exercise is not more than a game, meant as a provocation. But what I wanted to point out is the purely artificial nature of the “Rom problem” in Italy, and the fact that a large minority is often more accepted than a smaller one, since it’s less likely to cause irrational xenophobic reaction.
    @ Wim:
    If you have data to back up your claims, I would be grateful if you can point your sources to me. Lacking that, I would have an hard time believing that there are more fresh Rome immigrants in Italy than in France or Spain, given the huge difference in numbers.

  6. What you say is probably true. Some decades ago Sweden had a large influx of Italians. These people, with their difference in moral values, were of coure somewhat discriminated against. Many people would not have one as a neighbour, they commited more crime etc.

    However, as decades pass, Sweden accepted more and more immigrants. Now at least 1 in 5 of Swedish citizens have foreign background. In some large cities the majority of school students is of foreign descent. We now have large suburbs where no ethnic Swedes lives. Fire fighters can no longer go there without police escort, because of stone throwers. We now have established organised crime in these areas.

    But have no problems with racism, no one would any longer look down upon an Italian. People have simply come to accept our new multicultural society. There are actually laws that would put me in prison, if I declared I hated muslims or roma.

  7. Roberto Says:

    @ Erik:

    As I told Wim before you, I would appreciate some data with reliable sources for what you affirm, notably about fire fighters troubles & organized crime.

    Such claims are indeed typical of a racist attitude, and even if sometimes there is some truth behind them, they are in general greatly exaggerated. If the claim that some suburbs are only inhabited by recent immigrants is true, this is a sign that racism is still a reality in Sweden as well, in spite of all the anti-racism laws.

    My point is that measures aimed at social and economical (and not necessarily cultural) integration are much more effective then anti-racial laws.

    In spite of all that, from what I know from Swedish friends & colleagues as well as from statistics, Sweden is much more advanced than Italy in this respect.

  8. Roberto, Durkheim would have loved your work, at least as much as I did. And, as the comments show, numbers do not explain everything, and a deeper knowledge of the background is mandatory.
    Speaking about Italy, when a prime minister has all the media in his hands (as you said) and needs the support of a party with Nazi components (how do you call people who set gypsy camps on fire?), a Nazi drift is quite natural. Regardless of the percentage of Gypsy people.
    Maybe you are right. The only way to save the “sick man of Europe” (if it is not, already, the dead man) is to flood it with healthy people.

  9. Ciao Mario.
    Durkheim, yep. I have a soft spot for bald, bearded guys with glasses who think they know how the world could be made better.

    And, yes, healthy people, I agree. However, a bit less of the unhealthy ones could help as well – though I doubt other counties would willingly take them aboard. Pity.

  10. ilmondodigalatea Says:

    Sono incapace a scrivere qualcosa di sensato in inglese, ma lo leggo, e il tuo articolo (nonché la tua analisi) mi sembrano meravigliose…
    Tra l’altro, volevo avvertirti che con colpevole, colpevolissimo ritardo ti ho linkato al mio blog. Se mi riuscirà mai di imparare meglio l’inglese, tornerò per scrivere questo OT tradotto. Ciao. 🙂

  11. Galatea, molte grazie per i complimenti e per i link. In quanto alla traduzione, le regole della casa stabiliscono che vengano accettati in ogni lingua (ora che lo sapete potete impunemente insultarmi in swahili), ed a quelli in italiano rispondo in italiano.
    Mi devo scusare anch’io, e’ da un po’ che non commento da te. Ma ti seguo comunque, e se non commento e’ perche’ una serie di “bello”, “sono d’accordo”, “continua cosi'” risulta alla fine stucchevole. Le poche volte che ho qualcosa di intelligente da aggiungere, che non sia gia’ stato detto da te, vengo preceduto da uno dei tui illustri e numerosi seguaci…
    Vedro’ di essere piu’ veloce (non una delle mie doti) 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: