Obektiv 191, August 2011 , Obektiv,
Over the past month I tried to hold discussions with one hundred people in four large cities in Bulgaria about how the government should go about providing quality care to Roma children at risk and what prevents it from doing so at the moment. At the organized round tables, social workers from child protection departments and directorates for social assistance, employees from schools and education inspectorates, heads of hospitals and social services, directors of children’s homes and Roma organizations all offered suggestions. The most important thing was that no one denied that the problem exists. I must admit that this amazed me after so many years of denial. I never did figure out how exactly this change had come about, but I could definitely sense a difference.
On February 15, the BHC, in partnership with other human rights organizations, held a round table entitled “Police Brutality in Bulgaria: Stop Now!” (details about the event and about the data presented there can be found on the BHC’s special website: “Police Brutality: Stop Now!” at the address http://policebrutality.bghelsinki.org/).
On April 14, the media’s attention was seized by a public statement made by an organization for the Romanian minority in Bulgarian, stating it did not accept the results of the census. Those familiar with the problems faced by the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria will hardly be surprised by the fact that the media solidly ignored similar declarations made by Macedonian organizations within the country.
Media regulation in Bulgaria over the past 13 years (in 1998 the Law for Radio and Television that is currently in force was adopted) has looked more and more like that fairytale about the emperor’s new clothes.
For reasons unknown, Mayor Georgi Slavov agreed to meet with me, but later did not wish to speak with me. I appeared in his office at the appointed time. I tried to begin a conversation. I asked him what was happening at the moment with the Roma expelled from Apartment Block 20. The mayor’s answer was as follows: “They’re all grown-ups, let them take care of themselves. You’re asking me questions like a journalist. You’re conducting an interview. I thought you were coming here with a proposal about how to solve the problems with the Roma. You’re an organization, right? So do something, suggest a program, there’s no point in just talking.” I realized that the conversation wasn’t going to go anywhere. I left after five minutes. Shockingly, the municipality’s expert on ethnic questions, Nina Atanasova, rushed to apologize to the mayor for setting up the meeting with me. “I didn’t know you were going to ask the mayor questions, I thought you were coming with a proposal. Mr. Slavov, if I had known, I wouldn’t have set up the meeting with Hristov.”
Rusi is from Ruse. He has long since left youth behind. He has had good years and bad years, as well as years he cannot remember – or does not want to remember. In 2002, his life took a downward tumble that seemed to have no end. He developed a psychiatric disorder, became homeless due to a conflict with his sister and perhaps to the deviousness of certain family members. He took to drink and eventually ended up in a psychiatric hospital. A court decision declared him legally incapacitated – which meant that he was stripped of the right to make his own decisions and was placed under interdiction. From the moment this judgment was handed down, he would never again be able to make his own decisions, at least not until the court decision was rescinded. An employee of the municipality who had never had contact with him was appointed his guardian. She submitted a request that he be placed in an institution, and the request was granted. The institution is located hundreds of kilometers away from Ruse, in the village of Pastra, yet not actually in the village itself, but outside it beneath a reservoir wall. The institution, called the Home for Adults with Psychiatric Disorders, was hidden in the mountains and was invisible even to those who passed by the winding, pot-holed road leading to it. There was nothing for kilometers around. A wasteland.
On September 8, 2010, the Bulgarian government approved the Optional Protocol of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT). Shortly thereafter – on September 22, 2010 – during the UN’s 65th session, the Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs signed the Optional Protocol, which will very soon be ratified by the Bulgarian Parliament. Every country that is a signatory to the protocol is required with a year of ratification to create and maintain a National Preventative Mechanism (NPM).
The Golyovtsi Clan is my main reason for moving the polling stations. They are the people who control the Roma vote, even by using force. Voters are under great pressure. There is substitution of records and ballots at the polling stations. I want people to be able to vote normally – so you can say whatever you want about me. Don’t you defend Roma rights? I want the Roma to not be harassed during elections and to vote alongside the Bulgarians. Political parties are at the root of the problem and they are to blame. My decision was not made with an eye to upcoming elections or as part of a campaign. The pressure on voters is really intense. I’ll move the polling stations 800 to 1,000 meters outside the neighborhoods, come what may. I’ll increase the police presence and we’ll see whether things won’t be orderly this time. Let the Roma take money, since it’s being handed out – let them take it, but when they go to vote, let them vote for whomever they want, with no pressure. There’ll be talk and all sorts of rumors, but I don’t care. I might run for mayor and I might not, but I’ll follow through on what I’ve decided.
Five Roma houses were demolished, without any clear information about what will happen to the families who had been living in them for more than 40 years