4th Feb 2023

Bulgarian anti-Roma protests escalate

  • Riot police had to be deployed against anti-Roma protesters (Photo: Trud)

Bulgarian riot police were deployed on Sunday (2 October) to disperse protesters asking for the resignation of the interior minister after a week of unrest prompted by the killing of a 19-year old in a Roma village.

Hundreds of protesters rallied by the far-right Order, Law and Justice (RZS) party called for the parliament to be suspended and interior minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov fired for having failed to cope with the ethnic tensions that flared up after the Bulgarian youngster was run over by Roma ten days ago in Katunitsa, a village in southern Bulgaria.

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An angry crowd of about 2,000 people then gathered and set on fire three houses owned by the Roma leader in the village. Protests against "government inactivity" followed throughout the week, with some 5,000 football fans and students gathering in the central square of Plovdiv, the biggest town near Katsunitsa on Sunday. A smaller, silent vigil against hate and racism was also held in Plovdiv a few streets away.

Similar parallel events were held in Sofia on Saturday, with some 2,000 people taking to streets as the country's president convened the National Security Council in reaction to the violence and arson that followed the Katunitsa incident.

President Georgy Parvanov called for "an end to the language of hatred" as many of the Bulgarian demonstrators were denouncing the "parasite communities" of Roma, whose clan leaders often live in villas and do not pay taxes.

Ahead of the presidential elections on 23 October, far-right Ataka party leader Volen Siderov tried to capitalise on the tensions and called for the death penalty to be reinstated and for Roma "ghettos" to be dismantled.

In Bulgaria, the EU's poorest member state, Roma make up around five percent of the total population of 7.4 million. While most of the Roma live segregated and in poor conditions, some gang leaders do have connections with organised crime and trafficking rings. The gang lord allegedly connected to the killing has meanwhile been arrested, however, for having threatened to murder the people who set his property on fire.

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