2. Who are the Roma?
3. Socialism and the Roma minority
5. The transition to democracy and minority protection
6. The European Union and the Roma minority
“It’s not wrong to be different than the others, it’s wrong when the others treat you differently.”
Since the beginning of the 21st century, being other or vanguard has become something normal, it is even modern to stand out and be perceived as different from the crowd. Every country’s cultural landscape has become more various than it was ever before and this is due to processes of globalization, taking place all over the world. One cannot argue that this development has brought many advantages mostly in the areas of transportation, tourism, media and communication. But for some parts of the society these improvements do not mean a lot, as these people are still struggling to find their way out of financial shortage, unemployment and bad living conditions. These people are members of the Roma minority in East Europe.
In the European Union, after the accession in 2007 of Romania and Bulgaria, there are about 10 million Roma living all over Europe. Everywhere unwanted, everywhere persecuted, they were admitted, as the European Commission states, without even knowing, to have become "a threat to social cohesion in Europe". More or less assimilated during Communism in the 90s, Roma from Eastern Europe experienced on their backs with all its weight the social cost of economic transition. With the enlargement of the EU, institutions gradually realized their unenviable position. The EU, The World Bank and many non-governmental organizations such as the "Soros" allocated funds and carried out informational campaigns, so that more Europeans could become aware of the social disadvantage of these people. Despite this, the integration of minorities in East Europe is still a serious problem and there is unfortunately no universal method for solving it. The aim of this paper is to investigate this problem, focusing on a country, where this issue has become more visible during the past 20 years, namely in Bulgaria. As Bulgaria is considered a rather small country in Europe, examining big cities would mean focusing on places with more than 300,000 habitants. Among these are the three biggest cities in Bulgaria, on which the paper concentrates, namely Sofia, Varna and Plovdiv. The analysis will be build upon a historical comparison of the Roma problem during socialism and after the transition to democracy in 1989. This way we will be able to see whether the issue was better handled during socialism or this is just a common belief, based on extreme measures that were taken during that period. Such conflicts between Bulgarians and Roma found place all over the country, nevertheless the peak moments were mostly visible in cities like Sofia, Varna and Plovdiv where today we can find the biggest Roma ghettos in the country.
What is the origin of the Roma? What causes their severe socio-economic status? What stereotypes are formed due to them? What are the policies of integration and who is responsible for their conducting? These are questions of increased difficulty, which remain without a definite answer and make the analysis of the Roma equally hard both on the expert and political level, as in the context of everyday life.
As the Roma minority has several unique and intriguing features, the paper will first outline the important concepts which will be used, so that a better understanding of the topic will be achieved, namely a discussion on who the Roma are and what do we mean by social integration. Next, the situation of the Roma minority during the socialist regime will be described, as well as the different projects which were set to improve the social condition of the minority (if any). The paper will proceed with an overview of the t ransition to democracy and its socio-economic impact on the minorit y, exploring whether it served or put an end to t he cycle of poverty and social exclusion of the Roma. The paper will end with a short conclusion which will aim to summarize the results from the analysis and give a plausible answer to the question given.
