Romani Family Expelled from Romani Neighbourhood in Bulgaria
07 November 2002
According to an August 5, 2002 press release of the Sofia-based non-governmental organisation Human Rights Project (HRP), at around noon on July 26, 2002, Mr Ivan Perov, a 34-year-old Romani man from Vidin in north-western Bulgaria, reportedly set himself on fire in front of the President's Office in Sofia. Mr Perov was taken to a hospital for medical treatment.HRP reported that, on the same day, a 6-year-old Romani girl named Rozalinka was also prepared to be burnt by her mother, but this was prevented following intervention by the police.
The protest followed the expulsion of the family from the Nov Pat Romani neighbourhood of Vidin on June 24, 2002, and the failure of the authorities to find a place to settle the family for more than one month. HRP reported that the Zrunkovi family, comprised of sixty-three people, including thirty children, was forced to leave Vidin following clashes with other residents of the Nov Pat Romani neighbourhood. The expulsion was reportedly decided by the Vidin Regional Governor, the Mayor of Vidin, the Vidin Chief of Police and a local Member of Parliament for the ruling party National Movement Simeon II, although according to HRP, no formal expulsion warrant exists. Local authorities claimed that the Zrunkovi family voluntarily left Vidin. Members of the family, however, reportedly stated before the national media that they were informed by the local police that the expulsion was a temporary measure as the police could not guarantee their safety and that they would be allowed to re-enter the neighbourhood once the situation calmed down.
After the expulsion from the Nov Pat Romani neighbourhood, the Zrunkovi family, escorted by police, moved from place to place throughout Bulgaria for more than one month before they were able to settle anywhere. In each area where the authorities attempted to settle the Zrunkovi family, local residents and officials protested against the moving in of the family. On August 5, 2002, HRP reported that the family was settled in five separate locations throughout Bulgaria.
The expulsion of the Zrunkovi family from the Nov Pat Romani neighbourhood was preceded by clashes between the family and other residents of the neighbourhood triggered by the death of two Roma. On June 16, 2002, Mr Tzvetelin Perov, a 19-year-old mentally disabled Romani man and relative of the Zrunkovi family, allegedly attempted to steal from a shop owned by another Romani family in the Nov Pat Romani neighbourhood. Mr Perov was reportedly found dead three days later. HRP reported that Mr Perov's family held the owners of the shopresponsible for his death. In revenge for Mr Perov's death, some of his relatives attacked the family that owned the shop on June 22, 2002. In the brawl between the two Romani families, Mr Georgi Markov, a 41-year-old Romani man, was killed, allegedly by a member of the Zrunkovi family.
The alleged killing of Mr Georgi Markov by a member of the Zrunkovi family sparked long harboured hostility towards the Zrunkovi family by the residents of the Nov Pat Romani neighbourhood. According to the HRP and the Vidin-based non-governmental organisation Drom, for a number of years, members of the Zrunkovi family had been involved in informal money lending to other Roma from the Nov Pat neighbourhood. Romani debtors usually failed to return the money and the high interest demanded by the Zrunkovi family, and were consequently terrorised by them and unlawfully deprived of their property. According to Drom, residents of Nov Pat filed complaints with police on several occasions but were reportedly forced by the moneylenders to withdraw them later. Notwithstanding the complaints filed by residents of the Nov Pat Romani neighbourhood, as well as allegations of the criminal activities in the neighbourhood by Romani NGO's, the Vidin police reportedly did not interfere to stop the unlawful money-lending and the victimisation of the Romani debtors. Moreover, the Nov Pat Romani neighbourhood, which has approximately 15,000 inhabitants, was served only by three police officers, who were unable to protect the residents of the neighbourhood from illegal actions against them.
The tensions between the residents of Nov Pat caused by the terror exerted on the Romani debtors by members of the Zrunkovi family escalated after Mr Georgi Markov's death. According to HRP, on June 23 and 24, 2002, residents of the Nov Pat Romani neighbourhood attacked houses and businesses belonging to members of the Zrunkovi family. Three houses belonging to the Zrunkovi family were reportedly burnt and six people were wounded during the rioting. Approximately fifty police officers from the Vidin police who were sent to the neighbourhood were unable to stop the riots. On the evening of June 23, 2002, the Chief Secretary of the Ministry of Interior, General Boiko Borissov, led three hundred and fifty soldiers and three patrol cars into the neighbourhood and by the morning of June 24, 2002, the rioting had reportedly come to an end. On October 7, 2002, HRP reported that, according to the Bulgarian Minister of Interior, two persons were detained for the murder of Mr Georgi Markov and another six were detained in relation to the riots. Investigations into the murder and the riots were ongoing. As of mid-September 2002, most of the members of the Zrunkovi family had returned to Vidin.
(Drom, ERRC, HRP)