Bonus: Voices from Bulgaria

Bonus: Voices from Bulgaria
By Euronews
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The mayor the Roma have voted as ‘Bulgaria’s friendliest mayor’

Tsonko Tsonev
Mayor of Kavarna

“When I started my work as a mayor I started to work for all the ethnic groups: Roma, Bulgarians, Tatars, Gagauzis and Armenians. There was no differentiation in my work: I did not work especially for the Roma. I simply made a differentiation according to the proportion of the population. For example, the Roma are a third of the entire population and I suggested that a third of the municipal budget should go towards the Roma neighborhood’s infrastructure (even more than a third because the Roma neighbourhood was in the worst condition and needed more investments). I had principles in my work: I did not work only for the Roma, or for only the Bulgarians, or for the Armenians or for the Tatars, but for all the ethnic groups.

“I was flattered that my work and the work of the administration and the work of the Roma people, who I cooperate with, was highly appreciated and we participated in a European programme called “Thank you, Mayor!”: lots of mayors and municipal councillors came to see our best practices. And I think this is the way it should be: to demonstrate the positive achievements and multiply them. In fact, the integration as we implement it here includes: streets, sanitation, housing and education, all of these. This is the real integration – plus the lack of discrimination and the equal attitude towards the members of the Roma community.
So this is my recipe and if we manage to achieve all these, then I think that the Roma problems will be solved.

“Every year we celebrate the International Roma Day – April 8 – and many Bulgarians come to celebrate with the Roma. Many Bulgarians have Roma friends and there are no differences between the ethnic groups here, which is also a result of my personal example, as my best friends are Roma. So having an example is very important and also it is very important after all the hard work to have a good, wonderful relationship between the Bulgarians and the Roma. We have already achieved this, we have no problems in this respect and we will continue to build on this.”

The mayor’s advisor on Roma issues

Martin Bashev
Ethnic integration service, Kavarna

“After we already have all these nice things in our neighborhood we have to keep what has been developed here. Sometimes all of us who work with the municipality get together and explain to our community that we have to keep what has been done by the municipality for us, that we have to appreciate what has been done for us and do our best to keep it. What has been done remains for us. Our houses are legal, we have documents for ownership and we pay our taxes as all Bulgarian citizens do. We are not different from our Bulgarian co-citizens. We pay our taxes and we maintain what we have built and we try to share our positive practices with all the citizens of Bulgaria and maybe all of Europe.”

The man who complained about discrimination in the past

Sebastian Romanov
Kavarna resident

“Before 2003 we had a different mayor and I gave an interview for the “Fakel” newspaper about him and I also met with Ms. Elena Popyordanova – she is the current ambassador of Bulgaria in USA but back then she was a member of the Parliament of Bulgaria. I would like to mention those times when the Roma were not allowed in the cafes and were treated very badly. But since 2003, and up to 2012, with this new mayor, Mr.Tsonko Tsonev, everything has changed. I can’t say anything negative about now, but before 2003 we did not have infrastructure; there were no streets, no street lights, we did not have the same relationships with the Bulgarians as we have now. I would like to say that there is real integration in Kavarna and I am very proud of it, as I started it with the complaint of discrimination, between 2001 and 2003, regarding the previous mayor. But now it is different: we get along well with the Bulgarian community.

“The real integration starts from kindergarten. The Roma from our community go to work in Poland; these people support us. They do not take funds out of Bulgaria, but they bring/send money to Bulgaria. So I’ll reiterate it once more: we are not taking money out but we are bringing funds, fresh funds into Bulgaria and this is very positive for the social policy of Kavarna. All these nice houses were built through the work of the Roma working in Poland.
It is thanks to Poland and to the Polish citizens who admitted us to their country so warmly, treating us equally and with respect, while this is not same in Bulgaria.

“If the Bulgarian society wants us to integrate (there are programmes for integration from 2005 to 2015), they have to let the funds reach the Roma and thus we will be able to help our children. I am from the older generation who are the scapegoats, in a way, there is no way not to be a scapegoat because I have struggled with these problems. In order to take a Roma from the mud and help him live normally, you take a hit.

“The Bulgarian society still doesn’t realise that we are human beings. We are not animals, as right now the animals have better rights than the Roma in Bulgaria. I can see this right now. The animals in Bulgaria are better integrated than the Roma and I will let you know why: because these EU funds do not reach out to the Roma children. In order to achieve successful integration, we need funds. No one is employed. There are no jobs, but they want us to integrate. Please tell me how, explain it to me. A big number of people say that the Roma do not want to work but this is not true and I would like to say that in fact we need support, a friendly hand, as Europe thinks about us.”

The head of the Roma NGO

Deyan Kolev
Director, Amalipe – Centre for Interethnic Dialogue and Tolerance

“It is very important to achieve two things: one of them is to make the projects more comprehensive, i.e. instead of addressing problems in only one sphere (for example housing or education separately), the projects should have a combined impact in all the four spheres: housing, education, employment and health care. The second thing that is even more important is to turn the successful projects into sustainable policies. This is a very serious problem in Bulgaria. There is a large number of good projects implemented by NGOs and municipalities but when the time comes and when the national authorities and institutions have to turn them to national policies, this doesn’t happen. So this puts the integration process in a very unfavourable position because many people say that nothing happens in the sphere of integration. We need a clearer and stronger political will in order to turn the successful programmes into sustainable national policies.

