Widely reported frictions between some Bulgarian and
Roma communities during the summer of 2007 have again
illusrated that, in Bulgaria, there have been few results
from the implementation of official policies aimed at Roma
integration. As regards the Turkish minority, in spite of
considerable progress in recent years, it is still too early
to speak of a definitive overcoming of all prejudicial
stereotyping and distrust.
As the Ottoman Empire pulled out after 1879, Bulgaria
emerged as a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society,
containing upward of a dozen of different ethnic-religious
communities. To a considerable extent Bulgarian society lost
the capacity to see itself as multi-cultural during the
nationalism of the first half of the 20 th century and the
socialism that followed to 1989.
This Analysis overviews the situation as regards the
three biggest minorities: the Turkish, the Roma and the
Bulgarian-Muslim. The emphasis is on the Roma.
Unlike Turks and Bulgarians, the Roma do not readily
identify themselves, in term of ethnicity, during national
censuses. Hence the official figure of 370,908 Roma in
Bulgaria is far from the truth. Most independent evaluations
agree on a figure of 650-800,000 (i.e. between 1/9 and 1/12
of the entire population).
Reliable estimates reveal that some 54% of the Roma live
in distinct communities on the outskirts of Bulgaria’s
cities. In this the Roma are different from all other ethnic
groups. Since 1990 the process of concentration in the
“mahali” continues, as unemployment stimulates
Roma migration into the bigger cities. Only in Lom an
enlightened and sustianed municipal policy has ensured that
the Roma have not migrated to the bigger regional cities.
During the 1960 and 1970s, the Bulgarian communist
government attempted to assimilate the Roma by dispersing
them as family units among ethnic Bulgarians in the cities.
This approach proved a failure and is not feasible in
principle. As noted Bulgarian Roma analyst Yosif Nunev
writes, the Roma have inhabited Europe for 10 centuries and,
whereas other ethnic groups (Goths, Pechenegs, Huns etc.)
did become assimilated, the Roma have not, nor are they
Integration can only be a matter of implementing a mix
of individual and collective rights.
Sources of inter-group friction in modern times
Societies and communities, when entering into their
period of modernisation, also enter a period of crisis of
identity. Questions such as “Who are we and how do we
differ from / relate to the others?” become
fundamental. As noted by a major piece of research by the
National Public Opinion Institute, in the early 1990s
“Everyone lived with the feeling that their lives
begin again. Everyone felt as if being on a starting line,
and jealously regarded the others, in case they seem more
As a rule, in societies faced with explosive
modernization the various communities retreat into a
collective identity, which provides a (temporary) shelter
from the crisis of identity and the feeling of helplessness
in the new and unfamiliar conditions of living. Individuals
become submerged into groups and the groups begin relating
to each other as collectivities, suspicious on the basis of
suspicion of intent.
When individuals re-emerge, and begin relating among
tehmselves as individuals (rather than as members of
groups), then the modernization of a society is clearly
under way. In modern societies, people inter-relate as
(complex) individuals rather than as (simple and
homogenious) groups. Where modernization fails, individuals
do not re-emerge, and groups enter into conflict with each
other, leading to the disintegration of states and
Around the late-1980s, Bulgaria entered into its crisis
of modernization, producing enhanced group awareness and
inter-group friction. Bulgaria escaped the Yugoslav model of
disintegration along ethnic lines primarily because the
peaks of “closeness” of each major group (and
the consequent hostility to other groups) did not coincide.
- The problem of the Turks was political
– the repressions and discrimination which were
government policy in the 1980s. This political problem found
its solution by political means with the establishment of
the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) in 1990. Once the
Turk community found political representation via the DPS,
it re-established its confidence and diminished its
hostility to other groups.
