In April this year, a 17-year old Romani child named Mitko became a symbol of the fight for Roma equality after an incident where he was kicked and beaten because he declared himself equal to a non-Roma thug. Three days ago Mitko received bitter-sweet justice as the courts found his attacker Angel Kaleev guilty of an ethnically motivated hate crime, but only issued a cursory sentence, which was then deferred to a probation with community service. Mitko, through the #RomaAreEqual campaign has become one of those powerful, almost mythical, human rights icons that people celebrate without knowing about their personal story and struggle.
This is his story.
In Bulgaria, racist hate crimes have become more and more the norm for Roma, refugees and other local minorities. Yet, this increased prevalence has only further relegated the issue of acknowledging and tackling racially motivated crime on judicial, public and civic agendas. In courtrooms, government offices, police stations and cafés across the country, “the invisible crime” has been the elephant in the room, which until very recently had been ushered discreetly into a cupboard, out of sight but not out of mind.
Roma do not only have to endure degrading violent attacks, but also a barrage of racist suspicion, implications of false testimony and patronising dismissal in the resulting investigation that follows.