Gyppos

At the time of writing, the English press is bursting at the seams with articles about the imminent eviction of 86 Gypsy families from Dale Farm, a piece of land the latter have lived on – and owned - for a decade, in Basildon, just north of Southend-on-Sea. Basildon Council and the government have calculated the eviction will cost 18 million quid: quite a lot of money to move people off their own property. In the UK, there are about 300,000 Gypsies who live in caravans and move around the country as they please, using purchased sites or pieces of common land as long-term bases. If the Dale Farm eviction goes ahead – and by the time you read this, it almost certainly will have – it will mark (or already has marked) the beginning of the end of the peripatetic lifestyle of Britain's Gypsies, who are already finding public water taps blocked up and common land sealed off wherever they go. An old story: the Roma have always been given short shrift by their more static fellow Europeans, be it in the form of racist stereotyping or even outright murder (the Nazis and their allies shot and gassed about 200,000 of them – the figure is from Anglo-Gypsy researcher Ian Hancock - in the 1940s). In Catalonia, they were shunned and despised for centuries, until in recent decades many paios started to appreciate the Gypsy contribution to Catalonia's cultural heritage. The poet Enric Casassas dedicated his 'Plaça Raspall' collection (1998) to the Gypsies of Barcelona's Gràcia district, whose council also dedicated a square to them – the Plaça del Poble Romaní – not long after. The musician Peret, one of the founders of the rumba catalana, has frequently reminded his interviewers that he is a Catalan-speaking Gypsy from a 200 year old community, much the same age as the one in Lleida, which now enjoys practically guidebook status. The mainly Gypsy district of Sant Jaume in Perpignan is regarded by many as a Catalan bastion (having resisted the cultural encroachment of the French ever since Northern Catalonia was annexed by Louis XIV back in 1659). Indeed, so groovy have Gypsies now become in the Catalan popular imagination, that the cryptoracist Mayor of Badalona, Xavier García Albiol, felt it necessary to insist that his recent anti-Gypsy smear campaign was aimed only at Romanian nationals, not the local gitanos. The Mayor of Basildon has no such qualms: the Gypsies whose way of life he wishes to destroy are not only living on their own land but – if their passports mean anything at all - in their own country.

Matthew Tree, Catalonia Today,octubre de 2011.

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