Roma in Bulgaria: Wikis


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Pan-handling Roma family in front of the Russian Church in Sofia
Roma people in Sliven
Roma wedding in Sofia

The Roma in Bulgaria are the country's second largest minority and third largest ethnic group (after Bulgarians and Turks). According to the 2001 census, there were 370,908 Roma in Bulgaria, equivalent to 4.7% of the country's total population,[1] making Bulgaria the European country with the highest percentage of Roma. Experts' unofficial estimates, however, have the Roma population at around 8-10%, based on data from sociological polls, labour offices, and social assistance service. The estimates of Bulgaria's Ministry of Interior vary between 600,000 and 750,000, although nearly half of Roma traditionally have Turkish or Bulgarian ethnic self-identification.[2] Another sources claim to be up to 800,000 Roma in Bulgaria.[3]

Roma are commonly referred to as Tsigani (цигани, pronounced /'ʦigəni/), an exonym that some Roma resent and others embrace. The form of the endonym Roma in Bulgarian is romi (роми).

Bulgaria participates in the Decade of Roma Inclusion, an international initiative to improve the socio-economic status and social inclusion of Roma, with eight other governments committing themselves to "work toward eliminating discrimination and closing the unacceptable gaps between Roma and the rest of society".[4] The rights of the Roma people in the country are also represented by various political parties and cultural organizations, most notably the Civil Union "Roma".

Noted Roma from Bulgaria include musicians Azis, Sofi Marinova and Ivo Papazov, surgeon Aleksandar Chirkov, politician Toma Tomov, footballer Marian Ognyanov, and 1988 Olympic boxing champion Ismail Mustafov.



Bulgarian ethnologists Elena Marushiakova and Veselin Popov assert that no direct evidence indicates when precisely the Roma first appeared in Bulgaria. While they mention that other Bulgarian and international scholars have associated the 1387 Charter of Rila term Agoupovi Kleti with the Roma, they hold that the term refers to seasonal lodgings for mountain herdsmen. Instead, they delimit the mass settlement of Roma in Bulgarian territory between the 13th and 14th centuries, supporting this time frame with thirteenth- and fourteenth-century documents referring to Roma presence in the surrounding Balkan states.[5] According to Bulgarian sociologist Ilona Tomova, Ottoman fiscal reports between the 15th and 17th centuries also indirectly indicate Roma settlement in Bulgaria since the 13th century, as most registered Roma possessed Slavonic names and were Christians.[6]

During the 14th and 15th centuries, Muslim Roma arrived in Bulgaria with the Ottoman conquerors, serving as auxiliaries, craftsmen, musicians and other professions.[6][7] Unlike the Ottoman Empire’s other subjects in the millet system, Roma were governed based on their ethnicity, not their religious affiliation.[8] Ottoman tax records first mention Roma in the Nikopol region, where 3.5% of the registered households were Roma. Under Mehmed II’s reign, all Roma—Christian and Muslim—paid a poll-tax normally imposed only on non-Muslims.[9] During the 16th century, Suleiman I enacted laws to prohibit the mingling of Muslim and Christian Roma and to administer taxes collected from the Roma: the 1530 Gypsies in the Rumelia Region Act and a 1541 law for the Roma sancak.[6][10] Muslim Roma were taxed less than Christian Roma,[8] yet they were taxed more than other Muslims for not adhering to Islamic laws and customs.[11] Ottoman imperial assembly registers from 1558-1569 characterize the Roma as ehl-i fesad (people of malice), charging them with crimes such as prostitution, murder, theft, vagrancy and counterfeiting.[12]


Roma in Bulgaria are not a unified community in terms of culture and lifestyle. The most widespread group of the Roma in the country are the yerlii or the 'local Roma', which are in turn divided into Bulgarian Gypsies (daskane roma) and Turkish Gypsies (horahane roma). The former are mostly Christian (Eastern Orthodox and Protestant), while the latter are Muslim.

A subgroup of the Bulgarian Gypsies in Southern Bulgaria, the Asparuhovi bâlgari ('Asparuh Bulgarians')--known also as either stari bâlgari ('Old Bulgarians'), sivi gâlâbi ('Grey Doves', 'Grey Pigeons'), or demirdzhii--self-identify as the descendants of blacksmiths for Khan Asparuh's army.[13][14][15] Some deny any connection with the Roma and most do not speak Romani.[15]

Other Roma group include the conservative wandering Kalderash (sometimes referred to by the exonym Serbian Gypsies) that are Eastern Orthodox and the Rudari (or Ludari) who speak a dialect of Romanian and are known as Vlax Gypsies. They are further subdivided into three groups by their traditional craft: the Ursari or Mechkari ('bear trainers'), the Lingurari or Kopanari ('carpenters', primarily associated with wooden bowls) and the Lautari ('musicians'). They migrated from Wallachia to present-day Bulgaria after 1856, the year of their liberation from slavery.

