- Estimated Gypsy population: 700,000; the 2001 census gave the revised number as 365,797. Many Roma tended to identify themselves to the authorities as ethnic Turks or Bulgarians. The town of Sliven has a Gypsy population of around 20,000.The Atsingani who came to Bulgaria in the ninth century may well have been the first Roma in the country. By 1396 Bulgaria had become part of the Ottoman Empire, and the empire's tax records in 1430 mention Gypsies (Cingene) for the first time. The Gypsies were treated generally as other ethnic minorities by the Ottomans, provided they paid their taxes. There were many craftsmen and farm workers. Some of the Bulgarian Gypsies converted to Islam, while other Muslim Gypsies arrived with the Turkish conquerors.In 1878 Bulgaria was liberated from the Ottoman Empire. In 1886 the new government instituted a decree forbidding nomadism, and the Frontier Law could be used to prevent the immigration of Gypsies. Neither of these measures was enforced, however. As a result of economic (rather than legal) pressure, many Gypsies took jobs in the newly opened factories - in textile factories in Sliven, for example. Others continued to nomadize until well after World War II.The central government wished to prevent nomadic and Muslim Gypsies from voting under the new constitution. A conference of Gypsies in Sofia in 1905 was organized to protest this law, and Bulgarian lawyer Marko Markoff helped the Gypsies in their campaign. A committee was formed and a manifesto drawn up. In 1919 voting was extended and made compulsory for the whole population.Between the two world wars, Christian missionaries were active among the Gypsies in Bulgaria. In the 1930s the Scripture Gift Mission published brochures in two dialects of Romani, and A. Atanasakiev translated two of the gospels. In Sliven, however, the Gypsies were working in factories and turning toward socialism. Romany trade unionists in Sliven were to take a lead in 1927 in organizing a petition to the U.S. government against the execution of anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. Gypsies had also taken part in the largely peasant uprisings against the government in 1923. The Gypsy periodical Terbie [Education], which was the organ of the Muslim National Cultural Organization, appeared in 1933 but closed in 1934 when opposition political parties were banned.During World War II, some Gypsies from the towns were rounded up and sent to work in labor camps. Others, however, served in the army, and still others joined the partisans. Dimiter Nemtsov from Sliven, who was serving with the Bulgarian army of occupation in Yugoslavia, deserted and joined the local resistance movement. In May 1942 a decree was issued providing for Gypsies to be directed to compulsory employment. A year later, some Gypsies from Sofia had been sent to labor camps in Dupnitsa and elsewhere. Those who remained had only limited access to the center of town and the trams.After 1944 the Gypsies were at first encouraged by the Communist government to develop their own ethnicity. A newspaper was set up under the aegis of the Communist Party, and a theater Teatr Roma was established in Sofia in 1947. The newspaper was at first given the Romani name Romano Esi [Romany Voice], but the name was changed three times and finally given a Bulgarian title Nov Put [New Way]. The first editor was Shakir Pashov. It proclaimed integration into socialist society as the desirable aim for the Gypsies and was to cease publication with the fall of the Communist regime. In 1945 the Gypsy-led organization Ekhipe (Unity) was founded with the aim of raising the cultural and educational level of the Gypsies. Pashov was its head. It was soon closed and absorbed into the Otechestven Front (Fatherland Front), a mass organization allied to the Communist Party. The Romany theater in Sofia was closed in 1951 and its director, Mustafa Aliev (Manush Romanov), left to work in a Turkish theater. Pashov himself was interned in a labor camp on the island of Belen.The government was determined to end nomadism, which was banned in 1958. A circular in the following year referred to 14,000 traveling Gypsies and also stressed the need to get the Gypsies to integrate to the Bulgarian majority and not align themselves with the Turkish minority. The government opened many boarding schools for Gypsy children from poor families and seasonal workers. From the 1950s Muslim Gypsies alongside ethnic Turks were pressurized to adopt Bulgarian names. Gypsies accused of nationalist deviation during this period were sent into internal exile.When the Communist Party fell from power in 1989, Gypsies were allowed once more to have their own journals and organizations. Four acknowledged Gypsies were elected to the first democratic Parliament.The collapse of the Communist regime, on the other hand, led to a rise in anti-Gypsy articles in the press and racist attacks. Skinheads attacked Gypsies in Pleven at the end of 1995. Others attacked homeless children who slept in the Sofia railway station. In March 1995 one Rom died when a block of apartments was set on fire in Sofia. Two fatal attacks on Roma were carried out by private security guards. In May 2002, 19-year-old Miroslav Zankov was killed at the abandoned military airport in Gabrovnitsa, near Montana, and in August of the same year, a 21-year-old named Pavel was shot and killed in Sofia.Serious violence against Roma in Bulgaria continues: Three Romany men sustained gunshot wounds and several others were brutally beaten by 10 police officers and rangers while collecting wood for heating in the forest near Lukovit in northern Bulgaria in March 2003. That May, 13-year-old Assen Todorov was beaten by his teacher while studying at a Romany school in the northern Bulgarian village of Bukovlak.There have been other reports of police brutality. Five Romanies, including Angel Angelov, died in custody during 1995 and 1996; no action has been taken against the police regarding these deaths. In March 1996 police officers from Pleven were given a suspended sentence of eight months in prison for beating two boys in Vidin. In 2001 a police sergeant was sentenced to pay compensation to Mitko Naide-nov after he had beaten him so badly that the victim was hospitalized for 12 days. Heavy-handed police raids took place in March 1996 in Russe and in April in Barkach.Prejudice and discrimination exists at all levels