Book Brief: Collective Rights and the Cultural Identity of the Roma: A Case Study of Italy

Claudia Tavani
Martinus Nijhoff Publishers (October 2012)
ISBN 9789004206610
380 pages

Reviewed by FXB Researcher Dr. Margareta Matache

Collective rights and the cultural identity of the Roma: A case study of Italy introduces a model for the inclusion of the Roma, a minority group enduring widespread discrimination in Europe.

According to official data, Italy is home to approximately 120,000 Roma and Sinti, but only 60% of this group has Italian citizenship. Despite recognizing other ethnic and linguistic minorities, Italian law denies the Roma the status of a national or linguistic minority to the Roma. Claudia Tavani argues throughout the book that protection of the Roma cannot be realized if initiatives are targeted exclusively within the limits of an equality and non-discrimination framework. Instead, she analyzes the situation of Roma people in Italy both in the framework of international laws and instruments and Italian national legislation, concluding that there is a crucial need for the protection of the collective right to cultural identity, which is meant to complement the existing individual rights framework.

In neglecting the diversity of the Roma, Italian authorities define the Roma population as “nomads” (nomadi), regardless of whether they are citizens or foreigners. This label disregards the fact that the vast majority of Roma are settled; as Tavani explains, many Roma living in so-called “nomad camps” have been settled for decades. Their non-nomadic nature is obvious to the organizations that have worked with the same families for years, and to authorities who register the birth of children. It is obvious to those working in schools who see Roma children’s continued attendance. Despite all this, the settlement locations are still considered nomad camps.

Tavani shows that in maintaining this “nomad” label, authorities endorse the creation of nomad camps, both legal and illegal. Thus, they institutionalize unjust processes under the control of the local authorities and legitimize the marginalization of Roma, reinforcing the belief that “Gypsies must be kept apart from the general population, and the general population would do best to keep their distance from them.”1

The author brings the connection between individual and collective rights closer, showing that these two sets of rights do not conflict with but rather reinforce one another. Tavani persuasively explains how certain harmful practices, present at the level of some traditional communities and groups, are the main elements that impede the debate on cultural rights. She believes that there are ways to address those issues, and that there is also a strong need to enforce the other elements of cultural identity.

The book aptly concludes that “[u]nless something is done as a matter of urgency to end discrimination against the Roma and to protect their cultural identity, there exists the risk that Roma culture will disappear under the pressure for acceptance by the majority society.”

Dr. Matache is a Romanian Roma human rights activist who joined the FXB Center as a Post-Doctoral Fellow in September 2012.

1 N.Solimano and T. Mori, “A Roma ghetto in Florence,” UNESCO Courier, June 2000, quoted by Claudia Tavani, p. 195.