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Standpoint and recommendations of Integro Association – Bulgaria to the Staff Working Document of European Commission – National Report for Bulgaria 2015

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13:16 2015

On 26th of February 2015 the European Commission published a Staff Working Document (SWD) – Country Report for Bulgaria for 2015, including an in-depth review on the prevention and correction of macroeconomic imbalances. In this report, the economy of Bulgaria has been evaluated against the background of the Annual Growth Survey prepared by the European Commission and in accordance with the Plan for investments in Europe and the Report on the alert mechanism for 2015.

 One of the main findings of the SWD is that „In general, Bulgaria has made limited progress in the implementation of country-specific recommendations for 2014″ . In particular, in terms of the implementation of policies for Roma integration, the SWD concludes that „no actions have been taken to reduce poverty and combat social exclusion, including for marginalized groups such as Roma.“ Thus, challenges described in last year’s SWD of the Commission remain relevant today.

Along with the SWDs from 2013 and 2014, which reveal the common problems and challenges faced by Roma in the fields of inclusive education, active policy on the labor market, lack of measures to combat poverty and social exclusion, lack of progress in the implementation of the NRIS and lack of mechanisms for monitoring the implementation of the integration plans, the SWD from 2015 addresses some specific issues as the youth unemployment among Roma (61%), school segregation (25%), lack of adequate housing as well as the impact of these issues on the deterioration of the demographic situation in the country. Furthermore, for the first time in the 2015 SWD the issue of the mandate and the resources available to the the National Contact Point of the NRIS has been addressed to effectively coordinate the cross-sectorial implementation and follow-up of the National Roma Integration Strategy (NRIS). It is welcome that  in this year’s SWD a general conclusion has been made that for the implementation of the strategy for integration of the Roma are needed  more systematic  measures in the fields of housing, health, education, employment and in the policies to combat discrimination at national and local level.

However, despite all these elements, a general weakness of the Staff Working Documents is that it simply lists some common problematic areas without detailing the specific problems and analyzing the causes & factors provoking them.

Also, some issues are poorly covered in the Staff Working Documents. One is that the working document doesn’t take into account the existence of social stratification in the Roma community. In this regard, policies for poor cannot be offered to the Roma belonging to the middle class of society. Thus, the SWD should address the necessity of taking measures targeting the needs of middle class Roma as for instance providing construction plots for housing, urban regulation of the Roma neighborhoods, support for developing business and self-employment among Roma, for the social mobility of educated Roma, for strengthening the ethno-cultural identity of the community, for establishing and developing the intercultural communication and relationships, and etc.

One of the important issues not yet addressed by the working documents of the Commission is the question of the growing hate speech, forming racist discourse in the society regarding all Roma. In general, it needs to address more insistently the structural and internalized discrimination since they both appear to be a substantial obstacle for overcoming the general resistance in the society to the integration policy implementation.

Furthermore, the SWD doesn’t address the explicit need of developing measures for community organizing and empowerment as part of comprehensive local development programs & strategies. It doesn’t assess the participation of Roma in the decision making and the correlation of the civic participation and the more inclusive services developed by the public authorities.

In addition, the SWD needs to clearly take into account the needs of poor Roma families   with day to day life strategy through developing supportive case social work in order to help them to overcome the passivity and try to provide better life opportunities for their children. In many cases completely healthy children of these families are enrolled and attend schools for mentally retarded students because of the free of charge food, clothes and teaching materials.

Despite the proclaimed commitment of the state with the National Roma Integration Strategy and the implementation of some measures and projects in the field of education and under the other priorities of the strategy, we consider that the situation faced by Roma people in Bulgaria haven’t improved  and even in some areas it has deteriorated.

First, extremely has deteriorated the general discourse about Roma and integration policies and measures. A media monitoring implemented in 2014 by Integro Association shows an increase in the proportion of TV programs reinforcing negative stereotypes about Roma not only on televisions owned by extreme nationalist political parties but also among the most watched national televisions. For example, 50 to 85% of the monitored broadcasts represent Roma as criminals and about 40% – as a cultural and economic threat. The use of hate speech against Roma has not been problematized by most editors and journalists; on the contrary, it is accepted as a norm for coverage of Roma. Besides the media discourse in the last year were not rare cases of obvious racist speech against Roma from the parliamentary tribune, by ministers and other senior figures. Unfortunately, the hate speech against Roma has not been questioned also by the institutions responsible for preventing discrimination as well as by Roma themselves, who in their majority have been internalized the discrimination from an early age and haven’t developed skills to counter it.

