Remarks by Bulgaria’s Agriculture and Food Minister Miroslav Naidenov that he wanted “swarthy fellows” selling corn on the country’s beaches to “disappear” so that Bulgaria could have a good reputation as a European tourist destination have led a human rights group to level charges of racism against him.
Customarily, hawkers of foodstuffs such as boiled corn and fried foods on Bulgaria’s Black Sea beaches are from the country’s Roma population.
On July 10, Naidenov said that he personally would inspect the beaches this summer to act against itinerant traders.
“If we want to have a good reputation as a European tourist destination, the swarthy fellows that go around and sell corn, sunflowers and whatnot on the beach should disappear. These are the standards. We are in Europe. If they want to carry out such activities, if they want they can go to another country where you can, but these are the EU rules on food safety,” Naidenov said.
Krassimir Kanev, president of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, said that Naidenov’s statement was racist.
“Unfortunately, such statements are made by many people in Bulgaria, but when they are made by a minister, it means that they are made by the state,” Kanev said.
Kanev called on Prime Minister Boiko Borissov to pay attention to what his minister had said and to comment, including on the question of sanctions.
Bulgarian-language media coverage of Naidenov’s remarks led people commenting in forums to criticise him, with one writing that Naidenov’s statement was “hardly European” in itself.
Bulgaria is a signatory to the Decade of Roma Inclusion project which was launched several years ago. However, the country continues to be the subject of criticism from human rights groups for inaction on resolving issues of racism against the minority.
In 2011, ethnic tensions came to the fore after the Katounitsa incident in the late summer, when a Bulgarian died after being run over in a village by a car driven by a member of the Roma minority.
That incident led to mass anti-Roma protests in several of Bulgaria’s major cities and towns, while politicians from the country’s centre-right governing party GERB, along with other major political figures, issued appeals for calm.
According to the February 2011 national census inBulgaria, of the country’s total population of 7.3 million, about 4.9 per cent (325 343 people) are Roma, making it the third-largest ethnic group in the country.