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State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012 - Bulgaria

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 28 June 2012
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012 - Bulgaria, 28 June 2012, available at: [accessed 22 October 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Issues concerning ethnic and religious discrimination featured prominently in public debates in Bulgaria in 2011. The mistreatment of the Roma community – who make up more than 10 per cent of the country's population and are the country's second largest ethnic minority after ethnic Turks – continued to remain a grave concern. Gay McDougall, UN Independent Expert on Minority Issues, visited the country in July in order to assess the situation of minorities – particularly Roma, Turks and other Muslim minorities. She concluded that government measures to address the deep-rooted discrimination, exclusion and poverty faced by Roma have been superficial and inadequate. Bulgarian government commitment to Roma equality remains weak: Roma unemployment rates are peaking at 80 per cent; in the capital, Sofia, 70 per cent of the Roma population lives in dwellings without access to basic infrastructure such as running water, sewerage, paved streets, waste collection or street lights. The current financial crisis has put a strain on resources, but, as highlighted by the Independent Expert, the government's current inconsistent pilot project-based approach will never be sufficient to address these socio-economic challenges.

Roma have also been the victims of forced evictions. Although the government, in its third periodic report on the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, stated that Roma were only evicted after extensive legal procedures were carried out, giving Roma time to find alternative accommodation, reports by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, ENAR Bulgaria and Justice 21, a Bulgarian human rights organization, do not support this view. The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee pointed to large-scale house demolitions in Sofia and Burgas in 2009, and in Yambol and Maksuda in 2010, noting that few if any alternatives were provided and that the evictions were often accompanied by excessive use of force.

In September, an incident in Katunitza, in which a Bulgarian teenager was killed by a Roma driver allegedly linked to a notorious crime-boss, the self-proclaimed 'Gypsy Tsar' Kiril Rashkov, sparked violent clashes in the village. Anti-Roma protests spread across the country. The right-wing party Ataka held demonstrations and demanded tough action from the government, even calling for the death penalty to be reinstated in the country.

Prime Minister Boyko Borisov came under criticism for not reacting quickly enough to the unrest. The ERRC and Amnesty International urged the Bulgarian authorities to protect Roma and to conduct a full investigation and prosecution of all responsible perpetrators. The UN also voiced deep concern about the anti-Roma rallies and accompanying hate speech. Although incitement to racial hatred and discriminatory public communication are prohibited under Bulgarian law, these provisions are rarely enforced. MRG has stated its alarm that non-enforcement of the law creates a sense of impunity and erodes what little mutual trust remains between Roma and non-Roma communities.

These events stirred up panic among other minority communities as well. Turkey's Hürriyet newspaper reported that the Turkish community in Bulgaria feared a nationalist backlash in the wake of the anti-Roma rallies. And on 20 May, Ataka provoked clashes with Muslims gathered for Friday prayer at the Banya Bashi mosque in Sofia, protesting against the use of loudspeakers to issue the call to prayer. Bulgarian politicians condemned the ensuing violence and desecration of religious symbols.

Shortly after, the ruling political party GERB distanced itself from the far-right Ataka by proposing a declaration adopted by the parliament which condemned the attack on the mosque. The secretary of the Chief Mufti's Office, Husein Hafazov, provided a detailed account of numerous cases of harassment of Muslims in Bulgaria, including: threats against Muslim women wearing headscarves, setting dogs on them and spitting, painting the walls of religious schools and mosques with anti-Islamic slogans, destroying mosques and religious property, and physical attacks.

Other religious minorities also suffered from harassment, physical attacks and damage to property in 2011. The Jewish community has long suffered from anti-Semitic attacks. In 2011, a Jewish organization, Shalom, published its first bulletin on 'Anti-Semitic actions in Bulgaria in 2009-2010', which includes a long list of acts of religious desecration and damage to religious buildings. In April, the House of Prayer of Jehovah Witnesses, a legally registered religion in Bulgaria since 2003, was violently attacked in a rally organized by VMRO (the International Macedonian Voluntary Organization) in Burgas.

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