MINELRES: Roma Public Officials in Bulgaria Criticize the Policy of the Government in Open Letter to the Prime Minister

MINELRES moderator minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Thu Jun 10 14:12:56 2004

Original sender: Emil Cohen <emilcohen@mbox.cit.bg> 

Human Rights Project*

Press Release

Roma Public Officials in Bulgaria Criticize the Policy of the Government
in Open Letter to the Prime Minister

Sofia, May 21 - On May 13 and 14, 2004 in Sofia, Human Rights Project
(HRP) organized a large national conference devoted to the fifth
anniversary of the adoption of the Framework Program for Equal
Integration of Roma in Bulgarian Society (Framework Program). The
Framework Program was adopted by the Government on April 22, 1999. It is
a comprehensive anti-discrimination document that outlines the main
directions of the policy of the Government for achieving real equality
of rights of the Roma minority. (The full text of the Framework Program
is available at: http://www.ncedi.government.bg/en/index.html). HRP
initiated the adoption of the Framework Program and for this reason our
intention was to organize a meeting between the Roma public officials in
charge for the implementation of the Framework Program (the so-called
‘experts on ethnic and demographic issues’) and the government officials
members of the National Council on Ethnic and Demographic Issues
(NCEDI). The mission of NCEDI is to implement the goals of Framework
Program. Thirteen senior government officials (deputy ministers) are
members of this body.

Over 140 Roma public officials, who are in charge for the implementation
of the Framework Program as well as representatives of the leading Roma
NGOs took part in the event. Mr. Metin Kazak, Chief of the Political
Cabinet of Ms. Filiz Husmenova, who is Minister Without Portfolio and
Chairperson of the NCEDI, and Mr. Mihail Ivanov, Secretary of NCEDI
participated in the conference. Other participants included Mr. Lubomir
Koumanov, Deputy Minister of Public Health, representatives of the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of
Justice, the Ministry of Education and Science, the Ministry of Culture,
and the National Institute of Statistics. Mr. Rumian Russinov, Director
of Roma Participation Program of Open Society Institute – Budapest, and
the special guest Ms. Elena Piscopo from the Council of Europe,
delivered key-note speeches at the conference. Representatives of the
biggest Roma coalition of NGOs – the so-called Parliament Roma – handed
in their Plan for Further Implementation of the Framework Program to the
Secretary of the NCEDI Mr. Mihail Ivanov. 

* * *

At the conference HRP presented two reports. The first one was devoted
to the obstacles that Roma public officials meet in their everyday work.
The second report presented the results of the special survey carried
out by HRP on the implementation of the Framework Program. Mr. Ivanov
and the participating senior officials spoke about the results of the
implementation of the Framework Program and on the prospects for the
future. Finally, 142 Roma public officials sent an Open Letter to the
Prime Minister. (The full text of the letter is enclosed to the press
release). It had to be said that this was the first national meeting of
the Roma public officials for all five years after the adoption of the
Framework Program. 

The first HRP report generalized the opinion of the Roma public
officials who are obliged to implement at the local and district level
the provisions of the Framework Program:

- The Roma experts do not have a stable status within the local and
district administrations. There is no official document setting their
duties and responsibilities. They have no right to impose sanctions on
the local and district authorities when the authorities fail to
implement their obligations related to the improvement of the Roma
situation. Because of the lack of a stable position these Roma public
officials often become victims of political dismissals. 

- The Roma experts as well as the local authorities do not have funds to
execute their duties. The funds for the implementation of the Program
are allocated centrally and there is no financial assistance by the
central budget for the development of local projects. 

The Roma experts have to secure the implementation of the Framework
Program at the local level, but they do not have neither money at their
disposal, nor the power to exercise control on the local authorities. On
the other hand, the central government does not have any obligation to
ensure funds for the further implementation of the Program. Because of
the lack of any legislation the central government is not obliged to
invest money for the improvement of the Roma situation. 

All speakers (more than 20) at the conference supported the above view. 