The general discourse about Roma in the country leads to a number of consequences such as:

- Increased denial of ethnic identity not only by educated Roma but also from whole Roma subgroups or local Roma communities. These groups most often refuse policies and measures for integration and do not participate even in activities supporting citizen’s participation in the local democratic process;

- Lack of public support for integration policies – for example, in the last year Burgas and Varna gave up of housing projects for vulnerable people on account of organized pressure by majority citizens.

 – Hindering the implementation of integration policies by employees and other professionals who believe that Roma do not deserve their and society efforts. Such employees blame Roma for the situation they are in and often refuse to develop proposals despite the existence of local strategies and plans for integration. Even a quick review of the implemented municipal infrastructure projects under the EU operational programs indicates that really few municipalities have invested in Roma neighborhoods, although they have sometimes performed projects for millions of leva.

- Worsened relationships between Roma and non Roma at local level. In the last year we have witnessed the confrontation between inhabitants of Roma and non-Roma neighborhoods; confrontation between Roma and non-Roma students from upper classes in several schools; moving of Bulgarian children from schools where desegregation measures have been started or with significant increase of Roma children; confrontation between Roma and medical emergency assistance;

Second, we think that a problem that has been growing is the increase of the number of the illiterate Roma students, although the available state data for minimum improving of school performance and reduce of school dropout. It is not about the functional literacy but about a general illiteracy, since it has been increasing more and more the number of Roma pupils in the 7th and upper grade unable to write correctly even in simple dictation. No formal studies proving the existence of this problem but all 15 organizations from our national coalition inform us about it. In addition, in identifying the main problems for the purposes of the elaboration of the integration plans of six municipalities included in the programs of CoE and EC ROMAKT & ROMED, all Roma activists unanimously stressed illiteracy of Roma pupils as one of the leading problems of their communities. According to them, this is mainly due to the increase of hidden dropping out of school, which has been encouraged because of the linkage of the the school budget with the number of the registered pupils. The schools have operated delegated budgets formed mainly by the state subsidy, which takes into account the number of students enrolled, and not the quality of their preparation. The activists pointed out that the schools often do not register the absences of students, who do not attend school regularly, to not drop the number of students that will affect the school budget. Due to the same reason, they do not submit the real number of absent students to social services, which in turn shall not pay the children allowances to parents whose children do not attend regularly school. Thus, it is achieved a tacit consent between teachers and parents to conceal dropouts which affects the quality preparation of these students. In some municialities have been taken joint inspections of the schools by social workers and employees of the regional education inspectorate, but in most cases the inspectors inform in advance for the checking the directors of schools, who do everything to provide the presence of the children in the days of the inspection.

Along with this issue however, the Bulgarian educational system still can not truly apply  the intercultural approach in school and address the needs of children with different cultural identity, who in most part are bi- or tri-lingual. Still, many teachers have not really acquired competence in intercultural education. In most cases, the intercultural projects implemented by schools, municipalities and NGOs are more oriented to carry out number of activities focused primarily on presenting information on specific cultural products or ethnographic descriptions of cultural practices as well as to organizing folk performances where songs, dances and traditions of different cultural groups are presented.

The third problem, which affected hundreds of Roma families from Stara Zagora, Varna, Burgas, Peshtera and other places are the taken measures by some mayors for demolition of the only homes of those families built before 10-20 years without appropriate authorization documents. Instead of seeking opportunities for legalization of the fitted dwellings, to provide alternative accommodation for families with unsuitable for habitation houses and to impose strict control to prevent further illegal construction, many municipalities simply proceeded with demolition of the homes and made people homeless, threatening hundreds of children to be taken away from their parents due to the inability to provide them with a roof.

Analyzing the SWDs and Specific Recommendations of the Commission to Bulgarian government in the recent years, we noted that there exists a repetition of almost one and the same findings in the reports and some same recommendations. It seems in recent years the Bulgarian government has failed to fulfill any of the recommendations of the Commission in terms of the integration policies. This in turn raises the question about the effectiveness of specific recommendations by the Commission for solving the problems of Roma, because now the situation is similar to that story with the blind and the deaf, in which deaf have never fulfilled what he was told by the blind and the blind did just continued tell him the same.

April 14th 2015



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