Monday, October 14, 2019

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Article Index

Bulgaria

According to the 2011 census, there were 325,345 Roma in the country, i.e., less than 5 percent of the population. Ethnic Turks numbered 588,318, or less than 9 percent of the population. Observers asserted that these figures were inaccurate, because more than 600,000 persons did not answer the census question about their ethnic origin, and officials did not conduct a proper count in most Romani communities but rather either made assumptions or failed to include them altogether.

Societal discrimination and popular prejudice against Roma and other minority groups remained a problem, and there were incidents of violence between members of different ethnic groups. On September 19, a van driven by relatives of alleged Romani crime boss Kiril Rashkov killed a pedestrian in

Katunitsa, a small village in central Bulgaria. This allegedly intentional act sparked a series of sometimes violent demonstrations throughout the country which lasted for over a week and led to the arrest of hundreds of protesters. The protests resulted in property damage, but the media reported few injuries. On September 24, a mob of angry local residents, indignant with authorities who for years had allegedly allowed Rashkov and his family to escape justice, joined in protest by soccer hooligans, set fire to Rashkov's home. Police arrested Rashkov on September 28.

Internet fora and social networks helped incite the September unrest by changing the tenor of the protest to be more generally anti-Romani and anti-Turkish. While the demonstrations included anti-Romani and anti-Turkish elements, most protesters voiced dissatisfaction with an inequitable system of justice. The prosecution service opened 14 cases of xenophobia; one person was convicted for creating a Web site calling for the extermination of the Roma.

Many Roma continued to live in appalling conditions. According to NGOs the historical landlessness of Roma was among the main factors for their poor housing situation. NGOs estimated that 50 to 70 percent of Romani housing was illegally constructed and were concerned that more municipalities would initiate legal proceedings to demolish illegally built houses. In August the municipal government in Petrich demolished 11 shacks following a yearlong

discussion in which the national ombudsman participated. The Sofia municipality initiated an EU-funded project for the construction of apartment buildings for Roma living in the city's biggest ghetto. The project envisioned future Romani inhabitants' participating in the construction in order to inculcate a sense of ownership. Burgas, Vidin, Devnya, and Dupnitsa also received funding for similar housing projects.

Workplace discrimination against minorities continued to be a problem. General public mistrust, coupled with their low level of education, made locating work more difficult for Roma. According to a 2010 NGO survey, 12.8 percent of the Roma had a permanent job and 13 percent of the Roma had seasonal or occasional occupation.

Romani children often attended de facto segregated schools where they received inferior education which, in addition to social and family reasons, was among the main factors for Romani students' dropping out of school. The government did not have effective programs for the reintegration of students who dropped out. However, there were isolated examples of success, such as an Open Society Institute program funded by the Roma Education Fund, which supported young Roma studying in medical schools and the National Assembly internship program that graduated 10 young Romani professionals each year since 2007.

The access of Roma to health services continued to be a problem, and in some cases there was discrimination. According to a health survey released in October by the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, 56 percent of Roma over the age of 15 suffered from hypertension and 47.5 percent of Romani children and 23.9 percent of adults suffered from diabetes and asthma. Bronchitis, cardiovascular disease, peptic ulcers, arthritis, rheumatism, prostate, and menopause problems were chronic in many Romani communities. One successful model in addressing Romani access to health services was the collaboration between the National Network of Health Mediators and central and local government. Since its inception this partnership trained more than 100 health mediators appointed to full time positions in 55 municipalities to work with high-risk and vulnerable groups.

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