- The problem for the ethnic Bulgarians was
social – the poverty and unemployment that resulted
from the collapse of the state-owned economy. Bulgarians
closed ranks, blaming other groups for their misfortunes. By
the early 2000s, however, the problems of poverty and
unemployment were overcome. As the Turks before them, once
their problem was solved, Bulgarians overcame their
intolerance to others, by again relating to them as
individuals, rather than as stereotyped groups. Relations
between Bulgarians and Turks rapidly improved and have
- The modernization crisis has not been overcome in the
Roma community. The Roma continue to be
increasingly marginalised, discriminated and vulnerable.
Lacking in skills, education and inclusion, the Roma remain
un-included, just as the other groups begin prospering as
the result of individual, rather than group efforts.
Bulgarians and Turks have become integrated into the
political arena and the social mechanisms of society
(education, work, health, housing, public safety). The Roma
have remained outside this process. This has made them
incfreasingly “visible” to the others as a
group, and has attracted all available societal prejudice.
As prejudice has disappeared between the other groups, it
has heavily concentrated against the Roma. This has given
birth to “counter-prejudice” in the Roma, who
feel themselves the victims of recent history – the
same history that has brought benefits to the majority.
On this level, the deficits of government policy have
a/ the government has not evolved the kinds of social
and political policies that would facilitate the inclusion
(“integration”) of the Roma;
b/ noted by a major study of the UNDP is the fact that,
while the Roma community has produced a small number of
individuals with “modernisational attitudes”
towards prosperity and success in society, the government
has neither noted this process, nor made the effort to
support it on the level of policy; the society at large also
refuses to aknowledge the existence of prospering, modern
Roma, preferring to see all Roma as part of a single group
with specific negative characteristics.
Current policy deficits
Bulgaria presents a paradox. At the level of
legislation, strategies and programmes, the minority
problematic is covered to the point of saturation. Bulgaria
has ratified and harmonised with all relevant documents of
the EU, UN and other relevant international organisations.
Annual reports of government institutions claim that the
government is aware of all problems, and all of these
problems are in the process of being resolved.
Yet, at the same time, observable reality is at variance
with this picture. Few sustainable policy results can be
identified. Moreover, the very appearance of Roma-Bulgarian
friction in the summer of 2007 is a signal of major policy
In its last pre-accession evaluation Report (September
2006), the European Commission lists the following deficits
- lack of results as regards Roma inclusion into the
labour market, education and health services
- lack of coherence of policy, which reduced government
activities to a series of “isolated acts”
- lack of administrative capacity, particularly at the
local level, on the part of the relevant government
- ill-thought out and badly executed government
initiatives in deporting Roma from illegal housing
districts; a year later Bulgaria was singled out for
criticism in this field also by the Council of Europe.
- lack of any result of declared government policy in
combating racism, discrimination and xenophobia at the
Taken together with the evaluations of reputable NGOs,
these critiques lead to the following interim conclusion as
regards government minority policy:
The mere production of legislation and documents,
unrelated and lacking links between one another, and without
such documents being based on:
- clear and long-term policy
- clearly articulated, internatlised (by
institutions) and operationalised (in terms of activities)
principles and values
does not lead to the attainment of systemic results.
Public opinion – strengths and deficits
Civic self-identification by Bulgarians is the obvious
strength of Bulgarian society. When asked to identify
themselves along a range of options, the vast majority of
ethnic Bulgarians identify themselves as “Bulgarian
citizens”, and only 7 % choose an ethnic
identity option. The same holds for the Bulgarian-Muslims.
In the case of the Turks, ethnic
self-identification is more pronounced, with some one-third
of them identifying themselves along ethnicity.
The Roma differ sharply. Half the Roma identify
themselves by ethnicity.
The same holds true in terms of “outside (i.e. by
other groups) identification”. Some 7-8 % of
Bulgarians and Bulgarian-Muslims claim that members of other
ethnic groups relate to them as members of an ethnic group.
With the Turks, one-third claim that others relate to them
as “Turks” first and individuals second.
With the Roma, the situation is catastrophic: 72% of
Roma say that other ethic groups relate to them as
“Gypsies” first. Comparing this with the 50% of
Roma, who see themselves as Roma first, the picture is
clear: half of the Roma who feel themselves as
“Bulgarian citizens” see that everyone else
treats them not as such, but as “Roma”.