Additionally, the offspring of a Bulgarian and a Roma are referred to as dzhorevtsi (джоревци) or zhorevtsi (жоревци).[16]


Roma minority in Bulgaria (census 2001)
Roma minority in Bulgaria (census 2001)

From the 1992 census to the 2001 census, the number of Roma in the country has increased by 57,512, or 18.4%. Constituting 4.7% of the total population in 2001, the Roma were only 2.8% in 1910 and 2.0% in 1920[17].

The Roma are present in all provinces of Bulgaria, their highest percentages in Montana Province (12.5%) and Sliven Province (12.3%) and their smallest percentage in Smolyan Province, where they number 686[1]—about 0.05% of the population.

There is no city, town or village in the country where Roma are the only ethnic group. The largest Roma quarters are Stolipinovo in Plovdiv and Fakulteta in Sofia. The number of places where Roma constitute more than 50% of the population has risen from the 1992 to the 2001 census.

Province Roma Total population
Blagoevgrad Province 12,405 341,173
Burgas Province 19,439 423,547
Dobrich Province 18,649 215,217
Gabrovo Province 1,611 144,125
Haskovo Province 17,089 277,478
Kardzhali Province 1,264 164,019
Kyustendil Province 8,294 162,534
Lovech Province 6,316 169,951
Montana Province 22,784 182,258
Pazardzhik Province 23,970 310,723
Pernik Province 3,035 149,832
Pleven Province 9,777 311,985
Plovdiv Province 30,196 715,816
Razgrad Province 8,733 152,417
Ruse Province 9,703 266,157
Shumen Province 16,457 204,378
Silistra Province 6,478 142,000
Sliven Province 26,777 218,474
Smolyan Province 686 140,066
Sofia 17,885 1,170,842
Sofia Province 16,748 273,240
Stara Zagora Province 16,748 370,615
Targovishte Province 9,868 137,689
Varna Province 15,462 500,175
Veliko Tarnovo Province 6,064 293,172
Vidin Province 9,786 130,074
Vratsa Province 14,899 243,036
Yambol Province 9,729 156,070
Total 370,908 7,928,901

Problems of exclusion and discrimination

The Roma in Bulgaria, as in many other European countries, face deep-rooted problems of exclusion in employment, education, housing and other areas.

In a UNDP/ILO survey, Bulgarian Roma identified unemployment, economic hardship and discrimination in access to employment as major problems. In 1997, 84% of Bulgarian Roma lived under the poverty line, compared with 32% of ethnic Bulgarians.[18]

The Council of Europe body ECRI stated in its June 2003 third report on Bulgaria that Roma encounter "serious difficulties in many spheres of life", elaborating that:

"The main problems stem from the fact that the Roma districts are turning into ghettos. [..] Most Roma neighbourhoods consist of slums, precariously built without planning permission on land that often belongs to the municipalities [..]. As the Bulgarian authorities have not taken steps to address the situation, the people living in these districts have no access to basic public services, whether health care, public transport, waste collection or sanitation".[19]

To which the Bulgarian government answered officially in the same document:

ECRI has correctly observed that members of the Roma community encounter “serious difficulties” “in many spheres of life”. The rest of this paragraph, however, regrettably contains sweeping, grossly inaccurate generalizations ... Due to various objective and subjective factors, many (but by no means all!) members of the Roma community found it particularly difficult to adapt to the new realities of the market economy. “…Romani mahala-dwellers are still captives of the past, holding onto and behaving according to preconceptions about the socialist welfare state that clash with the modern realities of a market economy and privatisation.” (Skopje Report, p.6)[1]. More concretely, the allegation that the people living in these districts “have no access to basic public services” is largely inaccurate. Certain difficulties (though not remotely on the scale suggested) do exist in this regard, and the authorities are taking concrete measures to address them (see above). However, as the Advisor on Roma and Sinti issues at the OSCE, N. Gheorghe remarked during the Skopje meeting: “…many of the Roma confuse public services with rights to which they are entitled and which are guaranteed by the welfare state” (Skopje Report, p.16). ... Concerning the issue of the electricity supply it should be noted that dwellers of such neighbourhoods sometimes refuse to pay their electricity bills. This attitude could at least in part be explained by the fact that “…Romani mahala-dwellers believe they have rights as citizens to electricity and other services, and that the state has an obligation to provide and to a large extent to subsidize them” (Skopje Report, p. 7). In these circumstances electricity suppliers may find themselves with no other option but to “sometimes cut off” the electricity supply in order to incite the consumers to commence honouring their debts. It should be emphasized that such cut-offs are part of standard practice and the ethnic origin of the consumers is completely irrelevant in these cases. With respect to welfare benefits, which allegedly “in some cases, moreover, Roma do not receive” while “they are entitled” to them, it should be underscored that Bulgaria’s social welfare legislation sets uniform objective criteria for access to welfare benefits for all citizens, irrespective of their ethnic origin (furthermore, any discrimination, including on ethnic grounds is expressly prohibited by law). The question of who is entitled or not entitled to welfare benefits is determined by the relevant services on the basis of a means test. Every single decision of these services must be (and is) in written form and clearly motivated. If a claimant is not satisfied with a decision, he/she is entitled to appeal it before the regional welfare office. Consequently, this allegation of ECRI is also erroneous."[19]

