Round table on the Roma question in Bulgaria in 1999
5 January 1999
On October 3, 1998, representatives of the Bulgarian government and of most Romani organisations in Bulgaria met in Sofia to discuss a program draft entitled "For Equal Participation of the Roma in Bulgarian Society". The Roma representatives adopted an address to the Government urging it to hold a round table in February 1999 on the Roma question in Bulgaria to work out a new social contract between the Bulgarian Roma and the Bulgarian government.
Since then, a working group of governmental and Roma representatives has been meeting, preparing the documents for the round table, which is expected to take place in the first quarter of 1999.
At the preliminary October meeting the government was represented by Mr Vesselin Metodiev, Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Education, as well as members of the National Council on Ethnic and Demographic Questions at the Council of Ministers and the Parliamentary Human Rights Commission. The Roma were represented by leaders of several Romani political movements and more than 70 Romani grassroot NGOs from throughout the country. Bulgarian human rights and related NGOs, as well as journalists, also attended. The international community was represented by Mr John Murray, Director of the Specialist Group on Roma and Sinti at the Council of Europe.
The meeting was hosted by the Human Rights Project (HRP), a Sofia-based Romani NGO. The HRP also organised the group which created the proposed program for Roma equality, and toured the country discussing it with local Roma organisations and securing their support. Support was given on a non-political basis. It seems that in the face of local elections in the autumn of 1999, the government is aggressively courting the Bulgarian Roma: they are being offered participation in local government, apparently in return for votes. Thus, the initiative of a non-partisan NGO for a round table contract between the government and that discriminated minority appears in a highly politicised environment. (ERRC)