Bulgarian Helsinki Committee: Opportunistic politicians evicting Roma for political gain
On 9 October, Kaloyan Stanev of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee published an opinion piece through the Open Society Foundations describing the evictions of Roma that have been ongoing there. The evicted families say they were given just one hour by police to leave their dwellings before they were bulldozed.
Approximately 10 families' homes have been destroyed in this way in Garmen over the last four months. Stanev visited the village with a delegation from the US Embassy, Open Society Foundations staff, and Romani civil society members.
Stanev reports that he was shocked "by the brutality of the mayor, who told us that she is determined to demolish 16 more Roma homes before the municipal elections on October 25." The 124 houses slated for demolition were built in the early 1960s on municipal land by special decree after the communist regime forced Romani people to permanently settle through laws adopted in 1957 and 1958.
More than 800 Romani people live in this particular quarter today. Stanev reports that most of the Romani residents of Garmen were born there.
The solid community is one of strong ties. The main income-generating activity is collecting berries, herbs and mushrooms in the nearby mountains and selling them.
What little money is earned is spent on basic necessities. News server Romea.cz reported this May on inter-ethnic tensions in the village.
The Bulgarian national media, according to Stanev, reported on those incidents in racist terms. By the end of June, the state was sending bulldozers to demolish Roma homes without prior notice.
The evicted families have moved in with neighbors and relatives because the government has not provided them with alternative housing. Stanev says similar demolitions have occured in Dupnitsa, Peshera, Stara Zagora (last year) and Varna in the run-up to the local elections later this month.
Local authorities are apparently hoping that such displays of nationalism will keep them in power."In Garmen... I saw the impact that perverted democratic institutions have on people’s lives," Stanev reports.
Similar evictions of Romani people in particular have been reported from across Europe this year and have been raised by the European Roma and Travellers Forum. Bulgarian civil society has managed to secure court injunctions against the demolitions in some cases.
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