Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov said on April 12 that he wanted the chief of police in the town of Gabrovo to resign, after two days of clashes that followed an incident in which three men of Roma origin were recorded on video assaulting a shop assistant. The resignation, formally requested by Interior Minister Mladen Marinov, followed a few hours later.
On the night of April 11, there were clashes with police by anti-Roma protesters, and two houses where Roma people were living were the targets of arson. No one was in the buildings when they were burnt.
Prosecutors said on April 12 that three men, aged 28, 27 and 19, were facing criminal charges of obstructing police and committing arson.
Earlier reports said that nine people were arrested in the clashes between police and protesters in Gabrovo.
Speaking at a briefing on Friday morning, Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Donchev, a former mayor of Gabrovo, said: “We cannot afford chaos. We cannot afford any threats to the health and life of any Bulgarian citizen”.
Donchev said that it was fair for people to be angry, but protests should be peaceful.
Gabrovo mayor Tanya Hristova called for calm.
“The problem with the Roma is not only a problem in Gabrovo. The problem is in the whole country. There are four to five months to local elections. I urge parties not to play with ethnic peace because the borderline is very thin and dangerous,” Hristova said.
A special meeting of Gabrovo municipal council was to be held on the afternoon of April 12 to discuss measures to avoid a further escalation of tensions.
At a separate briefing, Deputy Interior Minister Krassimir Tsipov criticised the police action, saying that there was evidence that their reactions had been delayed. There were provocations during the protest, he said.
Borissov, noting that the three men who had assaulted the shopkeeper initially had been held for 24 hours and then released without a charge – a fact seized on by protesters – said that he wanted to know who had made the decision to release the three, who subsequently were taken back into custody. Whoever initially had freed them should face disciplinary action, he said.
The nationalist VMRO, a minority partner in Borissov’s government, seized on the Gabrovo issue, calling for changes to the law to provide for tougher penalties. Roma people are a signature issue for Bulgaria’s nationalist and far-right parties.
In a statement, the Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria “Shalom” said that the escalated tension in recent days, caused by a local crime incident in Gabrovo, had exacerbated the civil debate on the effectiveness of the governmental Roma integration programme.
“Unfortunately, we are witnessing open physical aggression and illegal encroachment on private property – events that seriously damage every attempt to reach consensus on the implementation of any measures to deal with the situation.”
Shalom said that it categorically condemns any attempt to instigate ethnic tensions in the country and was seriously concerned about the unwillingness of government representatives to take responsibility for the ongoing integration policy.
We also cannot calmly accept the reaction of part of Bulgarian society, which, referring to the personal misconduct of individuals, puts a whole ethnic group under a common denominator.
“All of us as Bulgarian citizens are equally responsible for the observance of the constitutional order in the country. Political statements that are not supported by factual arguments raise concerns and distrust in the state’s ability to equally protect the rights and dignity of all its citizens.”
Shalom said that it hopes that the responsible institutions will not allow the stoking of tensions and end the attempts to divide society on ethnic, social or other grounds.