A monitoring report by the Open Society Institute found that Roma children and teenagers are less likely to enroll in both primary and secondary schools than the majority population, and less likely to complete their education if they do. Between 60-77% of Roma children enroll in primary education (age 6-15), compared to 90-94% of ethnic Bulgarians. Only 6-12% of Roma teenagers enroll in secondary education (age 16-19). The drop-out rate is significant, but hard to measure, as many are formally enrolled but rarely attend classes.[20]

The report also indicates that Roma children and teenagers attend segregated "Roma schools" in majority-Roma neighbourhoods and villages. These "Roma schools" offer inferior quality education; many are in a bad physical condition and lack necessary facilities such as computers. As a result, Roma literacy rates, already below those for ethnic Bulgarians, are much lower still for Roma who have attended segregated schools.[21]

The official position of the Bulgarian government to such segregation is:

"There had never been a policy of "segregation" of Roma children in the national education system. The fact that in some neighbourhoods in certain towns particular schools were attended predominantly by pupils of Roma origin was an unintended consequence of the administrative division of the school system. According to the rules valid for all children irrespective of their ethnic origin, admittance to any public school was linked administratively to the domicile of the family. In neighbourhoods where the population was predominantly of Roma origin, this system produced schools, attended predominantly by pupils of Roma origin. It is precisely this situation that the authorities are taking special measures to rectify. Therefore, the word “segregation" with respect to Roma children is inaccurate."[19]

Roma children are also often sent to special schools for children with intellectual disabilities, or boarding schools for children with "deviant behavior" (so-called "delinquent schools"). According to reports of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC), Roma made up half the number of students in schools for children with intellectual disabilities and about two-thirds of the students of the boarding schools, where the BHC found a variety of human rights abuses, including physical violence. In both sets of special schools, the quality of teaching is very poor, and even essential things such as desks, textbooks and teaching materials are inadequate or altogether lacking.[22]


Political Representation

According to a report of POLITEA, "For the most of the 1990s the only representation the Roma got was through the mainstream political parties. This was a very limited form of representation in which one or two Roma had a symbolic presence in Parliament during each term." The Bulgarian Constitution does not allow political parties based on ethnic, religious, or racist principles or ideology. However, "Twenty one Roma political organizations were founded between 1997 and 2003 in Bulgaria [...]".[23]

In the 2005 Bulgarian parliamentary election, three Roma parties took part: Euroroma, Movement for an Equal Public Model (as part of a coalition led by the Union of Democratic Forces) and the Civil Union "Roma" (as part of a coalition led by the Bulgarian Socialist Party).[24]

Currently, there is one Roma representative in the National Assembly.[23]