“Segregation is an extremely serious problem in Bulgaria. Currently, the Bulgarians and the Roma live in separate neighborhoods. The Roma live in segregated neighborhoods and their children attend schools that are predominantly attended by Roma children. This has an impact on the overall quality of education of the Roma children and also the overall attitude towards the Roma community. The segregation is a dangerous process but it is an existing problem and it could lead to discrimination and discriminative attitudes, which is something that happened in September 2011, when we were (practically) in a situation of a very serious ethnic conflict.

“So it is very important to overcome this separation in the sphere of education and in the other spheres as well, to overcome this separation of the school, this segregation. Bulgarians and Roma should study together, should work together and even work together on the Roma integration. I am quite convinced that Bulgarians and Roma should work together for the integration of the Roma and this is the message of our centre ‘Amalipe’, which in the Romani language means friendship. The principle aim of our work is to work together in the sphere of integration.”

The residents of a poor housing area

“Are we in Europe? We would like to know where we are. If we are in Europe why don’t we have normal streets? We’re living in the mud. When it rains we can’t walk out and we walk with our boots. We have houses of sorts but we do not have sanitation systems, no sewerage.
What is going on? Aren’t we in Europe? Come on! Isn’t there anybody to defend us? We want to have normal streets.”

“Our kids can’t go to school!”

“There are no jobs and most of the people here are unemployed!”

“We can’t afford to buy shoes for our children.”

“We also want to be in Europe! As all the rest are in Europe, we also want to be in Europe!

The Roma community moderators

Emilia Aldinova
Amalipe centre, Novi Pazar

“I belong to the Roma community; I am from the neighbourhood. Together with my colleague we are the bridge between the school, the institutions, the parents and the children, as we work on the field. If there are children in the neighbourhood who are not enrolled in school we help them register. If there are children who are enrolled but do not attend classes we visit them at home to see what the reasons are and get them back to school to continue their education.

“The institutions ask us for support when they have problems with the Roma community. We also find foster parents (families) for the children with no care. Those who have no parents but grandparents, we help the grandparent to provide the care. I am really happy that we have contact with the parents. We organise meetings with them to discuss the education of the children, about their skills and how important it is to attend school regularly. In a way we are trying to educate them [the parents] as well.

“We are not just ‘talkers’, we are the bridge between the teachers and the Roma community.
Basically we want the children to stay at school, to not drop out from school, to prevent early marriages, and then when they finish eighth grade and then finish high school, even continue through to university.

“We also organise campaigns and community events: campaigns for cleaning the neighbourhood, health campaigns, educational campaigns. They simply believe us, because we are members of their community, and whenever the teachers can’t solve a problem, we can, because they believe us.”

Yusein Shakir
Amalipe centre, Novi Pazar

“We have a students’ parliament, which we organised. The members of this parliament are predominantly problematic children (according to the teachers they were problematic) and the teachers always complained that they could not work with such children because they do not behave well, that they are hard and they are not good students; they would not listen to us.
But it proved to be just the opposite; we found out that they had influence over the rest of the children. When we launched the campaign for cleaning the neighbourhood and other similar activities, they felt important and demonstrated that they have a stronger sense of responsibility.

“We have some extracurricular activities one or two times per week. We get together and discuss the topic about dropping out from school. They come and share information about children who do not come to school and they explain why: because they are sick or have some problems; they go to speak with these children and the next day [these missing children] come to school without any special interference on our part. This is very helpful for our work.

“Sometimes it is difficult for them to persuade the children to come to school and then we go and talk to them and their parents until they come. So we make them feel important and give them responsibilities for organising activities: chess, tennis and soccer tournaments. This is how we motivate them to stay at school and realise how important education is. They already realise this.

“When we get together to talk, we let them watch videos about the risks and consequences of early marriages and dropping out from school, as their families often don’t talk to them about what would happen. The Roma community does not have priorities such as studying, going to university and becoming like the rest of the people. They would rather get married young, drop out from school and get some crafts and learn how to do construction work, as they are used to this. It is very hard for us to change their attitudes but we are trying and for now we have success. We can’t just change everything at once, but I am quite positive that over the years they will change.”

The Roma students

Bozhanka Nikolaeva
15-year-old pupil, Novi Pazar

“I like coming to school because I have lots of friends. They are nice children and I get along with them very well. My school is very nice and we have very nice teachers and our principal is good as well. I study in a wonderful school. After finishing eighth grade I will continue to study in order to follow my dreams. I’d like to follow my dreams and don’t want to make mistakes. After eighth grade I will study in the Professional high school for agriculture. If I graduate with good scores I am planning to go to university in Veliko Tarnovo and obtain a profession.”

Pasha Salim
15-year-old pupil, Novi Pazar

“Our school is simply the best and we have fun here. I would like to have an education and be able to follow my dreams. The community centre “Amalipe” provides us with support: we share with them our problems; and we ask them for support in cases when we have problems with the teachers. Some of the children do not attend school regularly because of their parents – they don’t let them and we go to speak with the parents and try to solve the issues. I would like to continue to study after I finish this school. It is up to eighth grade. I will continue to study at the Professional high school for agriculture and after that I would like to go to university.”

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