At the beginning of November, the Concordia Foundation invited Austrian journalists to visit Bulgaria to learn about the work of the foundation and other organisations from the non-governmental sector, as well as the state social policies of Bulgaria in general. Experts from the institutions and other organisations from the non-governmental sector, including the National Network for Children, were invited to talk to the journalists. Below you will see highlights from the publications of the publications Salzburger Nachrichten and Die Press with the stories of children, families and organisations that support them, as well as the opinions of experts and politicians. All of them through the eyes of Austrian journalists.
The text below is an abridged version of a Die Press publication .
Bulgaria: The vicious circle in Roma neighborhoods
For the Roma minority, getting out of misery is difficult. Discrimination and the pitfalls of bureaucracy get in the way.
“Are you coming to take our children?” This is the question Dinko hears every time he goes to the Roma neighborhood. This legend has been around for some time in Bulgaria and has repeatedly become part of the speech of some politicians. Social workers like Dinko often hear this question when they are out in the field helping local people out of poverty.
“Russia is trying to strengthen far-right parties in Europe,” says Georgi Bogdanov, chairman of the National Network for Children. Including spreading the myth of stolen children. Extreme religious organisations from the US have also been involved in spreading this propaganda. By instilling fear that children will be given to gay parents. And sold to Norway. According to Bogdanov, such propaganda is particularly effective in societies like the Bulgarian one, where knowledge about democracy, human rights and children’s rights is not sufficiently widespread.
Such misinformation makes Dinko’s job difficult. If an employee of the social organisation Concordia wants to make any contact with people from the Roma community, he or she must first build trust. “I often just drive around the neighbourhood to see the logo on the car,” says Dinko. Then he goes out and lights a cigarette. Most often it happens that some of the children dare to approach. After them and the adults. After they manage to talk, the questions begin. For necessary medical help or for legal problems. At some point, trust may be so great that parents themselves want to send their children to one of Concordia’s centres.
Dinko has been a social worker for 20 years and worked for 10 years in the Bulgarian unit of the Concordia Foundation. In the day care centres run by the Austrian welfare organisation, children can do homework after school, study and benefit from additional care – they can be fed, bathed and receive psychological support. Things they don’t have access to at home.
“Children should have a better life,” says Ilana. The 55-year-old woman is the grandmother of little Hristo. She is taking care of him because his mother is currently in the hospital with another child. “My daughter should have a real house,” says Ilana, “She shouldn’t live like this.” This is what a Roma house looks like in Orlandovtsi district in Sofia.
The huts in the Roma settlement Orlandovtsi are assembled from all kinds of materials. There is garbage everywhere and no paved roads. The great need and the great unhappiness are clearly visible. There is no electricity, gas or water. But the three-year-old Hristo, who is playing on a blanket, is not cold. A small wood stove heats the room.
Getting out of this misery is not easy. Many residents of the so-called slums are spinning in a vicious circle. They have no ID – they can only get one if they have an address. But in the Roma settlements, which were mostly built illegally, there are no addresses. Without an identity card, however, you often do not have a permanent job.
Of course, there are examples of representatives of the Roma minority who have succeeded. There are also some changes – it is now possible to issue an ID card without a permanent address. In the bureaucracy, however, many Roma are simply sent from counter to counter. They lack knowledge. And self-esteem. And most people want nothing to do with them.
“There is discrimination,” confirms Ivanka Shalapatova. The new Bulgarian Minister of Labor and Social Affairs sees the Roma themselves as responsible for this. They have access to education and health care, “but it’s a problem that they don’t use that access.” Some schools in areas with a large number of Roma are even better equipped financially than others, she said in an interview with Austrian journalists. According to her, there is no segregation in schools. The new minister of labour and social policy, Ivanka Shalapatova, also sees a problem in the fact that the Roma do not take advantage of the numerous offers of support.
Ognyan Isaev does not agree with this statement of the ministry. “There are ten such schools in Sofia alone, and their quality is poor,” says the director of the Trust for a Social Alternative. He himself is a representative of the Roma minority. “And not only this. You must show ID to take exams. So you may have attended school, but not get the relevant document.”.
Organizations like Concordia are trying to get the Roma out of this vicious circle. By offering them opportunities – for education, work and a better life. Maybe in another, better place. As long as the Roma live in illegal settlements, they are in constant danger, says Ognyan Isaev. Because these neighbourhoods are repeatedly destroyed by the authorities. Especially before an election.
The publication of Salzburger Nachrichten can be seen in an abbreviated translation and as a link to the full version here .