Police harassment of Romani organisation in Bulgaria
10 April 2001
The Sofia-based non-governmental organisation Romani Bah Foundation reported that on January 9, 2001, police officers from the Third District Police Department of Sofia went to their office in the Fakulteta neighbourhood, a large Romani community, and requested that Mr Mikhail Gheorghiev, Chair of the Foundation, sign a protocol obliging him to refrain from “obstructing the activities of the Krasna Polyana municipality in relation to the forthcoming census.” The census of the Bulgarian population was scheduled to take place in March 2001.
According to the Romani Bah Foundation, the police action followed a complaint from the authorities of the Krasna Polyana municipality because of the organisation’s campaign to ensure the participation of Roma as census takers or assistants to census takers in the 2001 census. In December 2000, Romani Bah circulated a letter among Bulgarian non-governmental organisations dealing with minority issues, requesting them to contact their respective municipal authorities and advocate the involvement of Roma as census takers in the forthcoming census, especially in the areas with large minority communities. The 2001 Census Act, adopted in February 2000, envisages that “when necessary, in places with specific local conditions, where the work of the census takers might be difficult, the mayors may appoint people to accompany the census takers” (the 2001 Census Act, Article 21(2) in State Gazette, No16, 25.02.2000). However, the law does not explicitly provide for the participation of ethnic minorities as census takers. In their letter, Romani Bah explained that the census questions might be difficult to comprehend for those Roma who do not have a good command of the Bulgarian language, and that in order to obtain an accurate census, it would be necessary to include Roma and other minorities among the census takers.
In early January 2001, Romani Bah spoke with the Deputy Chair of the Krasna Polyana District Census Commission and requested the inclusion of Roma from the neighbourhood in the census-taking teams. Their request was reportedly rudely declined and the organisation was accused of attempting to obstruct the census in the Fakulteta Romani neighbourhood. Romani Bah told the ERRC that the Deputy Chief of the District Census Commission reportedly blamed the organisation for the resignation of nine of the census takers (all of them ethnic Bulgarians) appointed for the test census in Fakulteta Romani neighbourhood.
(ERRC, Romani Bah Foundation)