The conclusion arises which backs up something that Roma
activists have been saying for many years: that the Roma
demonsrtate a particularly strong desire to be accepted by
the others as equals. The potential for inclusion /
integration is available; what is needed is to find the
tools to enable this potential to be realised.
All reputable polls, conducted regularly since 1992,
reveal the same general picture (studies by UNDP, the
Bulgarian Helsinki Committee and National Centre for the
Study of Public Opinion):
- Rising intolerance toward the Roma. Whereas in 1992,
43% Bulgarians would find it acceptable to have Roma
neighbours, in 2002 this has fallen to 29%. From 1999, as
Bulgarian prejudices towards the Turks rapidly diminished,
prejudices against the Roma rose.
- The Roma are considerably less prejudiced towards
Bulgarians and Turks than Bulgarians (and to some extent
Turks) are towards the Roma.
- Much prejudice is work-related. Whereas 72%
Bulgarians think that Roma living on social security do so
because they are lazy, 80% of the Roma think that Bulgarians
living on social security do so because they can’t
find work – not because they are lazy.
- All ethnic groups are convinced that person-to-person
(i.e. between individuals as idividuals) relations are much
easier and more successful than inter-group relations.
Individual relations dramatically diminish prejudice in all
groups. All groups agree that the most successful
inter-personal relations are conducted in the work process /
- Bulgaria is unique insofar
as the social groups that elsewhere are least prejudiced, in
Bulgaria are most prejudiced: teachers, inhabitants of big
cities, educators, degree holders.
- The Bulgarian public sharply differs from some
average EU indicators regarding minority issues. Half of
Bulgarians know a Roma person personally, compared to just
12% the EU average. More Bulgarians (66%) know personally at
least one person fromk a different ethnic grop than the EU
average (55%). At the same time, Bulgarians are five times
less likely (than the average European) to be aware of
anti-discriminatory policies in their country.
- personal knowledge, particularly in the context of
work, is a powerful factor for diminishing prejudice; lack
of personal knowledge leads to group stereotyping and
- there is a systemic defect in Bulgaria’s
education system, in sofar as: a/ professional educators are
highly prejudiced and intolerant; b/ the highly educated are
- there is an obvious lack of symmetry in inter-ethnic
relations: the Roma are much more tolerant to the other
groups than vice versa
- in recent years, as prejudice levels overall
increase, the Roma feel acutely discriminated
- Roma-targeted social policies (housing projects,
mobile health units etc.) do not produce the desired results
for the Roma, while producing great hostility in the
TURKS: residual prejudice against the Turks is
political in essence: a residual fear that they
could use political power for some kind of anti-majority
purpose. These fears are diminishing as the DPS (the
“Turkish party”) practices political power
responsibly, being continuously in government since 2001.
The more power the “Turks” have, the less the
prejudice from the majority.
ROMA: prejudice against the Roma centres on
social issues (social security, housing etc).
Prejudice here is not centred on the public arena
(politics), but on the perceived way of life of the Roma.
Roma-related policy should concentrate
on making effective and inclusive the social policies of the
government: access to work, education, health, housing.
Effective social policies would resolve the basic problems
relating to the exclusion of the Roma and prejudice against
Compared to the mid-1990, the media climate is much
improved, with blatant prejudice disappearing, the
implementation of journalist ethic codes and the maintenance
of a number of minority-related sections in the major media.
Deficits continue to exist:
- With no less than 15% of the population being some
kind of minority, minority-related materials form no more
than 3% of all media output.
- The vast majority of that 3% is composed of two kinds
of materials: Roma crime, poverty and problems; and the
activities of the DPS as representative of the Turkish
- Regarding the Roma, the reporting that is not to do
with crime and poverty is to do with Roma music and
festivals; serious Roma-related materials are very rare, and
those discussing policy issues – virtually
- The vast majority of the materials in those 3% are
written by ethnic Bulgarians.
