OBEKTIV DISCUSSION CLUB The topic of ·Roma crime” was never so popular as in the August weeks of 2005 following the Bulgarian parliamentary elections. The election was notable in the country’s political and social life for the phenomenon of the Attack Coalition, which brought openly racist and xenophobic ideas into the public discourse - and parliamentary debate. Its anti-Roma, anti-Turk, and anti-Semitic rhetoric was supported by several stereotypes established over many years, as well as by the irresponsibility of politicians with regard to minority issues, and of the media and the popular voices of public figures. The most enduring of these stereotypes is that of the socalled ·Roma crime”, which was ·confirmed” by several incidents which were somewhat cavalierly characterized as ethnic clashes. They began in May 2005, with the conflict in Sofia’s Zaharna Fabrika neighbourhood in which Prof. Stanimir Kaloyanov was killed, and continued with fights between ethnic Roma and ethnic Bulgarians in the cities of Pleven, Elin Pelin and Kozloduy. The reactions to these events, without any reinforcement by close study of the facts, once again led to the ever-stronger entrenchment of the widely-held opinion that the Roma were to blame for these incidents, and that criminal activity by the Roma was on the rise. For this reason, the ·Bulgaria for the Bulgarians” posters in Pleven and the calls of ·Death to the Gypsies” should hardly come as a surprise to anyone. Leaping upon these events, the Attack Coalition announced that it would conduct a survey on each incident of Gypsy violence against Bulgarians, and they reported about a study according to which state authorities had refused to intervene in cases of attacks on Bulgarians, and the state had abdicated from its obligations. For this reason, the coalition’s MPs decided to resurrect the idea launched last summer by Konstantin Trenchev, the leader of the Podkrepa trade union organization, of forming a vigilante squad for exacting justice upon the Roma. Attack started working on a draft law on volunteer squads to take control over ·ethnic crime”. ·These incidents were criminal in nature,” announced Dimitar Stoyanov, the deputy chairman of the Attack Coalition, regarding the conflicts in Pleven, Elin Pelin and Kozloduy, ·but since they involve attacks on Bulgarians, perpetrated exclusively by Gypsies, the issue is actually an ethnic one.” Various voices, such as that of the former national director of the Police Directorate, Gen. Vassil Vassilev, protesting that such structures are unconstitutional, or those from the Center for the Study of Democracy, insisting that crime is actually on the decrease in Bulgaria, remained unheard. We invited the first deputy editor-in-chief of 24 Chassa newspaper, Borislav Zyumbyulev, the first deputy editor-in-chief of Trud newspaper, Nikola Kitsevski, and the chairman of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Krassimir Kanev, to the Obektiv Discussion Club to discuss whether it is proper to speak of ·Roma crime”, to what extent the media are to blame for the reinforcement of the stereotype of the Roma as criminals, and what might be done in order to eradicate that stereotype. 1 OBEKTIV
DOES RO EXIST IN B
Nikola Kitsevski, first deputy editor-inchief of Trud newspaper NOBODY IN THIS COUNTRY MAINTAINS STATISTICS ON ROMA PETTY CRIME SPECIAL SQUADS SHOULD BE SET UP TO MAKE ROMA CHILDREN GO TO SCHOOL, BUT NOT WITH BATS OR OTHER SUCH MEANS; RATHER, VIA A MECHANISM OF ECONOMIC COERCION Not only can we speak, but we must speak of Roma crime, and we are dutybound to study it, in order to avoid the other extreme that is often mixed up with Roma crime: the entrenchment of the conviction that all Roma are criminals. We must distinguish between these two notions: that of Roma crime and that of the Roma as criminals, of Bulgarian crime and of the Bulgar-
OBEKTIV DISCUSSION CLUB
OMA CRIME BULGARIA? ians as criminals. It is normal in the science of criminology to study the specifics of the crimes committed by different ethnic groups or nationalities. If we know what these are, it can be easier to identify and eliminate the underlying causes. We cannot fail to take into account the ethnic origin of a person who commits a crime. If we want so make it so that Gypsies in this country are not stigmatized as criminals, we must not be afraid of the notion of ·Gypsy crime”, just as we should not be ashamed of the notions of ·Bulgarian” or ·Albanian” crime. This is what our approach should be, and it does not violate anybody’s rights. If we are not talking about ethnic groups, but rather about perpetrators and victims of crime, it is very clear that the rights of the victims of crime must be defended. I cannot answer the question of whether or not Roma crime is on the increase at the moment, because I have no data about it. However, I think that if things stay the way they are, Roma crime will increase, and the problem will become ever greater, for one very simple reason: the makeup of our population is changing, due to decreasing birth rates among other ethnic groups and the increasing birth rate, and thus the percentage among the whole population, of the Roma. Growth in the Roma crime rate is a mechanical indicator. There is also a second indicator, however, which is much more terrifying: the fact that a huge part of that population is, at the end of the day, off the state’s radar screen. Twenty years ago, a much higher proportion of Roma children were in school, receiving a normal education, working in a normal environment, and feeling like normal people; they saw their future as normal citizens. Now there is no school carrying out a conscious policy of requiring children to attend classes, or holding parents responsible if their children are not present. Society, beginning from an ostensibly market-related problem, has been split; the Roma have been isolated from this process and have in practice established a parallel economy, which gave rise to this criminal activity. The statistics show that for each crime committed by a person of Turkish origin in this country, there are maybe 1.2 per capita committed by Continued on page 5
