Tensions in Sofia’s Orlandovtsi area between Bulgarians and Roma people have sparked comments across the political spectrum, with Prime Minister Boiko Borissov urging people “to be more careful when playing with fire”.
Borissov – referring to his much earlier career as a firefighter – said that “it is easy to start a fire, and difficult to extinguish it, I can tell you, as a firefighter”.
He said, “given the stability in Bulgaria and the enormous instability in the region, I think that we all have to protect our little rug, not burn it”, adding that it was “very easy to talk and very easy to cause ethnic conflict”.
Orlandovtsi was set for another protest on the night of June 16, following an incident this past weekend in which there was a clash between Bulgarians and Roma, which in turn has led to media coverage of long-standing tensions in the area over allegations about everyday crime, with the situation in the area now worsened by an influx after the incident of “football fan” agents provocateur seeking confrontation.
The pattern in Orlandovtsi has been similar to that in the municipality of Garmen some weeks earlier, which remains unresolved, with gendamerie still specially deployed to prevent confrontations.
Radan Kanev, parliamentary co-leader of the Reformist Bloc, a minority partner in the centre-right coalition government, said that the state was responsible for the problems with the Roma community.
There was evidence that what had happened was organised, and this was a question for the State Agency for National Security, Kanev said. “I sincerely hope that they are working very actively on it.”
For many years in Bulgaria, people had been playing with this fire, Kanev said.
“The point is that the state has a responsibility to prevent such actions, and this means very serious crime prevention in these neighbourhoods, and in small settlements everywhere, because the problem is very acute in the most impoverished mixed villages in Bulgaria, more acute than in the ghettos in the big cities,” he said.
Valeri Simeonov, co-leader of the nationalist Patriotic Front – which supports the government in Parliament without having seats in the coalition cabinet – said that ethnic conflict was being created out of a “straightforward incident”.
He said that no political interference could be attributed, least of all to the Patriotic Front.
“Deliberately, as you can see, neither I nor my colleague (PF co-leader Krassimir) Karakachanov have entered Garmen,” Simeonov said, referring to the municipality that in late May was the site of confrontations between Bulgarians and Roma people.
Karakachanov said that there was a “real danger” that the conflict could be exploited politically.
“The problem is much more serious. It is not just a problem of everyday crime. Because of a huge boom in birth rates in these ghettos, the reproduction of a population which remains illiterate, permanently unemployed. And the problem becomes social and ethnic,” he said.
Mihail Mikov, leader of the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, said that the problem in Orlandovtsi was primarily social.
“I saw what the streets of Orlandovtsi look like, and this seriously exposed the biggest problem in Sofia, a shiny centre and then a backyard with all the problems – unemployment, poor infrastructure, no inclusion in education,” Mikov said. Intolerance among people was caused by social differentiation, he said.