The public attention in Bulgaria has been focused for more than a week now on the sharp tension in the town of Asenovgrad, caused by the beating of Bulgarian kids by Roma ones at a rowing base. The minor incident ballooned to large-scale protests in the region, as the Bulgarian population prepared a subscription to the parliament, demanding municipal police, jail for the hooligans and solving of the issue with the illegal dwellings in the Roma neighborhood and the uncontrolled inflow of Roma from other places. Many showed solidarity with the protest across the country and the political reactions came pretty soon.
Vice Premier Valeri Simeonov, a representative of the United Patriots coalition stated in public that the state showed no progress at all in the integration of Roma people and the problems couldn’t be solved without finding a solution to the capsulation of that ethnicity into ghettoes. A leftist MP claimed in a dramatic manner that the Roma people were a capsule-detonator with the potential to blow up the entire country, the way Albanians burst Yugoslavia in the past. According to the socialists the Roma ghettoes concentrate crime, endangering Bulgaria’s national security. The Ataka nationalist party claim that it is a matter of cultural clashes, as unlike Bulgarians, Turkish people and Armenians the Roma people are social nomads, “contributing with nothing to the outside world, but only consuming its wealth”. Ataka calls on for sanctions and even repressions against Roma people. Although being exaggerated, the debate on the issue shows growing public tension.
What is happening today in Asenovgrad is not an isolated, but a chronic phenomenon, which has been repeating itself for years on different spots across the country within similar situations. Bulgaria has its National Roma Integration Strategy, but lacks effective policies for its implementation. Even the ruling GERB party admits that national and international funds amounting to millions go for the purpose, but those only create Roma barons, not the integrated ethnic minority we require. There is unanimous understanding that the solving of the problem goes through equality of all communities in terms of the law, with no pardon for illegal houses, thefts and purchased votes. However, there is this argument on whether all parties share that stance, as according to MP form the governing GERB party Manoil Manev “some of the political parties in Bulgaria need precisely this kind of Roma community – unintegrated, unemployed, illiterate, hungry, poor and violating the law.”
After heated debate in the course of three hours, parliament adopted yesterday a report for the implementation of the National Roma Integration Strategy in 2016. Vice Premier Valeri Simeonov stated in conclusion the social benefits from now on should be granted only in exchange for education and employment. In his word everyone is convinced that the Roma integration is a long-term policy and the poverty-fighting and social inclusion policies are part of it. NSI data from last month do show that these policies are ineffective for the time being. The share of poor people among Roma was 77.1% in 2016, on 15.7% among the Bulgarian ethnic group. Retired people form the majority of the poor Bulgarians /42.6%/ and unemployed formed 39.1% of the poor Roma. 78.5% of the poor Roma have primary or no education at all. There are no poor roma people with university education among them.
The Roma issue in Bulgaria remains and has been obviously deepening.
English version: Zhivko Stanchev