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Gypsy Contribution to Prosperity and Capitalism in Bulgaria

By Dr. Krassen Stanchev



The key difficulty in resolving Gypsy integration challenges in the EU and in Bulgaria is the lack of thinking about Gypsies as normal individuals.

They are perceived by different governments and Brussels programs as, on one hand, “betrayed and oppressed” (in the human rights rhetoric), “isolated”, “ostracized“, “segregated”, “discriminated” or as, on the other hand – by left and right policy moods alike, as “rough”, “stealing”, “under-culture”, “non-civilized” and even “not-subject-to-civilization”, to refer just to a few of the Bulgaria public opinions, somewhat subtitled clichés.

Respectively, the required policy “towards them” should be one of “inclusion”, “integration”, “rehabilitation”, “support”, “education” and “protection”. This is the vision of the said programs, including private and quasi-government, UN and EU “charities”. The common denominator of all these definitions is the interpretation taking Gypsies, or Roma as a class, as category of the population but not as individuals.

Alternatively and again reading Roma as a class, although not quite politically correct, a majority of the public opinion in Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Serbia or Kosovo believes that Roma are the societal “bad guys”, those who steal, who are per se criminal, relief seekers, welfare users and basically under-class and under-dogs. But this thinking, too, takes Gypsies as a group, ethnic entity; and the features attached to the group are usually immediately attributed individual Roma, whatever his or her occupation, religion or residence is.

Listing Bulgaria first is no accident or alphabetical order of countries. Bulgaria has the largest share of Gypsies in the citizenry, perhaps, around 7-8% of the population, and it has a party represented in the legislature, that campaigned in 2005 with a slogan (among other slogans) “Gypsies – on Saturn!”, which in Bulgaria sounds like “Gypsies – on Soap!”. (The word for “soap” in Bulgarian is “sapun” – from Turkish; so, when “Saturn” is shouted it sounds as “soap”.) In reality, according to anthropologists and sociologists – Bulgaria anthropologists are really very good by any scientific standard, especially on Gypsies – the Roma in the country are very different: few them are nomads, many are Muslim, quite many but somewhat less are Protestant (they live most often in the biggest cities) and/or Catholic – located en mass in few regions, and some are Greek, perhaps Vlachs, or ancient Romanians, they are blond-haired and specializing as sheep breeders. Anthropologists claim that altogether there are eight distinguished groups of Roma in Bulgaria, differing from one another by culture, habits, religion and appearance.

I shall discuss here the ways Gypsies used to contribute and contribute to the economic life and prosperity of Bulgaria. I am convinced that these ways are similar in other countries mentioned above and that the problems of the so-called “Roma Inclusion” are poorly and serve the interest of those who implement these programs. The prime source of this paper is my own experience as teenager and student in the 1970’s, my personal encounters with Gypsy compatriots as a member of parliament in the early 1990’s and my work as a director of the Institute for Market Economics (WWW.IME.BG) and economist during the crisis of 1996-1997 private initiatives to provide micro credits to Roma entrepreneurs.ii

I start with an attempt to describe how representatives of the Roma contributed to the prosperity on the Bulgarian society under Communism, how they helped create Capitalism (this role that stems from Communist times) and what was and still are the role of Roma in shaping Bulgaria's democracy, culture and policies. I start here with the late Bulgaria Communist years, reviewing some exclusive benefits no one in the country could supply but Roma entrepreneurs.


Gypsy Contribution to Prosperity and Capitalism in Bulgaria (Pdf file)