Roma groups walk out of Bulgarian Government’s integration council

Written by on April 8, 2013 in Bulgaria, News - No comments

Roma groups represented in the Bulgarian Government’s national council for co-operation on ethnic and integration issues walked out of the council’s meeting on April 8, citing that the council failed in its stated mission to help integrate Roma and in protest against increased instances of racism against the ethnic group.

It was the council’s first meeting this year, held on the International Roma Day.

In a letter, the 15 Roma integration associations said that the council needed to be revamped and given more powers. The groups also said that the council should do more to appoint Roma experts on the council if they met the required criteria.

Caretaker Prime Minister Marin Raykov said he was open to changing the agenda of the meeting, but the representatives of the Roma groups still left the meeting. The council’s only decision was to set up a working group that would outline the institutional framework for an administrative body that would oversee the implementation of Bulgaria’s national Roma strategy for 2012-2020.

The Roma groups also said that racism against Roma was on the rise, asking state institutions to take a tougher stance on the issue. “In addition to poverty, Roma are facing unprecedented racism in recent years,” the letter said, as quoted by news website Mediapool.bg.

The claim is not new, but is rarely acknowledged by Bulgarian officials, especially at the highest level. Raykov broke with tradition in his address to the council, saying that while racism and intolerance were “foreign to Bulgaria’s national tradition and its spirit”, some politicians did engage in hate speech. “Freedom of speech in no way can be an alibi for hate speech,” he said.

In a thinly-veiled reference to ultra-nationalist party Ataka – whose leader Volen Siderov over the years has made disparaging remarks towards Jews, Turks, Muslims, Roma and foreigners – Raykov said that the same politicians who tried to break down the Cabinet’s doors (an allusion to Ataka’s recent attempt to gets its members into a Government meeting as “observers”) were the same who used hate speech.

Asked by a reporter from Alfa TV – the station is Ataka’s official mouthpiece – why he was accusing a party leader of racism, Raykov said that he did not give any names, but said that “the party recognised itself in the accusations I made.”

Raykov said that there were issues with communication between different ethnicities in Bulgaria, which only led to heightened tension. “Ethnic minorities are the most vulnerable at a time of social crisis. When someone is on the verge of poverty, it is especially easy to persuade them to point their beggar’s stick at their neighbour or against those who are different,” he said.

The caretaker PM also called for increased efforts towards Roma education and higher representation of Roma in state institutions, including in the police (clashes between Roma and police are often fraught with tension and in recent years have resulted in violence on more than one occasion).

(Photo: government.bg)

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