The second report delivered by HRP dealt with the data of a survey
carried out by HRP especially for the conference. The survey is not
representative, but the data received by it can be used in order to
acquire a general idea about the results of the implementation of the
Framework Program. HRP interviewed 116 Roma activists (public officials,
leaders of Roma NGOs, etc.). The survey covered 50 settlements
inhabited, according to estimates of the interviewees, by around 483,000
Roma. (According to the data of the last census the total number of Roma
in Bulgaria is 370,000). Here are some of the findings of the survey:

- The level of unemployment among the Roma living in these settlements,
according to the opinion of our respondents, is 70%. 

- According to the data of our respondents around 2,300 people were
vocationally trained for the five years of the Program on the background
of tens of thousands unemployed Roma. 

Regarding the implementation of the Program, according to the data of
our survey, only around 1,000 people underwent literacy courses when
according to the different data of many surveys around 18% of all Roma
aged between 18 and 60 are illiterate. This means that at least 60,000
adult Roma are illiterate. Now the part of illiterate Roma should be
higher. (Source of this information is the special research made by the
Bulgarian NGO, International Center for Minority Studies and
Intercultural Relations. The full text of the survey is available in
Bulgarian at http://www.ncedi.government.bg/. 

- Around half of the Roma, according to the opinion of the respondents,
are deprived of health insurance.

- Only four settlements were reported as places in which the local
authorities have given local financial support to local projects. 

* * *

Many of the participants put under consideration the issue about the
evaluation of the five-year implementation of the Framework Program. The
general conclusion was that this implementation is far from successful.
None of the problems were solved during these years. Moreover there are
signs that some of the problems have deteriorated. For example, there
are no improvements in the spheres of unemployment, illiteracy, social
and health insurance. 

The participants agreed that some positive steps in the implementation
of the Program have been done. The most important among them are in the
sphere of legislation: the adoption in September 2003 of the Protection
from Discrimination Act, the approval by the Council of Ministers of the
draft Act for Creation of a Fund for Educational Integration of Minority
Children (now the draft is passing through different parliamentary
commissions), and also the approval of an Action Plan for the
Implementation of the Framework Program in 2004 by the Council of
Ministers. (For more information about the Action Plan see the special
press release of HRP available at:

On the other hand, the funds that the Government invests in order to
secure the reaching of the aims of the Framework Program are more than
modest; there are no data for 1999–2001 on the funds allocated for its
implementation. According to our estimates, the Government spent about
30 EUR per Roma capita for all Roma problems: elimination of
unemployment, improvement of the living conditions, improvement of the
health status, securing equal access to qualitative education, etc. For
2004 the government provides to spent about 35 EUR per Roma capita for
the same goals. (The calculation was made according to official census
results. According to expert opinions, however, the actual number of
Roma is twice as high.) It is clear that on the background of the needs
of the Roma, the amount of this money is extremely small. Furthermore,
the Bulgarian State does not spend its own money for achieving the aims
of the Framework Program. It is a well-known fact that almost all the
funds, which the state spends, come from foreign sources. For political
reasons the state avoids to take money directly from its own domestic
incomes. And this has been the sustainable policy of all Bulgarian
governments after 1989. 

Furthermore, almost all of the speakers in the conference stressed on
the structural weakness of the state agency on ethnic issues. It does
not have any power to impose on the branches of government any policy on
Roma issues. The conclusion of the participants about the process of
implementation of the Framework Program was not positive. This
conclusion was expressed in the Open Letter that 142 Roma public
officials wrote and sent to the Prime Minister of Bulgaria Mr. Simeon
Saxe-Coburg Cotha. The letter was given to the office of the Prime
Minister and was published in the two Roma newspapers Drom Dromendar and
Akana. The full text of the Open letter is enclosed below. Besides a
group of participants wrote and sent a Proposal to the Prime Minister
concerning the situation of the first Roma Channel ‘TV Roma’, that works
in Vidin (a town situated at the Northeastern part of the country on the
Danube river). In the Proposal the authors ask the Prime Minister to
promote the development of the Roma electronic media and especially TV


Open Letter by the participants in the National Roma Conference ‘The
Framework Program – Five Years Later’

To Mr. Simeon Saxe-Coburg Gotha 

Prime Minister of Bulgaria

Sofia, May 14, 2004


Honorable Mr. Prime Minister:

On May 13 and 14 in Sofia a National Roma Conference devoted to the
fifth anniversary of the approval of the Framework Program for Equal
Integration of Roma in Bulgarian Society took place. It was organized by
Human Rights Project in cooperation with other Roma NGOs. Roma who take
offices of experts on ethnic and demographic issues, Roma who are
members of municipal councils, as well as Roma activists from all over
the country took part in the event.

