Increased Romani Participation Fuels Anti-Romani Racism in Bulgarian Local Elections
7 February 2004
According to information provided by the Sofia-based non-governmental organsiation Human Rights Project (HRP), political participation of Roma at the local level increased after the local elections held in October 2003. One-hundred-and-twenty-six Roma were elected municipal councillors in more than 70 of Bulgaria's 263 municipalities on the lists of eight Romani parties. Another 36Roma municipal councillors were elected on the lists of coalitions between Romani parties and non-Romani parties. For comparison, in the 1999 elections, the number of elected Romani officials was about a hundred.
The HRP, however, noted that the political mobilisation of Roma in the election campaign apparently fuelled anti-Romani sentiment. According to the organisation, expressions of anti-Romani racism in the 2003 elections were more intense than in previous election campaigns. In the town of Samokov, southwest Bulgaria, for example, fliers were disseminated calling on voters to vote against one of the candidates for a mayor, because he allegedly "loved Roma", and "if he was elected, the town would become a Gypsy town".
In the town of Razlog, southwest Bulgaria, where two Roma were elected municipal councillors, fliers called on the voters not to allow Razlog to become a "Gypsy town" and not to allow "Gypsies to become members of the town council". In Vidin, in northwest Bulgaria, prior to the second round of the elections, in an article entitled "Vidin: European or Gypsy Town", in its edition of October 30-November 2, 2003, the local newspaper Nie called on the ethnic Bulgarians not to vote for one of the candidates for mayor because his election "would result in the Gypsy-isation of the town". The HRP has sent complaints to the police and the prosecutor's office of Samokov and Razlog against the authors of the fliers. For information on the situation of Roma in Bulgaria, visit the ERRC's website at: www.errc.org.