Hundreds protest in Garmen against illegal construction, Roma

Hundreds of residents of Garmen municipality, joined by bikers and politicians from elsewhere in the country, held a protest on June 2 against what they allege is illegal construction in the Roma neighbourhood of Kremikovtsi.

The protesters intended to march to the Roma area, where 10 days earlier, there was a violent incident involving Bulgarians and Roma, leading to several injuries and arrests.

Garmen has been in the headlines in the days since the incident, with several describing the fight as having been rooted in ethnic tensions, although Interior Minister Roumyana Buchvarova has described as having been a matter of petty crime.

About 50 motorcyclists from around Bulgaria arrived in Garmen, flying Bulgarian flags to support the protest against what media reports said were described by residents as a “gypsy crime spree”.

Atanas Stoyanov, leader of the nationalist VMRO party in the southern town of Sandanski, was quoted by local media as saying that he was attending the June 2 protest to “express my position as a citizen against gypsification”.

“I attended the protest on Saturday. I am here today, too, to express my support to the residents of Garmen against the illegal constructions and against the absolute gypsification not only in Garmen municipality but also in the entire country. The gypsy minority is not a minority at all, it is a serious gypsy ethnic group, a compact mass, which does not observe the laws of Bulgaria,” Stoyanov said, quoted by website Focus.

Since authorities – on the orders of national government – began checking the legality of buildings in the Roma area, some have been voluntarily demolished by the people living in them, according to media reports this past weekend.

Reports on June 2 said that morning, there were only elderly, women and children in the Roma neighbourhood, with several people from the community having gone to hide in the nearby forest.

In spite of reports that footfall fan club members from Sofia, Plovdiv, Stara Zagora and Blagoevgrad had arrived, police said that this was not true.

In Bulgaria, anti-Roma and anti-immigrant protests, as well as other far-right causes, tend to involve the participation of members of football fan clubs.

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The head of the regional directorate of the Interior Ministry, Hristo Rasolkov, told public radio that the police presence had not been stepped up, but “we are prepared for any situation”.

“It all depends on how people behave the protest. We are not restricting the movement of any structures or fan clubs of football teams. Everyone has the right to participate in peaceful protest.

“Let’s not forget what date it is today. Let’s give deserved tribute to our great revolutionary,” Rasolkov said, referring to the Bulgarian tradition of using June 2 to honour Hristo Botev, a poet who died in the struggle against Ottoman rule in the 19th century.

Darik Radio said that there were five checkpoints on the road from Bansko to Gotse Delchev, where uniformed police were stopping people travelling to protest in Garmen.

One of the rally’s organisers, Ivan Bairaktarov, said, “We expected a lot more people from across the country to come and support us in the fight against the illegal buildings of Roma migrants in Kremikovtsi. The police are deliberately checking people for anything – for fire extinguishers, first aid kits for cars, whatever, only to delay them. We have no information at this time whether anyone has been detained,” he said.

The protest would be peaceful, Bairaktarov said, rejecting reports that the protesters wanted to tear down the Roma housing themselves.

He said that the protesters were not satisfied with the actions of the state and were considering a date for a “national protest” in front of the National Assembly in Sofia.



The Sofia Globe staff

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