2. Who are the Roma?
Anyone who in recent years has tried to study, write or think about the status of the Roma in Bulgaria, has encountered growing in volume, but generally fragmented and often contradictory information. Even the basic question of how many the Roma actually are is still problematic to answer. According to various estimates, the number of Roma in Bulgaria varies between 370 000 and 800 000 (Ivanov 12). The basis of these different data present another open question, namely who are the Roma – are they only those who identify themselves as Roma, or are they those who others identify as such. The debate over the size of the Roma population is a direct consequence of the lack of clarity regarding Roma identity. So, to start with, the question of who is a Roma has to be discussed. Since this ethnic group does not have its own country and is spread all over the world (mainly in Europe), there is still an ongoing debate about how the Roma could be ethnically defined and whether the word “Gypsy”, which is in most cases associated with negative stereotypes, should be used instead of “Roma” (Stauber/ Vago 1). The term “Roma” became popular in Europe since the first congress of the International Romani Union (London, 1971), when it was literally "chosen", since in Europe live, except for the Roma, three large Gypsy communities – the so called meta-group - Manusha, Sinti and Kale (Institute Otvoreno Obshtestvo Sofia 12). In official international texts "roma" appears for the first time in 1977 in a UN resolution appealing to "the countries where there are Roma Gypsies living, to provide them with all the human rights enjoyed by the rest of the citizens in these countries "(ebd). The 2000 IRU Congress in Prague adopted a declaration demanding that international institutions grant them the status of nation without a state (Ivanov 11). There are various European perceptions of the Gypsies as a distinct group, as their long history of wandering prevented them from having a homogeneous ethnical composition and a common cultural reserve. In Bulgaria, the gypsies, referred to as “tsigani” are seen as people who live in poor conditions, have a low level of education and are often said to be engaged in criminal activities.
The Roma community is divided between Muslims and Christians, but there are other factors such as language, region or residential longevity that lead to further differentiations within this community (Bugajski 236). Of course a more scientific definition will be needed to distinguish between the Roma and other minorities, although it is well known, that the Roma as an ethnic group consists of “an assembly of diverse felons” (Stauber/ Vago 6). Nevertheless, when talking about the Roma, this paper concentrates on the people, living in the so called Roma ghettos, which can be found in most big cities in Bulgaria. Suitable examples here are Fakulteta in Sofia, Stolipinovo in Plovdiv or Maksuda in Varna.
The next central concept to the topic refers to integration, specifically social integration. In most cases, the process of integration is closely connected with migration, as the Oxford Dictionary defines it, “the intermixing of people who were previously segregated”. Therefore, the concept of integration always combines a collation between the native society and a smaller group of people, who in most cases have their origins elsewhere. As the Roma are known to have first settled in Bulgaria during the 11th and 12th century, they should be long considered a part of the Bulgarian society, thus many historical factors prevented the Roma from integrating successfully. As strange as it may sound, there should be some major differences between both cultures which have prevented their unification as one community for so many years. However, these differences are not to be widely discussed in this paper as the topic is once again quite vast. The main interest of the analysis focuses on social integration. The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, describes social integration as “a dynamic and principled process where all members participate in dialogue to achieve and maintain peaceful social relations ” (United Nations 2005). Social integration requires acceptance and adoption of a common set of values of the mainstream society, as well as the common language and political laws. Members of the minority groups then gain full access to the opportunities, rights and services available to the members of the mainstream. Based on this definition, language, native culture and local values and morals will be discussed and compared in attempt to measure social integration during and after socialism. Of great importance are as well education and employment of the Roma as factors, which will be also discussed.
3. Socialism and the Roma minority
The political change that occurred after the 1944 September coup, opened the era of transition from capitalism to socialism in Bulgaria (Pavlinova 1). The establishment and consolidation of democratic popular power and the construction of socialist economic relations constitute the essence of that era. The specific political system of socialism which concentrates all the levers of power in the hands of the state (controlled and monitored by the PA), increases the role of government policy in the lives of the communities. In order to understand the reasons behind the miserable labour market situation of the Roma in present Bulgaria we have to look backwards in history . The system of state socialism, brought to Bulgaria by the Soviet Union, create s the feeling that reality can be modified according to the will of the government (Boeva/ Kalinova 518). In the field of