Bulgaria: Roma respond to anti-Romani protests in the capital
On 14 June the FOCUS News Agency cited police reports that a protest against the "lawlessness of Roma people" on 13 June had resulted in several injuries in the Orlandovtsi district of Sofia, Bulgaria. A brawl reportedly broke out between non-Romani and Romani residents there.
More than 10 local police cars, state police teams, ambulances and fire engines reportedly responded to the incident from around the region. FOCUS News Agency reported on 19 June that the anti-Romani demonstrations continued to be held in that neighborhood on every subsequent evening.
The agency also quoted academics from various disciplines who commented on the events on 15 June, sometimes in terms that reiterated anti-Gypsyist tropes. Professor Mihail Konstantinov, a mathematician, told the FOCUS News Agency that two generations of Roma are "totally out of control".
His comments were reportedly made in the context of discussing who bears political responsibility for the democratic and economic transition period in Bulgaria, which he said had facilitated the creation of a group of people whose aim is allegedly to exercise their rights, including to social benefits, without living up to any social obligations. The mathematician described this group as illiterate men and women between the ages of 25 and 35, most of them Roma, whom he characterized as "unfit" to survive in the modern world, comparing them to African-Americans.
"In the United States there is [a] growing number of young black men and women, who are illiterate, use drugs and are asocial. That is [a] very serious problem and I am [a] pessimist about it,” the mathematician remarked.
FOCUS News Agency also reported that political scientist Ognyan Minchev took a broader view of the issue. "The problem with the Roma population is a century-old problem. It has undergone... different stages. In the past 25 years there were certain processes that are subject to more profound analysis. The problems with [the] Roma population are evident and must be solved with joint efforts of the state and the citizens,” he said.
Minchev also said he believed police in Bulgaria are very active when it comes to clashes involving Romani people, unlike many other such incidents. The Malay Mail Online reported on 16 June that the Bulgarian Prime Minister had appealed for calm.
"I call on everybody to be careful and not to play with fire... It is very easy to spark an ethnic conflict," PM Boyko Borisov told the press.
Police were said to have prevented "several dozen locals from storming the Roma ghetto" on 15 June, according to the Malay Mail Online. Four men were said to have been charged with hooliganism and 70 people, both non-Roma and Roma, were said to have been arrested over the course of two days.
"We have nothing against the Roma from our area. But there are gypsies coming from the country who harass our girls, attack our boys and steal from our houses," protester Petar Ivanov, 52, told Agence France-Presse.
News server Romea.cz reached out to members the Romani community in Bulgaria for comment on these incidents. Velcho Mihalev of the Etnosi information portal said on 18 June that anti-Romani protests "are usually organized before elections in Bulgaria. Everywhere [the] same individuals and organizations encourage ethnic tension. According to me, these events are political in order to stabilize [a] certain electorate [for] local political leaders or parties. [The] ethnic tension started in Garmen village and after that transferred to Orlandovtsi neighborhood in Sofia. [The] parties and participants in these anti-Roma protest[s] are the same. They are representing themselves as rockers, football ultras, etc. but probably these provocations are paid to keep [up] the tension between Roma people and ethnic Bulgarians. The reason for tension [in] both places [was] the same - loud music around Roma houses. I am afraid that protests against Roma will expand in more villages and neighborhoods. Roma people in Garmen and Orlandovtsi are stressed, afraid of attacks or fighting. They can’t leave their neighborhoods ... still [the] police and gendarmerie guard them."
On 19 June, concerned citizens and representatives of both non-Romani and Romani organizations were slated to attend an event in Sofia where methods for overcoming such problems were to be discussed. News server Romea.cz will report on the conclusions of that event once materials become available.
Also on 19 June, Bulgarian Interior Minister Rumyana Bachvarova said her ministry is starting a program to hire more employees of ethnic Roma origin, according to news server novinite.com. Bachvarova told public broadcaster BNT on Thursday that the program will involve 10 municipalities.
She also said the police presence in Garmen and Orlandovtsi would remain in order to prevent escalation. More than EUR 55 million of the funding in the 2014-2020 operational programs is supposed to target "Roma integration", novinite.com quoted an EU official as saying.
"The money is available now," EU Commission Vice President for Budget and Human Resources Kristalina Georgieva told Bulgarian National Radio. She said more needs to be done to tackle integration and called on Bulgarian authorities to help Romani children between age seven and 15, as reportedly 25 % of them never attend school.
She also called the recent tensions in Garmen and Orlandovtsi "the tip of the iceberg". "[There are] responsibilities for both sides. This is not only a matter of rights - of course, rights matter too. [But] rights come with responsibilities," she said.
The Bulgarian Interior Ministry also warned last week that there was evidence of "organization efforts" to keep the anti-Romani protests going. The ethnic Bulgarians who participate in them claim members of the Roma community have been committing crimes against them that local authorities fail to address.
FOCUS News Agency reported on 19 June that a greater police presence was still on hand in Orlandovtsi. The agency also reported that ethnic Bulgarians were calling on Romani residents to join them in signing a petition asking for street light repair, CCTV surveillance, the demolition of "illegal buildings", an increased police presence, and "checks on residential registrations of Roma community members in the district".
Two priests reportedly held a public prayer for peace in the neighborhood that was attended by approximately 70 ethnic Bulgarians and 20 Roma. Communion was taken and the situation there was described as calm.
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