Borislav Zyumbyulev, first deputy editor-in-chief of 24 Chassa newspaper
THESE DAYS A LARGE PART OF THE GYPSIES IN THIS COUNTRY DON’T ACTUALLY HAVE ANY LIVELIHOOD OTHER THAN THEFT AND FRAUD EVERY DAY THE CRIME PAGES COULD BE FILLED EXCLUSIVELY WITH THE CRIMES COMMITTED BY GYPSIES It is normal to talk about Gypsy crime, because it exists. We can’t close our eyes to it. The theft of agricultural produce, which Mr. Kitsevski spoke about, is an appalling trend. Entire villages, whole Gypsy areas in the Sliven region, live exclusively by such activity, which is not petty crime. I have been told about some slaughterhouses that purchase only stolen livestock, about some guy who built two hotels at the Golden Sands beach resort, some person who leads these Gypsies. Of course, there are no fewer gangsters among ethnic Bulgarians, but the alarming thing is that a large proportion of Gypsies actually have no other livelihood these days other than theft. The socalled ·wealthy Gypsies” just deal in fraud. Horse thieves from Sliven, pickpocketing - these are facts and they exist. It’s another matter what the reason for it all is. The fundamental cause for it is that the Gypsies really have been left without work. I don’t know a single person who has hired, or would hire, a Gypsy. At one time, there were three Gypsy interns at our newspaper, and we also viewed them with suspicion. From here on out, of course, they will steal. Which is the cause and which is the effect - are they driven from their jobs because they steal, or do they steal Continued on page 3 OBEKTIV 2
OBEKTIV DISCUSSION CLUB Continued from page 2 because they’ve lost their jobs - I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter. But it is a fact that Gypsy crime does exist. Personally, I hate the word ·Roma”, because it is some sort of new-fangled term, introduced in order to avoid calling things by their true names. They have always been Gypsies, and now suddenly they have turned into ·Roma”. This is also quite annoying to ethnic Bulgarians, and such movements as Attack emerge, and nationalist ones in general....
What is the role of the media in the creation of the stereotype that the Roma are criminals? I cannot agree that the media have contributed to the establishment of a stereotype based upon the ethnic identity of the perpetrators of crimes, because that would mean claiming that what the media report is untrue. There was a deviation of writing about Gypsies, which, in my opinion, has faded away, but the crime pages could be filled every day exclusively with the crimes committed by Gypsies. We often discard some of the information we have, so that we don’t drown in such Gypsy crimes, and terrible ones, at that. Assigning the media a leading role in the establishment of a stereotype is not realistic. Life is like that, Gypsy crime is evident, it’s not just a projection of the press or television. The television stations here are quite liberal; they rarely mention ethnic identity. The newspapers really do so more often, but I can’t accept that as a hyper-role on the part of the press. Gypsies represent about five percent of the population in Bulgaria, but they commit about 25 percent of the crimes here. That is enough to create a subjective sense of a high rate of Gypsy crime.
What do you think of the idea of special squads to protect Bulgarian citizens from Roma attacks: is it racism, or concern for the security of the population? The idea of special squads is truly ridiculous,
but in my opinion it would be entirely sensible and necessary to have a guard watch on the fields, and round-the-clock police guards in every village. There are places where you cannot see a law-enforcement official for kilometers on end, villages that have been abandoned, with no police, no nothing. On the other hand, it would also create jobs and would be useful. There could be Gypsies on such a watch; that would even be wonderful, so that there wouldn’t be speculations about racism. There shouldn’t be any village with no police. That would be a way to create a subjective feeling of security among the people who live in villages or small towns. Work needs to be found for the Gypsies, and they need to be educated, as Mr. Kitsevski mentioned. There should be a form of subsidized employment, because all that living on social welfare assistance just makes them even more depraved. It’s good for a person to have a job, to receive a salary, and to live normally. The other way marginalizes them a great deal, standing in front of the cash machine, waiting for the money to appear in their accounts, making babies in order to collect more aid. That is not a proper social policy. From what I remember of socialism, all of the Gypsies had a job somewhere. Of course, that was hidden unemployment, but it was good for their self-esteem; they went to work, bought suits, lived normally. Now I see the same people in a totally degraded state, drunk all day long.
