Bulgaria-Roma Tensions Show Politicians are Quite Good at Doing Nothing

Opinions |Author: Angel Petrov | June 16, 2015, Tuesday // 08:41|  views

Roma people are part of the electorate; but so are Bulgarians. That's why governments prefer not to remind either about respect for the law. Photo by BGNES

Looking at developments in Roma neighborhoods over the past two months, one might assume this is owed to a rising "Balkan" nationalism - just like anywhere else in Southeast Europe.

Tensions between Bulgarians and Roma people in Orlandovtsi (a neighborhood of Sofia) and, earlier, in the Kremikovtsi neighborhood in a village called Garmen (Southwestern Bulgaria) mounted in quite a similar fashion. Someone living in the respective neighborhood (certainly a Roma community member) played music too loudly, and that sparked outrage from local Bulgarians, who took to the streets to protest over criminal offenses committed against them, they claim, on a regular basis by Roma people.

Clashes followed suit. There were some nationalist groups inciting violence whom police seek to prevent from crossing red lines. In both cases, authorities are monitoring closely - and there are hints about provocateurs. In both places, media outlets were (and still are) queuing up to cover.

And of course, both incidents have been inspiring different hypotheses: are these developments related to electoral games (this is what torments the imagination of politicians and political scientists alike), or are they yet another attempt at discrimination and aggression against a minority (NGOs)?

This is not about discrimination. So far the situation looks different to a striking - and appalling - dark episode in Bulgaria's recent social life, when families of Syrian refugees were expelled from a village because locals said their place was only for Bulgarians and the newcomers "didn't belong" there. Yes, a parallel would be tempting; but this is where only civil rights activists can afford to go - after all, this is what they are paid for.

Calls on "ethnic Bulgarians" to stick to their identity to prevent a future domination by the Roma (which in demographic terms seems inevitable, say, in the 22nd century) can be heard quite often by some ultra-nationalist groups, but what was once a crowd is now getting thinner and thinner: more people are now aware the problem is somewhere else.

A liberal, Western-oriented, politically correct approach obliges us to say Roma people shouldn't be discriminated against. They are poor, they live in misery, and ethnic Bulgarians should tolerate them and respect them, helping them "integrate".

Integrate into what? A system which doesn't work anyway?

On the one hand, an a 21st century, European Union state, explaining each and every act of one's wrongdoing with the consequences of "discrimination" is just an excuse to be out of the law - and also to feed on other people, something many here (not just the Roma) dream of doing. These are not European, American or whatsoever values; they belong somewhere else.

But then comes the question if the disrespect for the law many members of the community tend to show is really only their fault. Don't the Roma people model their behavior after the Bulgarians? Maybe they sometimes do. Many Bulgarians, if possible, would skip a bill, would connect to the neighbor's cable TV grid to avoid monthly fees, or find way to avoid taxes: employers and employees alike.

And yet, both with Bulgarians and Roma people, the state takes the very same measure to tackle offenders: it keeps dragging its feet.

Political correctness works (and makes sense) only where laws work. The sheer fact that local – and central – authorities might tolerate for many years the existence of hundreds of illegally built Roma housing units across the country is just one example for anyone who has some background about life here. Whoever is in charge, they are afraid to lose the Roma electorate. Strange enough given that the Roma electorate is already “lost” to all (but one) mainstream Bulgarian parties.

No single government makes steps to boost respect for law among Bulgarians either.

It's all about the next elections in Bulgaria. No measures are taken to rightfully enforce the law with regard to Bulgarians and Roma people alike – because both are electorate; and one should cater for their electorate.

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Tags: Roma, Bulgaria, Bulgarinans, Kremikovtsi, Orlandovtsi, Garmen, sofia, buildings


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