Rights report notes anti-Semitic rhetoric, prejudice against Roma in Bulgaria

Anti-Semitic rhetoric continued to appear commonly on social networking sites and as comments under online media articles in Bulgaria in 2014, the US state department said on June 25 2015 in its annual report on human rights practices.

Jewish organisations remained concerned about the Bulgarian government’s passivity in addressing hate crimes, particularly hate speech, and complained thsat website administrators no longer deleted anti-Semitic comments, the US state department report said.

Social media users and online publications alleged that Jews instigated the crisis in Ukraine in order to profit from the conflict, the report noted.

In February, the Interior Ministry and the prosecution service did not give approval for a rally in honor of a World War 2 general known for his anti-Semitic views and pro-Nazi activities, and the municipal government in Sofia banned the event.

Despite the prohibition, about 300 people gathered and marched briefly in central Sofia under tight security provided by the police, who decided, in order to avoid escalation, not to take action against the marchers.

Anti-Semitic graffiti appeared at the Central Synagogue in Sofia in June. The police arrested four youths in connection with the incident, and as of November the prosecution was conducting pretrial proceedings.

The US state department report said that in Bulgaria, societal discrimination and popular prejudice against Roma and other minority groups remained a problem.

According to the 2011 census, there were 325 345 Roma in the country, less than five per cent of the population, and 588 318 ethnic Turks, less than nine per cent of the population. Observers asserted these figures were inaccurate, since more than 600 000 people did not answer the census question about their ethnic origin, and officials did not conduct a proper count in most Romani communities but rather either made assumptions or failed to include Romani figures altogether.

The Bulgarian media described Roma and other minority groups using discriminatory and abusive language. Extreme nationalist parties such as Ataka and the Patriotic Front based their political campaigns on strong anti-Roma, anti-Turkish, and anti-Semitic slogans and rhetoric.

In April a prosecutor terminated the investigation into the 2012 complaint that a press article in the Novinar newspaper by Kalin Rumenov incited racial and ethnic hatred and racial discrimination, concluding there was no crime.

In June, after a devastating flood hit the Varna neighborhood of Asparuhovo, killing 13 persons and destroying many houses, local municipal council member Kostadin Kostadinov blamed the Romani inhabitants for the disaster, calling them “parasites” and “inhuman scum” that do not deserve “to inhabit our civilisation.”

Human rights activists filed hate speech complaints against Kostadinov and Rumenov, who had used similar language on the subject in a Radio Darik Varna programme. As of November the prosecution was conducting an inquiry into the case.

In April, a group of six or seven skinheads got out of a trolley bus and beat unconscious a black French citizen standing with friends at a stop in Sofia. The authorities identified the perpetrators and, as of October, were prosecuting them for assault.

Human rights NGOs criticised the authorities for their unwillingness to take into account the racist and xenophobic aspects of the crime and to prosecute the perpetrators for racially motivated attack, which carries a heavier penalty.

In March, prosecutors indicted four persons accused of planting a bomb in front of a Romani cafe and club in Sandanski. The bomb killed Malin Iliev, who picked up a bag containing it while opening the cafe. As of October the trial was proceeding at the Blagoevgrad District Court.

Romani NGOs that left the government-run National Council on Ethnic and Integration Affairs in April 2013 to protest the lack of progress on Roma integration claimed the government had not changed its attitude of neglect and they therefore would continue not to collaborate with the council.

Many Roma continued to live in appalling conditions. The 2011 census indicated that 55 per cent lived in overcrowded urban neighbourhoods. NGOs estimated 50 to 70 per cent of their housing was illegally and inadequately constructed, often without proper water supply and sewerage.

Many municipalities continued to initiate legal proceedings to demolish illegally built houses. In July the city of Stara Zagora demolished 55 illegal Romani houses and announced plans to demolish 300 more, although as of November no additional houses were demolished.

The operation resulted in clashes between the police and inhabitants, who barricaded themselves in their houses and refused to leave.

NGOs condemned the demolition, stating the municipality had destroyed the inhabitants’ only homes. The houses had been built more than 15 years earlier, and the residents had registered utility bills and identification cards to these illegal addresses. The mayor stated the municipality had provided the Roma with options to either apply for municipal housing or build new legal houses elsewhere on municipal land.

Romani children often attended de facto segregated schools where they received inferior education. There were cases of ethnic Bulgarian students departing desegregated schools, thereby resegregating them.

NGOs criticised the national Roma integration strategy for not providing specific school desegregation measures and not ensuring the necessary financial support for such measures.

NGO projects aimed at lowering the dropout rate among Romani students resulted in rates that in most places were less than one per cent for elementary school students (first to fourth grade).

Retaining Romani students beyond the age of 12 remained a challenge for the government, which also lacked effective programmes for reintegrating students who had dropped out. According to a 2013 government survey, 14.8 per cent of Roma completed secondary school, 44.7 per cent completed primary school (first to seventh grade), and 15.5 per cent never completed any level of education.

Romani access to health services continued to be a problem and in some cases was subject to discrimination, the US state department report said.

A 2013 government survey estimated 30 per cent of Roma had not signed up with a general practitioner (i.e., lacked health insurance), and 78.8 per cent had no access to a dentist.

In addition, the quality of medical care given Roma by medical personnel and social workers was very low.

The National Network of Health Mediators continued to operate as a successful model of partnership with the national and local governments for addressing lack of Romani access to health services. As of October there were 130 health mediators appointed to full-time positions in 72 municipalities to work with high-risk and vulnerable groups.

After the Central Electoral Committee announced the names of the newly elected members of parliament in the October early general elections, there were protests in four towns, Dupnitsa, Kyustendil, Yambol, and Gabrovo, against the Movement for Rights and Freedoms party members who had won seats in those constituencies. The protesters claimed they did not wish to have members of the “Turkish party” representing their regions, the report said.

(Archive photo: the “Lukov March” in Sofia, February 2014)



The Sofia Globe staff

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