Skinhead Attack of Roma Sparks Unrest
20 November 2007
According to a press statement of the Romani Baht Foundation from 16 August 2007, during the night of 12 August, six Romani persons, three men and three women, between the ages of 19 and 26, all residents of the all-Romani Fakulteta neighbourhood in the Krasna Poliana district of Sofia, were attacked by about a dozen skinheads on their way back to the their neighbourhood. Four of them sustained injuries; one person was hospitalised with a broken jaw and underwent two life-saving operations. According to the testimonies of the Romani youths to Romani Baht, the third district department of the Ministry of Interior reportedly refused to send a patrol car to the place of the incident after they called for help. All six Roma who were injured by the skinheads filed complaints with the Prosecutor's Office with the assistance of the Romani Baht Foundation. As of 28 September 2007, the perpetrators of the attack had been identified by the police; an indictment act by the prosecution was expected.
According to the investigation of Romani Baht, the skinhead attack of August 12 as well as rumors of forthcoming attacks provoked serious tensions amongst Roma in Fakulteta. The tensions escalated into riots on 13 and 14 August. According to information from Bulgarian media, on 13 August, a large number of Roma went on a protest, broke into a cafeteria and attacked several non-Roma. The attack against the non-Roma was explained by the Roma involved with the fact that the non-Roma appeared to be skinheads. Four Romani men who took part in the attack were arrested and accused of hooliganism and causing light body injuries. On 14 August, a new wave of rioting in Krasna Poliana involved some 400 Roma armed with wooden sticks and axes. The Roma involved reportedly set garbage containers on fire and damaged several cars.
According to witnesses reports in the media, there were calls for "Death to Bulgarians". The Romani Baht Foundation stated that police forces in Krasna Poliana which were present during the unrest on 13 and 14 August failed to intervene adequately and allowed the protest to degenerate into clashes. At a special press conference on 16 August, Romani Baht and the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee denounced the escalation of anti-Romani sentiment in the Bulgarian public space, manifested in calls for a violent solution to "the Roma problem" through expulsion, segregation and reinstitution of the death penalty. The two organisations called Bulgarian authorities to denounce the rampant racist speech by political groups and media, especially by the leaders and supporters of the nationalist Ataka party, which took twenty-two seats in Bulgarian Parliament after the 2005 national elections. Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev, quoted by Bulgarian media, urged for a serious investigation of the clashes between Roma and non-Roma noting that for years certain political groups have been instilling an atmosphere of ethnic hatred in the country.
(ERRC, Romani Baht, Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, website of the Bulgarian Government, Dnevnik, BTA)