Roma in Plovdiv

Sun 1 Dec 2002

According to the official census, around 27 000 Roma live in the Plovdiv region (comprising the town of Plovdiv and several neighbouring places with a total population of over 700 000 people). However, the real numbers of Roma in Plovdiv are higher, mainly because many Romani people declare themselves to be of Turkish or different origin. The real Roma population in Plovdiv is considered to be close to 80 000 . This figure represents 11% of the population of the region of Plovdiv and around 20% of the population of the town of Plovdiv.

The Roma in Plovdiv live in 4 areas: Stolipinovo, Sheker Mahala, Hadji Hassan Mahala and Arman Mahala.
Stolipinovo is the biggest Roma ghetto in Plovdiv and among the biggest in the country. Its population is 45 thousand. Only 5 thousand of them identify themselves as Roma, the rest identify themselves as people from Turkish origin. The district is in the outskirts of the town. People which did not belong to the minority groups have gradually moved to live elsewhere. Stolipinovo is arguably the most problematic Roma district in Plovdiv.
Sheker Mahala is at the other end side of town, comprising 9 – 10 000 people from different ethnical identity. 2 000 of them officially state to be Roma, the rest describe themselves as Turkish.
Hadji Hassan Mahala – around 8 000 people live in this neighbourhood. All of them regard themselves as having a Turkish ethnicity. They also do not think they are part of the communities living in Stolipinovo and Sheker Mahala.
Arman Mahala – the smallest living area of ethnic minority representatives, comprising around 2000 people.

Problems in the Roma quarters

. Elementary and secondary schools in Bulgaria are public and free. However, due to utmost poverty, many children from minority families do not go to schools – there are costs for textbooks and other education materials; also, some families choose to send their children to work. In Stolipinovo, there are 5 people with University Education, four people with Higher professional education, and only 85 – 90 people have graduated from secondary education. Apart from poverty, an important reason for the low participation in schools is the lack of special means for teaching. Nowadays, many of the residents of Stolipinovo, especially young ones, do not speak the Bulgarian language. There is a special programme of the Council of Ministers, called "Programme for literacy, pre-qualification and employment in the region of Plovdiv", which has been adopted in 1993. The local Employment Agency is co-operating with at least five organisations to solve the relevant problems. The Employment Agency has a representation in Stolipinovo.

There are currently projects aimed at educating the Roma, specialised and non-traditional schools, including schools which are run by NGO’s. One such school was visited by the participants.

Not least because of the low degree of education and even illiteracy, unemployment is a problem of considerable scale among the Roma in Plovdiv. However, it is not possible to calculate the exact level of unemployment. In the regional working agencies, people register as unemployed without having to say what is their ethnical origin. Some private suggestions point to a level of unemployment reaching up to 90 % of the population.

In one of the Roma districts, 37% of the population were officially registered as unemployed as for 30-09-2002. According to information of the Employment Agency Plovdiv, 97% of them did not qualify for welfare subsidies.

The problems of illiteracy and unemployment are closely linked. For example, people without having completed their elementary education can not participate in a pre-qualification course.

Most of the jobs found for the Roma through the Employment Agency are in the field of cleaning and construction, some in production facilities.

In the period from the beginning of this year to September, 5429 people consulted the Employment Agency in Stolipinovo and 366 were directed to an employer.

Most of the Roma in Plovdiv live in communist-built blocks of flats and in houses. Some of the houses are extremely old, small, built by people themselves, and lacking proper facilities for electricity and heating. Another extreme exists too – few big new houses built in the last 12 years, with marble statues in front and big gardens. The problem of illegal construction of building is also acute. In some cases, it obstructs electricity and water supplies and presents a potential danger for the people living in these buildings.

Many of the Roma in Plovdiv do not have health insurances. They live in poverty and sometimes hunger, with poor health hygiene. Garbage is not collected in some of the neighbourhoods which exposes people to the danger of epidemics.

International and national donors are sending serious financial means to support the Roma communities. However, there are suggestions that some of the NGO's abuse such sources. There are not enough organisations and clubs which could stimulate the civic and political participation of Roma.

The Regional administration in Plovdiv is aware of 16 NGO’s in the region of Plovdiv, 9 of which operate in the town of Plovdiv.

The question of electricity and water consumption in the Stolipinovo district is serious, as the residents have refused to pay their bills for years. Consequently, they accumulated a total debt to the electrical and water company surpassing 3 million euro. When the last year an attempt was made to collect these debts, a conflict arose between the residents of Stolipinovo and the other neighbourhoods in Plovdiv.

Currently, all Roma districts have full supply of electricity, even though the problems with payments remain. Energy supply is also sometimes obstructed by illegal housing.

Water supply is also fully available. However, canalisation is only partly built, which worsens the quality of the drinking water and increases the risk of infections.

on Roma: the Governmental report on the so-called Framework convention for protection of national minorities is not ready yet and is being delayed by the previous and the current administrations, reportedly due to controversy between the notions "national minority" (used in the framework convention) and ethnical groups (used in the Constitution).

A Plovdiv Regional Council on Ethnical and Demographic Questions was created in 2001, which comprises representatives from all state regional structures and all ethnical non-governmental organisations.

There is only one municipal counsellor from a different ethnicity in the Plovdiv municipality, and he is a Turk, from the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS). In the regional authority (part of the executive) there is no one.

The region of Plovdiv consists of 17 municipalities – in only three of them people from Roma ethnicity are holding administrative posts. There are no Roma people working in the Police in the whole region of Plovdiv. However, in all the municipalities of the Plovdiv region, Roma are represented in the third sector, the education and health care sectors.

There are hardly any Roma in the leadership of the main Bulgarian political parties. This situation reportedly creates disenchantment of the Roma from political life and might lead to votes on a pure ethnical principle in the future.

This information was compiled of the kind contributions of:

Mr. Assen Kolev, Inforoma Centre
Ms Katrin Gutman and Ms Margarita Ivanova, experts in Regional Administration Plovdiv
Ms Petya Doichinova, director of the Employment Agency, Plovdiv

The information was written, on the basis of these contributions, by Matilda Nahabedian, intern European Forum for Democracy and Solidarity.