Bulgaria Facts
Area:    110,994 sq. km.
Capital:    Sofia
Total Population:    8,240,000 (source: unknown, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

There is no risk of rebellion for the Roma in Bulgaria. They do not have a history of protest and currently are poorly organized, with low membership in cultural, political and other associations. In addition, they lack a strong sense of community, and are divided from within. There is competition among various factions within the Roma in Bulgaria and they have not succeeded in speaking with a united voice.

On the side of the Bulgarian government, there has been progress in addressing some of the socio-economic problems facing the Roma through various programs that appear to be bearing fruit.

The likelihood that Roma would engage in sustained protests against authorities is not high, although isolated incidents of protest occur. Some of the factors that may encourage protests are nevertheless present: the Roma suffer severe restrictions in the economic and social areas; and even though politically they are represented at most levels, they are present in low numbers and in inferior positions in the state apparatus, the army and the police. Additionally, ethnic Bulgarians have at times used violence against Roma. However, there is little support from kindred groups elsewhere and, more importantly, the group lacks organization and cohesion so the possibility of engaging in protests is reduced.

Analytic Summary

The Roma population is spread out evenly across the territory of Bulgaria, without any one region of high density (GROUPCON = 0). They tend to live on the outskirts of villages or in city slums, occupying a marginal position both physically and culturally. The Roma are distinct in terms of race, although this distinction is becoming more and more blurred (RACE = 2); the main thing that sets them apart is their public appearance and conduct (TRADITN = 1). They speak their own language, Romani (LANG = 1), as well as the language of the communities they live in, Bulgarian. In terms of religion, they adopted the Christian Orthodoxy of the majority of the population. The Roma arrived in Bulgaria during Ottoman rule and were used primarily as servants until Bulgarian independence late in the 19th century. However, traces of this status of inferiority are to be found still among the perceptions of the current majority population.

The Roma live in very poor sanitary conditions, sometimes without running water and electricity. Because they form a large percentage of the unemployed (in some areas nearly 90%), they lack health care benefits and suffer from chronic diseases (DMSICK00-03 = 3). They also have a considerably higher birth rate than ethnic Bulgarians (DMBIRT00-03 = 3).

Economically they are at a disadvantage in that they are poorly qualified (many of them are illiterate) and cannot easily find suitable jobs. This situation is partly responsible for the high number of Roma in Bulgarian prisons but is also explained by discrimination in judicial proceedings (POLIC300-03 = 1). The conomic situation of Roma in Bulgaria, however, has been improving in recent years with remedial policies in place that appear to be making progress (ECDIS00-01 = 3, ECDIS02-03 = 1). In cooperation with international and regional organizations several programs were designed to improve the economic and educational opportunities for Roma, as well as to address the problem of political leadership among the Roma. Nevertheless, there were still signs of official discrimination in the areas of housing, social services, and healthcare. In terms of government repression, there have been consistent reports of Roma being arbitrarily arrested (REP0101-03 = 2) and of Roma being beaten by police while in custody with at least one report of a Roma suspect allegedly tortured with electricity (REP0501-03 = 2)

Like the Roma elsewhere in Eastern Europe, the Bulgarian Roma demand equality in terms of economic access and inclusion in the main society (POLGR403 = 1). Economic factors weigh heavily among their priorities, since their standard of life is critically low (ECOGR303 = 1). Cultural and social demands are also present, as are the requests for participation in the state institution and the stop of judicial bias against them.

The Roma are poorly organized; a diversity of associations, cultural, political or other, are present on the Bulgarian scene, but their membership is low and rather inactive. The Democratic Congress party, the Free Bulgaria Party, Democratic Roma Union and the Bulgarian Party for the Future are the political organizations that claim to represent the Roma minority in Bulgaria. There is one Roma member of the parliament in Sofia and several local elections have been won by Roma candidates. However, there are internal quarrels and disagreements, and no common action has been taken consistently over time. More recently the "EuroRoma" party, a predominantly ethnic Roma political formation, was an electoral partner of the Turkish party Movement for Rights and Freedoms and thus technically a member of the governing coalition, although it has no representatives in the Cabinet or the Parliament. This represents a slight shift in organizational strategy moving from cultural NGOs to political parties competing in conventional political processes (GOJPA01-03 = 2). Two other organizations also appeared in the past few years (Civil Union "Roma", Confederation of Romas "Europe", both established in 2001), but there appeared to be no other substantial changes in Roma organizational activity. Roma interests across Europe are also represented by the European Roma Rights Centre.

The Roma also face an aggressive attitude from segments of the majority population, which have often degenerated into violent acts involving fatalities, although these incidents have been declining in recent years (INTERCON01-02 = 1, INTERCON03 = 0; last reported fatality in 2001). There have also been incidents of intra-Roma violent conflict, with at least one occasion requiring police to intervene with armored vehicles to restore order in 2002. However, such clashes have been less present in recent years (INTRACON01 = 0, INTROCON02 =1, INTRACON03 = 0).

Mild verbal protests have been reported, especially by Roma representatives demanding the government address Roma grievances (PROT01, PROT03 = 1). There was incident of a mass mobilization protest in 2002 protest the national energy company's decision to cut off electricity to certain Roma areas (PROT02 = 3). There was no rebellion during this period (REB01-03 = 0).


Crowe, David & John Kolsti eds. The Gypsies of Eastern Europe, New York: M. E. Sharpe Inc., 1991.

Human Rights Watch Wrold Report: Bulgaria 2001-2002.

Lexis/Nexis: All news files: 1990-2003.

US Department of State Human Rights Reports for Bulgaria: 1990, 1991, 1993, 1994, 2001-2003.


This 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.