- Since 2001, specialist discriminatory media has
appeared, propagating intolerance and xenophobia (two
national newspapers, one national TV chain).
- When local inter-ethnic frictions with the Roma
appear, media presents only the sensationalist side of
events; no analyses have appeared in the media regarding the
inter-ethnic incidents of 2007.
None of the major political parties, not even the
Turk-dominated DPS, has a minority-related section in its
programme. None of the parties have consistent
minority-related policies either in government, or in
opposition. In the senior leadership, only the DPS has
minority representatives (Turks), and there is a solitary
Turk in the leadership of the Union of Democratic Forces
Social and economic factors
Turks (and probably the Bulgarian Muslims) are somewhat
less educated and poorer than Bulgarians, but not to an
extent that can produce serious problems of exclusion and
Regarding the Roma, they face a double exclusion:
- Unlike the Turks, they are not politically
represented and included.
- Unlike the majority population and the other
minorities, the Roma do not have fair access to the major
resources, provided by the government and by society to its
members: health, education, participation in the labour
Deficits of government policy
More than the average European (50% to 31%), Bulgarians
expect that overcoming discrimination must be done through
government policy. This burdens the Bulgarian government
with unusually intense expectations. At the same time, there
is no policy, but rather – piecemeal, fragmented,
uncoordinated and un-evaluated activities. A good start
would be for the government to make its social policies
effective and inclusive, and only then add targeted
There is also a major philosophic deficit. The Bulgarian
state has not been part to the debate regarding “the
nation” and has not evolved the understanding that
modern Bulgaria is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and
multi-religious society. This deficit leads to blind spots
and lack of sensitivity and understanding of minority
In order to make any policy effective, the government
needs to have an effective administration. This it does not
have. Administrative capacity is very weak, particularly
– in the field of minorities.UNDP analyses point to
some specific deficits:
- instead of implementing policies, administrations
produce increasingly complex documentation and conduct
imitative activities that support institutional
- no administration achieves the policies it has been
- administrators have evolved “strategies of
evasion” to avoid the participation of stakeholders;
such strategies in turn are based on an antiquated concept
of social change as social engineering, conducted from the
top-down, and combined with half-conscious racism.
In order to evolve and implement efficient inclusive
policies, the government needs to conduct a major effort of
reform of administrations. To date, such reform has been
largely imitated, leading to a lack of enabling environment
for any policy, and particularly – for inclusive
policies targeted at minorities.
Available policy choices
Lacking in understanding, sensitivity, policy-related
and administrative capacity, the government is torn between
two different alternatives in its minority-related
activities. The problem is that the government does not know
that it is thus torn. With such an understanding would come
the choice of one over the other alternative.
Alternative 1: government attempts to compensate the
suffering of the Roma as a homogenious group
Mostly, this is what the government is doing at the
moment. It sees the Roma as a separate group, rather than a
collection of citizens, and evolves policies that are
“Roma-targeted” and un-connected to the national
This is a trap, because it does not address the roots of
the problem: that the majority of the Roma have been
excluded from the general process of modernization and do
not possess the skills to be included into the mainstream of
society’s life – i.e. to move from group
survival tactics to strategies of individual (and family)
At the same time, piecemeal Roma-targeted policies lead
to a sharp reaction from the majority, because such policies
are interpreted as “favourising” the Roma while
discriminating the rest.
Or the government can choose something else:
Alternative 2: government policy focuses on helping the
Roma overcome the trap of group helplessness and on
providing the roma with the skills that ensure their
Market forces can not be expected to provide such skills
and attitudes to the Roma, not least because the Roma are
the most dependent group in Bulgaria. A 2007 poll reveals
that half of Bulgarians, over 36% f Turks and only 6% of the
Roma agree with the statement: “People should take
care of their own lives”. Conversely, 94% of the Roma
agree with the statement “The government must
guarantee a decent life for all” (compared to 63%
Turks and half of Bulgarians).
