This post is part of the series of blogs explaining country-specific research papers, investigating how minority claims for political justice are dealt with in Austria, Hungary, the Netherlands, Portugal, Turkey, and the United Kingdom and how minorities experience it. Each of the case studies analyses one particular issue affecting recognition and representation of Roma relevant in its national context. Two cross-country studies, one highlighting the history of minorisation in the analysed countries, and a further one analysing the findings of the national case studies, complete the picture.

The Portuguese 25th of April 1974 was a turning point for the majority of the Portuguese society. Known as the day of the Carnation Revolution, an end was put to more than four decades of dictatorship: fundamental rights were embedded in the 1976 Constitution.  From 2011 to 2013 as a consequence of the austerity programme, protests in Portugal intensified and radicalised. However, even the more critical narratives of what happened frequently elude an important part of the overall history: not everyone lost their rights: a) some people were not affected by the crisis (‘intimate’ civil society) and b) some people never had rights assured in the first place (the so called ‘uncivil’ civil society).[1]

The leading question of this country study was: democracy for whom? Focusing on the experiences and perceptions of the Roma communities, the goal was to understand whether everyone is equally represented by the democratic institutions. Are all the voices equally heard in the Portuguese democracy?

Portugal does not include the variable of “ethnicity” in its governmental Census and there is hence no credible data about the current number of Roma living in Portugal, their geographical location and lifestyle – information considered crucial for the creation of appropriate measures of intervention. Data on Roma communities is collected unofficially without being made public. This policy has been criticized by activists who argue that this situation creates an obstacle to prove the presence of structural racism, its impact in the country and the ability to design proper policies against it.

The non-recognition of institutional racism results in the absence of adequate measures to address the foundational inequalities and to balance opportunities. Race blind universal measures are not enough. Though fundamental rights were allegedly universalized to the Portuguese population, Roma communities remained a second class group of citizens. For them, access to education, health, housing and employment was never a certainty. The economic problems that brought an enormous number of Portuguese citizens to the streets after the intervention of Troika were old concerns for Roma communities.

Researchers on racism in Portugal argue that public policies that promote the so-called active inclusion and the empowerment initiatives are implemented as a civilizing and disciplinary programme. Self-proclaimed anti-racist measures may ephemerally celebrate Roma culture, but they ultimately work as explanations for their uncivilized, non-modern circumstances and for the assumed need for surveillance of their status as beneficiaries (e.g. of the Social Insertion Income).[2]

Roma communities are not expected to speak for themselves, but to be explained by the owners of knowledge and power. Often, goodwill ispaternalistic and does not change the dynamics of a world characterised by racism and colonialism, where some groups are allowed to remain but are not considered to truly be a part of it. Integration tends to signify assimilation or tolerance, but never real recognition. This limits and hinders the possibilities of Roma and other minorities to define racism in their own terms and produce awareness of structural racism affecting them. In this context solutions and politics are mainly cosmetic. Roma are many times invited by institutions and associations to show the inclusiveness and interculturality of their work. However, frequently they are expected to be an ornament and have no power to define anything important. This mirrors the way research about Roma reproduces their invisibility and erases their voices.

When we erase some groups from the public sphere, we are not only weakening those groups, but losing an opportunity of growing through processes of reciprocal learning (Santos, 2014). Roma are constantly represented as a group apart from the nationals, who although having the same rights need a majority to speak for them. As long as their needs, choices, opinions and proposals are spoken about by others, Portuguese Roma cannot achieve political representation and Portuguese society fails as a democracy.

[1] Boaventura de Sousa Santos argues that civil society is composed of three circles: intimate civil society, strange civil society, and uncivil civil society. The intimate civil society is a sphere of hyper-inclusion, i.e. citizens who have connections with the power of the State; the strange civil society consists of citizens who are moderately integrated; the uncivil civil society is the outer circle, a lawless territory, where appropriation and violence rule. It is composed of the citizens who are excluded from the social contract, living in invisible areas (Santos, 2002).

[2] Maeso, Sílvia and Araújo, Marta (2011).


By Sara Araújo and Laura Brito
written for the ETHOS Project as Working Paper within D5.2
Find the full publication at: https://ethos-europe.eu/publications