Participants from six European NGOs, including two members of DARE Network, met in Sofia from May 21-23 to explore best practices to counteract anti-Roma racism in Bulgaria. The meeting was hosted by the Minority Studies Society Studii Romani.
The participants met with Roma leaders from NGOs as well as the public sector. Interesting topic were opened in a discussion with Mr. Orhan Tahir (Civil Society in Action) as he criticized the EU practice of treating all Roma as a vulnerable group as discriminating in itself. Instead of working towards equal political participation of Roma citizens, measures are exclusively taken in the social sector. The Roma question is therefore presented as a social question – while the political question of participation remains unanswered. As a political strategy towards equal political participation he opted for ethnic mobilisation of the Roma minority and political participation according to European minority rights standards.
Another burning issue was segregation and de-segregation of Roma students in the Bulgarian school system. Mr. Rumyan Russinow (Roma Public Policy Advocacy Center) explained the developments since 1990 and the movement to de-segregate schools together with today’s situation which could be perceived as a step back.
An interesting example of best practice was delivered by Mr. Lalo Kamenov, member of the Bulgarian Commission for Protection against Discrimination, an active body that is empowered on state level not only to take and judge over cases of discrimination, but also to execute sanctions. The work of this state body has more than doubled; from about 850 judged cases of discrimination in 2005 to over 2000 received complaints only in the first six months of 2013. The worrying fact is also that majority of taken cases are dealing with multiple discrimination, especially in cases connected to Roma population in Bolgaria.
Human Rights Education as well as Education for Democratic Citizenship were again presented as best tools for combating prejudices and from them deriving group-focused hostility in EU.