Community violence, police abuse and attacks by military officers in Bulgaria
15 July 1997
Anti-Romani community violence and abuses of Roma by public officials continue to plague Bulgaria. At approximately 7 am on April 6, villagers in the town of Sredno Selo in the Elena district, near the city of Veliko Tarnovo, discovered five Romani men they suspected of being involved in the theft of two calves the day before. The men had been hiding in the boarding house of the local school. The villagers apparently forced the Roma out of the house, brought them to the mayor's office and tied them to a fence. Approximately 100-120 people from the neighbouring villages, including the owner of the calves, then gathered in front of the mayor's office and started beating the Roma. At around 7:30 am, the mayor of Sredno Selo called the police from the village of Zlataritsa. Police officers arrived at approximately 9:30 am and then took the Roma to hospital in the town of Elena. According to the police, they arrived late due to a fiat tyre. The Bulgarian daily Demokratsia called the incident an expression of "the just outrage of the people".
Police abuses have also been documented recently. On June 1, 1997, around 9 p.m., 55-year-old Nikolina Koleva Tsolova, her 33 yearold daughter Minka Nakova Tsolova, 34-year-old Dimo Zheliazkov, and two small children were walking along a road near the village of Sarantsi, Elin Pelin District, east of Sofia. They allegedly witnessed a car full of men in sports wear puli to the side of the road and begin shooting at a passing car full of Roma.
When they caught sight of the Roma witnesses, the men began shouting racial epithets at them. They then attacked them, kicking Minka Tsolova in the genitals. When the Roma began running towards their houses, the men followed them. According to witness testimony, one of the men shot at the fleeing Roma, but did not injure anyone. The men then followed and, arriving in the Roma settlement, they allegedly beat 58-year-old Nako Valkov Tsolov, who had been awoken by the cries of his wife and had gone out of his house to see what was happening. 36-year-old Ivan Ivanov Kokorkov, also a resident of the neighbourhood, attempted to intervene verbally to stop the men from beating Mr. Tsolov. One of the men allegedly responded by shouting, "Dirty Gypsies we will smash you!" and then shot Ivan Kokorkov in the stomach from a distance of three-four metres. Approximately ten minutes later, policemen from the regional police of Elin Pelin arrived at the scene of the incident and arrested the man identified by the Roma as having shot Mr. Kokorkov. The detainee was Sergeant Dimitar Bashliyski and all three of the assailants were sergeants from the military unit of Gorna Malina, located several kilometres away. Ivan Kokorkov was taken to hospital.
In other news from around Bulgaria, the daily newspaper Trud reported on May 14 that a 13-year-old Romani girl named Veska Angelova had been shot and killed by a non-Romani male in a disco in Sofia. Standart reported on May 14 that a sergeant from the regional police department in the town of Assenovgrad had shot and killed a 32-year-old Romani man named Kolyo Todorov while he was trying to escape from police custody. Mr. Todorov had been detained in connection with a theft. Demo-ratsia and Standart both reported on May 15 that a 27-year-old Romani man named Nikolai Yanakiev had been shot and killed during an attempted theft by a farmer in the village of Ezerovo, district Varna. On June 4, Duma reported that a 7-year-old Romani boy named Stefan Stefanov, had been hit by a rubber bullet after a guard at the mill complex Hadzhi Dimitar in the city of Sliven opened fire on a group of Roma. Finally, on June 8, Noshten Trud reported that, following a quarrel over who should use a public telephone first, a police officer shot and wounded a 24-year-old Romani man named Stefan Olimpiev.
According to a spokesperson for the Human Rights Project in Sofia, the economic crisis of the past year has exacerbated the already bad human rights situation, lending high public tolerance for strong-arm actions by the police. As a result, abuses, especially police abuses, have become more common. (ERRC, The Human Rights Project)