With the EU Parliamentary elections under four weeks away, Euronews is counting down by taking a road trip across the continent to speak to voters about the issues that matter to them. We are visiting towns and villages around Europe – inviting people to talk about what's on their minds, ahead of what is a key vote at a crucial moment for the European Union.
On the next stop of the Bulgarian leg of the trip, Euronews correspondents Bryan Carter and Apostolos Staikos went to Stolipinovo, the biggest Roma neighborhood in the Balkans.
Vasko Kostov was born in Stolipinovo and works as a welder and blacksmith, a trade he wants to pass on to his six grandchildren, despite his struggle to make ends meet.
“The Roma people in Stolipinovo do honest work,” Kostov said. “The government doesn’t pay any attention to the Roma people. It doesn’t give us a helping hand. We need jobs, we need to earn money. Now we are working for almost nothing.”
50,000 people live in this district of Plovdiv. Poor investments in infrastructure have led to serious issues with electricity and water supply. Illegal constructions made the problem worse, while the demolition of these houses only increased the resentment of the Roma community towards local authorities.
Stolipinovo is only 20 minutes away from the city centre of Plovdiv, which is one of the two European Capitals of Culture for 2019.
At a local youth centre, young people are brought together to play, discuss and learn new skills, with the support of the European capital of culture 2019 funding.
"Europe has very important instruments at its disposal. It can make any government find a solution to any problem. But if the government itself does not have the will and does not commit to solve the problem, the EU cannot do more than propose," Asen Karagyozov, a director of the centre said.
One of the local teenagers told Euronews' team that the discrimination against his community will influence his vote in the upcoming EU elections.
"I think that I will vote for whoever proposes a better future for the Roma people. I don’t want us to face discrimination when we go to the beach or to the nightclub. I don’t want to us be separated into ethnic groups. We should all be equal, with equal rights," Vasko Karagyozov, a student said.
The exact number of Roma people in Bulgaria is disputed, with figures ranging from 325,000 to 750,000. Rights groups have repeatedly denounced the discrimination they face in Bulgaria and called on authorities and community leaders to find solutions to improve the everyday lives of the people living in these neighbourhoods.
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