Central Europe Review Call forpolicy proposals...
Vol 3, No 18
21 May 2001
front page 
our awards 
CER cited 
jobs at CER 
CER Direct 
e-mail us 
year 2000 
year 1999 
by subject 
by author 
EU Focus 
music shop 
video store 
find books 


Roma in CEE More Empty

The state of Roma affairs
in Bulgaria

Savelina Danova

In February 2001, Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov met leaders of Romani organisations in the country for the first time since he went into office in 1997. In March 2001, a Romani woman was appointed to a senior position in the governmental National Council for the Ethnic and Demographic Issues—the only body within the state apparatus which specifically addresses Romani issues. She is the first Roma to be appointed in this body four years after its establishment and the first Rom to hold a senior position in the public administration.

Both events took place at the very end of the current government's term of office, shortly before the parliamentary elections in Bulgaria scheduled for 17 June 2001. Regardless of their telling proximity to the elections, these two acts might have been manifestations of genuine concern for the Romani problems if they had not been discredited by the long record of neglect for the Romani issues on part of Bulgarian authorities.

Ten years after the democratic changes in Bulgaria, election campaigns remain the only point of interaction between Roma and the authorities. As regards policies towards Roma, no government has made any significant move beyond the hollow rhetoric. For a short moment of time in 1999, it seemed that the chronic deficit of political will to solve the problems of Roma is over.

Program but no action

The Bulgarian Government adopted the Framework Program for Equal Integration of Roma—a comprehensive policy document which envisages legislative measures and positive action policy to eliminate discrimination against Roma. The campaign for the adoption of the Framework Program also left the impression that the government has finally embraced the policy of establishing dialogue with the Romani community and treating its members as equally entitled to participate in public affairs.

In the beginning of 2001, two years following the adoption of the Framework Program, it is evident that the chief beneficiary of this document is not the Romani community but the government itself. Without any follow-up action for its implementation, the mere act of adoption of the Framework Program serves to conceal the failure of the government to undertake any meaningful action on the Romani issue.

The government not only failed to implement the program it had adopted, but also turned a blind eye to the attempts of the Romani organisations at resuming the dialogue and getting involved in the decision-making process.


The sizable Romani community in Bulgaria—between eight and ten per cent of the country's population—is a serious factor from electoral point of view and has always been a target of political courtship. In the past ten years, the political parties of the majority have successfully exploited the instruments of vague promises and commitment to temporary measures which lead to no
Send this article to a friend
change of the status quo. The 2001 parliamentary elections, however, will take place in a social and political environment that has born serious challenges to the conventional approaches of the politicians regarding the Romani electorate.

The first obvious challenge comes from the fact that the authorities are faced with a new type of accountability. They should prove that they are working in compliance with the set of concrete commitments as formulated by the Framework Program. Romani organisations throughout the country, which participated in the formulation of the document, have already confronted the government on several occasions with demands for an immediate start of the implementation of the Framework Program.

The other challenge to conventional politics towards Roma at election times comes from the political activity within the Romani community. The constitutional provision which bans formation of political parties on ethnic or religious basis, apart from being discriminatory in its nature, also proved to be an unviable principle regulating political life in the country.


Between 1998 and 2001, several political parties organised by Roma and representing Roma appeared, and some of them successfully performed on the local elections in 1999. The practice of the major political parties to pretend inclusive policies by choosing a single representative of the Romani community and giving him the chance to have a seat in Parliament, has exhausted its credibility.

This practice proved to be a dead-end road for the representation of Roma in parliamentary politics. Not only it accounts for severe under-representation of Roma, but also makes their cause contingent on the policies of the majority parties, generally indifferent—if not hostile—to the aspirations of Roma. Again, this practice served best the majority politicians and the authorities who were provided with a shield against criticism that Roma were excluded from political life.

The process of political emancipation of Roma, which is gaining ground in Bulgaria, has the potential to invalidate the pattern that has long kept Roma on the margins of public life. Shortly after their birth, Roma political parties might face serious disadvantages limiting their impact. However, their appearance in the political spectrum is a significant step towards real representation of Roma.

Savelina Danova, 21 May 2001

Moving on:



Shane Jacobs
Tobacco Fields

Sam Vaknin
Bulgaria's Economy

The Roma

Nidhi Trehan
Solidarity in Macedonia

Kristína Magdolenová
Slovak Justice

Eva Sobotka
Czech Roma

Savelina Danova
Empty Promises

Dragan Ristić
Fighting Tradition

Peter Hames
Finále in Plzeň

Rob Stout
The Sword and
the Shield

Štěpán Kotrba
Sow and Reap

Brian J Požun
Shedding the Balkan Skin

Martin D Brown
Czech Historical Amnesia

Dejan Anastasijević (ed)
Out of Time

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Hungarian Oil Scandal

Sam Vaknin
After the Rain

Czech Republic

CER eBookclub Members enter here