How young Bulgarians try to find the balance in the Roma situation
The situation with Bulgarian Roma is really complicated. In Bulgaria live almost 400 000 Roma and most of them are not educated. Many young Bulgarians try to fix the problem and to help them to integrate into society.
In Bulgaria, Roma people are most commonly referred as Tsigani (pronounced [tsiɡəni]), an exonym that some Roma resent and others embrace. The form of the endonym Roma in Bulgarian is romi. The third used exonym for the Roma people is mangali, which means braziers in Bulgarian; it is also sometimes considered as an offensive exonym.
Since the end of the communism in 1989, the government has been making programmes aimed at Roma people. It seems that everything is fine, because so many years before that moment they were rejected – the pressure of Russia and two world wars, but now sometimes they have more rights than Bulgarians. For example, in the public transport, they never check them for tickets, but always make problems for Bulgarians. I think here the problem are not Roma, it’s about how we treat them, how we try to make their life easier. It’s all about how we teach them, because the biggest part of this society consists of very poor people with no education. That’s why every municipality created centers where Roma people can learn Bulgarian, can learn how to use contraception, where their children can study and play, where everybody is free to make some charity. This is a good example how you can show the right way of creating opportunities for them and us. But I disagree with the fact that one Bulgarian mother receives 35 leva per month which is about 17,5 euro for her newborn child, and every Roma family has social help every month, because most of them are lazy and they don’t want to work. Also they make kids only for this reason – to take some social help from the government. For example, when you walk the streets of a Bulgarian town, you can see a lot of Roma people who beg. Also, women use pregnancy as a motive to get money. So young people buy food for begging Roma, because Roma people very often use given money to buy alcohol, cigarettes or glue.
I would like to turn back the time again in the history. After the Second World War, in the beginning of communism in Bulgaria, Roma were not allowed to do almost anything. They did not have enough rights and at the same time Bulgarians felt safe, because they knew that they could leave their houses unlocked and nobody would go in there. Roma lived in ghettos and they were too scared to do anything. Nowadays, youth try to find the best way to show them that we are open to accept them. Most of us have prejudices, because of the Romas’ behavior. They do what they want, they don’t respect the laws. But they are integrated very well in Germany, for example. So, why can’t they follow the rules in Bulgaria, but they do that in Germany? We separate Roma in types – those who are able to adapt to the society and those who don’t want to follow any rules. Maybe those who want to integrate come to Germany, so that’s why this kind of separation could sound racist to you. We try to find the best way to solve this problem, so everybody would have equal rights. Now many Roma in Bulgaria are engaged in criminal activities, especially stealing of metal components from the national infrastructure which are then sold as scrap metal for money. The theft of metal components is a primary source of revenue for some 60,000 Roma. There are also numerous reported cases of Roma attacks against passenger and cargo trains in Bulgaria.
But what’s the view of EU about the Bulgarian-Roma situation? The Council of Europe body ECRI stated in its June 2003 third report on Bulgaria that Roma encounter “serious difficulties in many spheres of life”, elaborating that:
“The main problems stem from the fact that the Roma districts are turning into ghettos. Most Roma neighborhoods consist of slums, precariously built without planning permission on land that often belongs to the municipalities. As the Bulgarian authorities have not taken steps to address the situation, the people living in these districts have no access to basic public services, whether health care, public transport, waste collection or sanitation”.
This report is from 2003, but the situation has changed only in some regions. In municipality of Sredets there is a school only for Roma where everybody is allowed to get education. Also Bulgarian young people organize some educational programmes for them, because the statistic shows that most of the Roma population has difficulties, because they don’t speak Bulgarian or they can’t read. A monitoring report by the Open Society Institute found that Roma children and teenagers are less likely to enroll in both primary and secondary schools than the majority population, and less likely to complete their education if they do. Between 60-77% of Roma children enroll in primary education (age 6-15), compared to 90-94% of ethnic Bulgarians. Only 6-12% of Roma teenagers enroll in secondary education (age 16-19). The drop-out rate is significant, but hard to measure, as many are formally enrolled but rarely attend classes. Because of this reason the municipalities with the special help of youths and local teachers are making school for children with special needs only for Roma. Because of these results we created a helping group for integration of Roma. Everybody deserve a chance to have a good life and equal rights with the other, to speak, to express their opinion, to communicate with people outside this group and to make his own choice how to live.