of society. In 2004 Sevda Nanova was awarded 300 euros damages against a clothing store in Sofia that refused to serve her. In the same year, lawsuits were started against two restaurants in Blagoevrad that barred Roma from their premises. In November 2005 the Sofia District Court found that Metody Assenov had been discriminated against two years previously when a food production company refused to employ him because he was a Romany. He was awarded damages of approximately $300. Housing is a serious issue, as well. Roma have been evicted from housing in many towns, including in August 2005 from the Hristo Botev neighborhood in Sofia.In 2002, the Ministry of the Interior initiated programs to improve its relations with the Roma and formed a special group to attract them to work in the ministry, using the Romani language in training. Already from the end of 2001, the ministry had reserved places in the Police Academy for minority candidates, to address their underrepre-sentation in the police. The government reported that the number of Romany police officers rose from 59 to 158 during the year, including 4 officers, 89 sergeants, and 55 constables. A special Officer for Roma Training Programs was appointed, and bilingual training manuals were published.The Framework Program was created by the Human Rights Project in 1998 and supported by more than 75 organizations throughout the country. In April 1999 it was approved by the government. Much of the money allocated for the implementation of the Action Plan was not exclusively earmarked for Roma, but for disadvantaged groups, including the Roma, and many of the proposals contained in earlier drafts of the Action Plan were missing from the final version; for example, the plan to create a fund to help in the process of desegregation of theRoma schools. In October 2003 the Bulgarian government approved the Action Plan for Implementation of the Framework Program for Equal Integration of Roma.There have been a number of projects that have attempted to improve economic opportunities for Roma, including the Ethnic Integration and Conflict Resolution project launched in Lom in 2000. That project includes providing limited funds to small enterprises that employ Roma, undertaking activities to reduce dropout rates from school and to provide tutoring for university enrollment exams, as well as training for leaders where young Roma can develop leadership and conciliation skills. Similar projects have also been developed by other organizations. The government and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development funded the construction of new apartments in Sofia for Roma families relocated from the Abyssinia Gypsy quarter.More than 400 Romany nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have been set up, as have more than 10 political parties in spite of a theoretical ban on ethnic parties. On 18 November 2002 in Sofia, the National Movement for Social Development-Roma was founded by 50 organizations under the leadership of MP Alexander Filipov. The goal of the umbrella group is to work for the improvement of the living standards of the Romany population. There are two Roma members of parliament in the 240-seat National Assembly elected in 2001: Alexander Filipov and Toma Tomov. In 2002 the EuroRoma party (a predominantly ethnic Roma political formation) was technically a member of the governing coalition, although it had no representatives in the Cabinet or the National Assembly.Roma are gaining a higher profile in local politics; in the local elections held in October 2003, the number of Roma municipal councillors elected on the lists of Roma parties rose to 162, as compared with around 100 in the 1999 elections. Others were elected on the lists of other parties. However, the increased political participation of Roma in the election campaign has stirred up anti-Romany sentiment in some parts of the country.In February 2003, more than 3000 Roma from the Stolipinovo neighborhood in Plovdiv took part in a demonstration. They were protesting against the local electricity company's decision to cut off power to the whole neighborhood after some people failed to pay their bills.In December 1991, Circular 232 of the Council of Ministers permitted Romani to be taught in schools up to four hours a week on a voluntary basis, and an alphabet book was produced. From 1997, an experimental program of Romany culture has been available in some schools to all children. Figures collected in 2002 showed that less than 8 percent of Romany children had completed secondary education. Many Roma children starting school have problems from the outset, as a large number are not prepared for school and some are not proficient in Bulgarian. Romany and ethnic Bulgarian children usually attend separate schools, although integration programs, including busing, have been set up in several localities such as Vidin. The recognition that poverty has prevented many Romany children from accessing education has also led to the government and Romany NGOs providing free lunches and subsidizing textbook and tuition costs. In March 2002 a project in the Silistra region started providing weekend classes for Romany children under the age of 15 who did not attend school.Desegregation of schools began in Vidin in 2000. The development of desegregated schooling with the support of the Open Society Institute is helping to raise educational standards among the Roma. In July 2002 the Romani Baxt Foundation started to implement the desegregation program for Roma schools in Sofia. In 2003, the University of Veliko Tarnovo opened a special department headed by Hristo Kyuchukov where teachers of Romani are being trained.The Gypsy population of Bulgaria today is mixed Christian and Muslim. The recently settled nomads speak a variety of Romani dialects, both Vlah and non-Vlah, while the established sedentary communities speak mainly the Erlia dialect of Romani, Turkish, or Romanian as their first language. Thanks mainly to compulsory education in the Communist period, Gypsies are found at all levels of society, from surgeons to laborers, although unemployment is high (up to 80 percent of adult males in some districts). Music is a popular profession, and recent singers to attain general popularity include Azis and Sofi Marinova.
Historical dictionary of the Gypsies . Donald Kenrick.
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