ethnic relations this trend becomes visible through the opportunities for sudden changes in the state ethnic policy, moving in a wide range of recognition of the rights of national minorities in Bulgaria to drastic attempt to forcibly turn the state in a ”country with one ethnic group, one culture, customs and religious traditions” (as the leader of the communist party during socialism Todor Zhivkov states in one of his speeches). In Bulgaria there are traditional ethnic communities established in these lands in different periods of time. According to the results of the four counts that were made in the yea r 1946, 1956, 1965 and 1992 (the last census is in the years of transition, but it is known that demographic processes are characterized by high inertness), the number of gypsies was as follows- 70 011 (2,42%) in 1946 ; 197 865 (2,6%) in 1956 ; 148 874 (1,81%) in 1965; 313 396 (3,41%) in 1992 (Kalinova/ Baeva 519). Throughout the existence of the modern Bulgarian state, it fails to develop and pursue a coherent policy towards ethnic and religious communities. Bulgarian policy differs in its approach to large and small communities, in terms of recent moves between two extremes- on the one hand, striving to support and develop these communities and on the other hand attempts to forcibly assimilate them. Historical reasons have led to the still ongoing debates between Bulgarians and Turks, caused by 500 years of Ottoman rule over Bulgaria from the 14th up to the 19th century. Following from this, the Roma which consider themselves Muslim experience a harder integrational process, once again referring to the stereotype issue. After the Second World War to the already well-established trends in this policy there are more possibilities for influence added and enhanced, which were created by the strong centralization of power that was under full control of the communist party. Professor Valkanov, who has specialized on the topic of Roma minorities during the socialist regime, claims in one of his analyses, that with all certainty the problem “Roma ” emerged in the last twenty years. He reassures that in the years of socialism, such a problem did not exist- “there were Roma, but there was no Roma problem” (Valkanov 2013). This conclusion is drawn on the fact that during socialism the highly developed industry and agriculture offered numerous jobs and in Valkanov’s eyes, anyone who wanted to work could find their place on the labor front and that was the reason for the higher rates of employment among the Roma minority. The Roma were formally employed, but employment was due to labour intensive industrial technologies and the fact that the legitimacy of the state socialist regime depended, among other things, on the concept of full employment. Particularly strong was the representation of Roma in the cooperative sector and mainly in livestock farms, providing the workers with a decent income. In this sense, there were no big Roma communities living in the cities, as they chose to rather stay in the rural area to secure a working place. Places like Fakulteta or Maksuda did not exist at that time, which is one of the reasons for a lot of Bulgarians to think that the problem of the Roma minority was better handled during socialism. Empirical evidence should be brought in light so that we can see whether this argument is justifiable. To begin with, certain projects to establish societal cohesion were implemented. Petar Kolev’s research on the socialist politics of Todor Zhivkov (leader of the communist party in Bulgarian from 1954 until 1989) refers to a special program, designed to integrate the gypsies by creating workshops and factories, where they could work, as well as providing them with land so that they could cultivate it (Kolev 14). The so called ,,Vazroditelen proces” (Regenerating process) began in the early 1970s and continued to the end of the 1980s . Prohibited was the wearing of traditional clothing of the representatives of the Muslim community. This campaign (also referred to as Bulgarization) did not directly affect the whole Roma community, but it certainly caused social disturbance, which in some cities escalated to major protests. At this place, one can argue that Zhivkov’s policy is strongly related to the concept of “forcible integration”, like Bugajski notes in his book on ethnic politics- Bulgaria during socialism “placed the customary Stalinist restrictions on the cultural and political autonomy of the minority population” (Bugajski 238). Aside from the political aspects, identity issues started to emerge, as many Roma preffered to hide their ethnic identity for fear of descrimination. By creating social cleavages, the socialist regime failed to take care of the social part of the problem- as already mentioned, the integration process is a two-sided project, as in the case of socialism, “integration was adopted because expulsions had failed” (Stauber/Vago 9). My main argument here, supported with historical evidence, is as follows: during the socialist regime, the Roma minority in Bulgaria experienced oppressions towards their identity, which led to further disunity in the society. Much of the persistent discrimination in housing, education and job opportunities and the high mortality rates and health problems have been inherited from the communist years, as the government has failed to pass appropriate anti-discrimination legislation on ensuring equal treatment with ethnic Bulgarians. This period marked the beginning of social distance and ethnical stereotypes towards gypsies.
- Arbeit zitieren
- Anonym, 2013, The integration of Roma in Bulgaria, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/455466