Round table on the Roma question in Bulgaria
05 October 1998
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 1998 on the Roma question in Bulgaria to work out a new social contract between the Bulgarian Roma and the Bulgarian government.
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, 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. Faced by local elections in the fall of 1999, the government is aggressively courting the Bulgarian Roma: they are being offered participation in the local government, apparently in return for votes. Thus, the initiative of the HRP for a round table contract between the government and this discriminated minority appears in a highly politicised environment. So far the government has responded positively: Minister Metodiev offered to help organise a team to elaborate the documents for the proposed Round Table. This team, composed of government and Roma representatives, would in theory be open to suggestions emanating from the entire Romani community of Bulgaria; it should start working this November.