General references


  1. ^ a b "Population as of 1 March 2001 divided by provinces and ethnic group" (in Bulgarian). National Statistical Institute. 2001. Retrieved 2006-06-18.  
  2. ^ 313,000 self-declared in 1992 census (Elena Marushiakova and Vesselin Popov, The Gypsies of Bulgaria: Problems of the Multicultural Museum Exhibition (1995), cited in Patrin Web Journal). According to Marushiakova and Popov, "The Gypsies of Bulgaria", Sofia, 1993, about 194,000 people declared Roma identity in 1956; in 1959 - 214,167; in 1976 - 373,200. In 1980, due to the obvious and significant difference between the number of Bulgarian citizens with Roma self-identification and the large total population with a physical appearance and cultural particularity similar to Roma, the authorities took a special census of all people defined as Roma through the opinions of the neighbouring population, observations of their way of life, cultural specificity, etc. - 523,519. In 1989, the authorities counted 576,927 people as Roma, but noted that more than a half of them preferred and declared Turkish identity (pages 92-93). According to the estimates of Marushiakova and Popov, the total number of all people with Roma ethic identity plus all people of Roma origin with different ethnic self-identification around 1993 was about 800,000 (pages 94-95). Their 1995 estimate was 750,000 ±50,000. Some international sources mention the estimates of some unnamed experts, who suggest 700,000 - 800,000 or higher than figures in the official census (here, UNDP's Regional Bureau for Europe). These mass non-Roma ethnic partialities are confirmed in the light of the last census in 2001 - more than 300,000 Bulgarian citizens of Roma origin traditionally declare their ethnic identity as Turkish or Bulgarian. Other statistics: 450,000 estimated in 1990 (U.S. Library of Congress study); at least 553,466 cited in a confidential census by the Ministry of the Interior in 1992 (cf Marushiakova and Popov 1995).
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Declaration of the Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015". Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015. 2005. Retrieved 2007-04-20.  
  5. ^ Marushiakova et al., Gypsies in the Ottoman Empire: a contribution to the history of the Balkans, p. 19
  6. ^ a b c Tomova, Ethnic Dimensions of poverty in Bulgaria, p. 15
  7. ^ Marushiakova et al., Gypsies in the Ottoman Empire: a contribution to the history of the Balkans, p. 26
  8. ^ a b Celik, Exploring Marginality in the Ottoman Empire: Gypsies or People of Malice (Ehl-i Fesad) as Viewed by the Ottomans Authors, p. 5
  9. ^ Marushiakova et al., Gypsies in the Ottoman Empire: a contribution to the history of the Balkans, p. 27
  10. ^ Marushiakova et all. “A History of the Roma in Bulgaria”. Patrin Web Journal. Retrieved on 2009-03-01.
  11. ^ Barany, The East European gypsies: regime change, marginality, and ethnopolitics, p. 85
  12. ^ Celik, Exploring Marginality in the Ottoman Empire: Gypsies or People of Malice (Ehl-i Fesad) as Viewed by the Ottomans Authors, p. 20
  13. ^ Slavkova, Magdalena (December 2008). "'Being Gypsy in Europe. The Case of Bulgarian Roma Workers in Spain', Balkanologie". Retrieved 2009-02-24.  
  14. ^ Acton, T., ed (2000). 'Myth as Process', Scholarship and the Gypsy Struggle. Commitment in Romani Studies. Hatfield: University of Hertfodshire Press. p. 90.  
  15. ^ a b Pamporov, Alexei (2006) (in Bulgarian). Ромското всекидневие в България (Romani Daily Life in Bulgaria). Sofia: Международен център за изследване на малцинствата и културните взаимодействия. pp. 23–4, 62–3. ISBN 954-8872-63-3. Retrieved 2009-02-24.  
  16. ^ "The Capital Roma: Zhelev is to be Blamed for the Gypsy Stuff" (in Bulgarian). Sega Newspaper. Retrieved 2006-06-18.  
  17. ^ "Assoc. Prof. Dr. Kiril Kertikov, Europeisation or "tsiganisation" of Bulgaria. Institute of Sociology, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences." (in Bulgarian). In: Balkans'21, vol. 1, 2002, ISSN 1311-9583. Retrieved 2007-08-03.  
  18. ^ The Roma in Central and Eastern Europe: Avoiding the Dependency Trap, pp. 31, 39.
  19. ^ a b c "Third report on Bulgaria". Council of Europe - ECRI. 2003. Retrieved 2009-02-22.  
  20. ^ "Equal access to quality education for Roma, Bulgaria". Open Society Institute - EU Monitoring and Advocacy Program (EUMAP). 2007. pp. 32–34. Retrieved 2007-04-20.  
  21. ^ Equal access to quality education for Roma, Bulgaria, pp. 18-20.
  22. ^ Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (2002). Помощните училища в България (Remedial Schools in Bulgaria). ISBN 954-9738-14-0.   Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (2001). Социално-педагогически и възпитателни училища-интернати (Social-Pedagogical Boarding Schools and Correctional Boarding Schools). pp. 391–392. ISBN 954-9738-03-5.   Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (2005). В името на институцията: поправителните училища в България (In the Name of the Institution: Schools for Delinquent Children in Bulgaria). ISBN 954-9738-21-3.  
  23. ^ a b "The Political Representation of the Roma Minority in Bulgaria: (1990-2005)". POLITEIA - Participation for Citizenship and Democracy in Europe. 2005. Retrieved 2007-07-20.  
  24. ^ Centralna Izbiratelna Komisija

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