Socially speaking, the Roma form the bulk of
Bulgaria’s poor and victimised
“under-class”. Such issues should be addressed,
in the first instance, by ethnicity-neutral inclusive social
policies, in a reasonable combination with targeted
activities. But efficient social policies of inclusion come
- If the Ministry of Education simply carried out its
Constitutional duties to include all children into school
education, then Roma lack of education would not be the
problem it is now; and if the Ministry did this, then
Roma-specific activities would be few and temporary.
- If Bulgaria had (as it has not) a government and
municipal housing policy for the poor, independent of their
ethnicity, then specific “Roma housing projects”
would be largely unnecessary, or very specific in nature.
- If the tax authorities had (as they do not have) an
efficient policy of tax collection, the Roma would also be
paying taxes, in return for which to demand services.
- If the Ministry of Health carried out its
Constitutional duty to include all citizens in health
services, then Roma-specific health projects woult be few
- If the Ministry of Social Policy had an effective and
inclusive programme of inclusion into the process of work,
then Roma-specific projects woult be few and specific.
- If the municipalities implemented (as they do not)
effective urban planning policies, then the Roma-related
initiatives targeted at the “ghettos” would be
few and specific in nature.
- Since 1990, Bulgarians and Turks have significantly
increased their education level in comparison with the age
groups over 50. In the Roma, exclusion from the education
process has led to a reverse situation, with the young Roma
reverting to the low education levels of the over-50 group.
- More than half of all school drop-outs are Roma.
- During 2006-7, targeted interventions in health have
revealed that in some Roma communities up to 45% of Roma
have no identity documents, and the great majority have no
- As the rest of society begins to prosper, Roma
non-inclusion into the work (and skills-acquisition) process
places them in the position of a vulnerable, excluded,
closed, helpless and discriminated group. This widens the
gap with society, leading to further suspicion and distrust.
Best practices and government policy
Government policies are weak and non-inclusive.
Administrations are non-participatory and lack sufficient
sensitivity. Taken together, these weaknesses ensure that
best practices, which have become available, are
not taken on as national policy. Such practices have arisen
out of NGO work locally and EU-funded projects nationally,
relating to desegregation in education, school attendance,
work participation, health inclusion and so forth.
When the government and its administrations evolve
policy-making / implementation capacity, there is a wealth
of best practices, on which they would be able to draw in
order to formulate and implement minority-related policies
General policy conclusion
Bulgaria is not yet at the stage of productively
debating minority-targeted policies. This will come later.
The problem at the moment is that the government’s
general, society-wide social policies fail to be inclusive.
Against the background of this major failure, all
Roma-specific interventions can only be a palliative at best
and un-productive at worst.
Best practices arrived at during targeted interventions
are not made into meaningful national policy.
Bulgaria suffers from severe lack of capacity to handle
the “second generation” reforms: administration,
education and rule of law. The completion of these reforms
would go far to address Roma problems of exclusion and
prejudice. Administration reform would produce an efficient,
friendly and participatory administration, capable of
implementing the social policies that benefit the
vulnerable, the Roma included. Education reform would lead
to Roma inclusion, and to a diminution of the xenophobia
currently produced in education and by educators. Rule of
law would eradicate the kind of corruption which ensures
that there is no housing policy and no effective
implementation of urban planing.
Only when existing policies relating to inclusion into
education, work, health and housing begin to be effectively
implemented, would it be productive to debate what other,
minority-specific policies should additionally be evolved.
While social policies are being effectively implemented,
administrative efficiency must be combined with policy
capacity and multi-cultural sensitivity – and these
are key elements in the still absent reform of
Once the social policies regarding inclusion
are effectively in place, further policies of
representation (in the various levels of
government) and participation (in the formation and
implementation of policies) must follow, regarding the Roma.
This would further obviate the need for
“targeted”, piecemeal activities; and would
substitute for them a sustainable policy environment.