PER report: Roma in Bulgaria


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Subject: PER report: Roma in Bulgaria

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PER report: Roma in Bulgaria


THE ROMA IN BULGARIA: COLLABORATIVE EFFORTS BETWEEN LOCAL AUTHORITIES
AND NONGOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS
 
LOM, BULGARIA
APRIL 24-25, 1998
PREFACE
 
The status of the Roma in Bulgaria is similar to the status of the
Roma in many other countries of Central and Eastern Europe.  All of
the components that produce poverty and despair are prominently
displayed.  Unemployment in many Romani communities approaches 90
percent.  Education beyond the grade-school level is a rarity. 
Adequate health-care and other basic services are virtually
nonexistent.
 
In the face of these and other challenges, Bulgaria has undertaken
measures to promote the integration of its large, impoverished, and
historically ostracized Romani communities.  Romani nongovernmental
organizations, together with local authorities in the town of Lom,
have undertaken to improve the quality of life in Romani
neighborhoods.  These cooperative efforts have targeted the underlying
causes of the poverty in a substantive and comprehensive way.  Through
a combination of education, employment training and requalification
programs, health-care initiatives, and steps to incorporate Romani
neighborhoods into the system of municipal services, Lom has offered
to its Romani population-and others in the region-a model for
achieving concrete improvements in their standard of living.
 
In an effort both to learn from what has been accomplished and to
encourage further progress, the Project on Ethnic Relations, together
with the Council of Europe and the Roma-Lom Foundation, gathered a
select group of Romani leaders, national and local government
representatives, and Bulgarian and international experts in relevant
fields to assess recent achievements and to exchange ideas on what the
next steps might be.  They met in Lom, on the banks of the Danube
River, on April 24 and 25, 1998.
 
In many ways, the two days of discussion represented the ongoing
debate, often tense and passionate, about who should provide
desperately needed social services to those most in need, the
government or private sector. Those in the government acknowledge its
responsibility to address the needs of the Romani communities but
argue that it does not have the necessary financial resources to do
so.  Those representing NGO's on the other hand, expressed a recurring
frustration that the government expects the private sector to take
over what is the government's fundamental responsibility-the provision
of social services to its citizens in need.  They argue that the level
of need is so great that the government must assume a more prominent
role in the public-private partnership to provide assistance.
 
>From the discussion it became clear that the government can not expect
NGOs to take over all of its functions.  Rather, that state and local
governments will need to work in cooperation with Romani and other
organizations to achieve sorely needed improvements in the quality of
life for the Roma in Bulgaria. It is also clear that the time for
direct and consolidated action is short before violence replaces
dialogue.
 
The report that follows summarizes the two days of discussion.  The
complexity of the problems will be readily apparent.  It is clear that
progress has been made in Lom and that it has been the result of
dedication, commitment, and cooperative efforts on the part of a
remarkable coalition of the affected parties.  Although the
particulars of solutions elsewhere will differ with the circumstances,
PER believes that the cooperation between the Roma and local
authorities lies at the heart of the recent successes in Lom and
warrants special attention.
 
The persistence of the bleak situation and lack of significant and
immediate improvements for the Roma in Bulgaria and elsewhere however,
threaten to unleash wide scale social unrest.  Indeed, members of
Lom's Romani community went on a hunger strike and one tried to set
himself on fire to draw attention to their plight as victims of
discrimination and to protest unpaid social benefits only one month
after the PER meeting in Lom underscoring the urgency of finding and
implementing concrete solutions. Recurring challenges and expressions
of discontent among the Roma in Lom serve only to underscore the
urgency of finding-and applying-practical, and practicable, solutions.
 
The report was prepared by Lyudmila Atanasova of the Creating
Effective Grassroots Alternatives Foundation (CEGA).  The report was
edited by Warren R. Haffar of PER's Princeton staff and Robert A.
Feldmesser, PER's senior editor.  As always, the remarks of the
participants are reported without named attributions, in order to
encourage frank discussion.  However, a list of the participants is
appended.  The participants have not reviewed the text, for which PER
assumes full responsibility.
 
Livia B. Plaks, Executive Director
Princeton, New Jersey
August, 1998
--------------

(From the moderator: The full text of the report - appr. 66 Kb in
plain text - can be obtained from the MINELRES moderator by request. 
Boris)
 


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