We, the participants in the conference welcome the succession in the
steps made until now by your government and believe that you will pay
attention to the concrete suggestions for the actualization of the work
connected to the Program that were made at the national meeting. 

We sincerely hope that all together – the Government and ourselves –
will continue the joint commitments about the integration of the Roma
community by its direct participation in all structures and levels of
the state power. 

We are convinced that the commitments you took and which were expressed
at the conference ‘Roma in the Expanding Europe’ held on June 30 and
July 01, 2003 in Budapest are in conformity with the policy your
Government leads for the accession of Bulgaria to the European Union. 

Honorable Mr. Prime Minister:

We use this possibility to inform you about the real problems that
accompany the execution of the Program. Our conclusions are the result
of a profound analysis of the implementation of the Framework Program
made by the conference participants. 

1. The Roma who are approved in the local and district administrations
have no status and authority for the implementation of the Framework

2. These people do not have any technical means for communication and
coordination with the local authorities, with the NGOs as well as with
other institutions. 

3. Roma experts who have obtained appropriate administrative abilities
within the framework of their term of office are often dismissed from
their jobs for political reasons. Often they are put under political

Honorable Mr. Prime Minister:

The national policy for the improvement of the state of the Roma
community does not reach the local communities and settlements. There is
a complete vagueness about the acts of the Council of Ministers
connected with the distribution of the money for improvement of the
situation of the Roma. Our demand is to promote the integral realization
of the Framework Program approved by the Government at the local and
district levels through direct participation of public officials of
Romani origin. In this connection in order to improve our joint work we
insist on the following points: 

1. That the distribution of the money from the PHARE Program and the
World Bank is adequate to the needs of the extremely poor local
municipalities. That distribution must correspond to the parameters and
requirements of the respective grants related to the Roma community; 

2. Complete transparency and accountancy should exist in the process of
defining the different conditions of the grants. Such a transparency
should exist during the selection of the municipalities who will
participate in the grants. 

3. A representative of the National Association of Roma Experts in the
State Institutions has to take part with a full vote (not deliberative
vote) when the different conditions and aims of grants for Roma are
being defined. 

4. Roma experts have to take part during the defining of the tasks and
technical conditions of the grants. 

5. Roma experts have to be hired in the different ministries in order to
implement the Framework Program. 

We believe that the described in this letter anxieties and proposals
related to the process of solving of the problems will be taken under
consideration by you and your government in your future work for
implementation of the Framework Program. 


Respectfully yours,

/signed by 142 participants in the national conference/

On behalf of HRP:

Emil Cohen


*Human Rights Project was established in the summer of 1992 as
anon-profit organization focusing on monitoring the human
rightssituation of the Roma in Bulgaria, and on legal defense in cases
of serious human rights abuses. The HRP monitors the human rights
situation of the Roma community in Bulgaria and reports on the cases
which it had investigated; works with Roma volunteers from all over the
country who report on the human rights observation in their region;
conduct independent extrajudicial investigation into allegations of
human rights violations against Roma; hire lawyers to take up selected
cases and monitors the process of legal defense; advocates legislative
and policy changes in favor of Roma.

Ivan Ivanov is Chair of the Board of HRP. 

Dimitrina Petrova, Dimitar Georgiev, Mitio Kemalov and Rumian Russinov
are members of the Board.

Emil Cohen emilcohen@mbox.cit.bg is Executive Director.

Our address: 23 Solunska St., 6th floor, 1000 Sofia, Bulgaria

Tel./fax: (+359 2) 986 35 46 and (+359 2) 981 50 66;

E-mail: hrproject@mbox.cit.bg and hrp@netel.bg

Emil Cohen
Human Rights Project
Executive Director
1000 Sofia, 23 Solunska Str.
Phone/fax: (+359 2) 98150 66; GSM: (+359) 0888335707