What is the solution to the problem of the isolation of the Roma from society? Some kind of employment needs to be found, even if it is state-sponsored. The level of their separation from society needs to be reduced. In my opinion, they are very segregated in the European Union: how many Bulgarian emigrants are there, and how many Gypsies? They send them back by the plane-load. If Gypsies were able to settle in Northern Europe, as Bulgarians have been quietly allowed to do in Spain, thus supporting their relatives here.... That opportunity is denied to the Gypsies, and they are returned by force, for racial reasons. They don’t let them in at all when they see the colour of their skin.
OBEKTIV DISCUSSION CLUB
Krassimir Kanev, chair of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee
THE DATA SHOW THAT NO MORE THAN 10-15 PERCENT OF THE ROMA COMMUNITY HAS BEEN INVOLVED IN SOME SORT OF CRIMINAL ACTIVITY IT IS A MARGINALIZED MINORITY, AND THE CHANCES OF ITS BECOMING AN OBJECT OF PENAL REPRESSION ARE MUCH GREATER The notion of Roma crime is an unclear one. As with people of all other ethnic communities, there are Roma who commit crimes. Nationwide statistical data regarding criminal convictions highlight a specific profile of the crimes committed by Roma, as opposed for example to that of the crimes committed by ethnic Bulgarians, which is slightly different. These data show that the Roma are over-represented with regard to crimes involving agricultural output, theft, vehicle theft [i.e. for transportation, not for selling], etc., but mostly theft. With regard to theft they are represented by a greater share than the average for the perpetrators of these types of crimes in Bulgaria. They represent an even higher share with regard to petty theft. But the notion of Roma crime is used in society at large in a broader sense: that of the criminalization of the entire Roma community, which is absolutely unacceptable. The people who use it in this way seem to have no idea of what constitutes criminal behavior in a society, and whether it is even possible at all for an ethnic group to be criminal by nature. In all calculations of what percentage of Roma might be involved in the commission of crimes, the
data show that no more than 10-15 percent of the Roma community has been involved in some sort of criminal activity. With regard to actual convictions, the percentage is no more than four or five percent of the Roma population per year falling among the so-called ·criminal contingent”. Of course, in every society there is a distinction between crimes committed, reported, and resulting in conviction. But Bulgarian research has provided a sufficient evaluation of these relationships, and they are no different than those in any other society. We should pay special attention to the possible participation of Roma in hidden crime, and in crime that everyday people do not report: so-called ·whitecollar” crimes, crimes against the national economy, as they were once known, which are victimless, or at least their victims are not visible and cannot be reported as having crimes committed against them. There are serious grounds to suppose that the Roma share in this type of crime is much lower than that in crimes resulting in convictions. Theirs is a marginalized minority, and the chances of its becoming an object of penal repression are much greater, due to the fact that they are poor, discarded people, and there are much greater possibilities of using unlawful means of persecution against them. There is much less possibility of finding qualified attorneys to represent them. For this reason, they are caught and convicted more often, and their crimes, robbery from orchards or homes, are more easily uncovered. At any rate, there are no grounds for talking about increasing Roma crime in Bulgaria, since according to the Interior Ministry and the Center for the Study of Democracy crime rates have been on the decrease for the past four or five years... At least 80% of the Roma population has never been charged with a crime; they survive as best they can, without breaking the law. It is a separate issue that the proportion of criminal convictions among the Roma is higher than their share in the population at large. But this is never an accurate indicator of the share of total crimes committed, since only certain people are convicted. Think about it: why are there no mafia bosses in prison? Then apply that thinking back to the people who are in prison, in order to understand why they are there. There are political factors, which have led to the boom in the criminalization of this population: the entry of the Attack Coalition into Parliament on the wave of its anti-Roma rhetoric. I think that a large number of the votes it received were precisely because of this. However, I think that certain media outlets also contributed to this trend. Many of them make it a systematic practice to mention the ethnic identity of a perpetrator only when he or she is a Roma or other Continued on page 6
OBEKTIV DISCUSSION CLUB Continued from page 2 ethnic Bulgarians (these data are certainly not very accurate), and two or more by ethnic Roma. These numbers will continue to rise, since these people are not integrated in society as a whole. The other thing contributing to this is that a large part of Roma crime remains outside the criminal justice system, since it appears to be too petty to pursue. Riding on public transportation without a ticket is not a crime here, it is an administrative violation, punishable by a fine. In America or England, it is a crime. The fight against major crime begins with the fight against minor crime. Nobody in this country maintains statistics on this kind of Roma crime. There are also no police statistics on the theft of agricultural produce - a field is robbed, a cherry orchard, a cornfield, and people complain to the mayor - because the police would have to count them among their unsolved crimes. This type of crime appears petty, but is actually major, because it leads to this kind of conditioning: today I can steal an ear of corn in order to live, and ends up leading to the thought: I don’t have anything to eat, so that means I have to steal! But it is indeed a fact that not all Roma are criminals, and we cannot speak of the Roma as criminals.
Is it correct to talk about Roma crime, given that the Penal Code does not make any distinction with regard to the ethnic origin of the perpetrators of crimes? I presume that you are raising this topic in connection, to some extent, with the emergence and entry into Parliament of the Attack Coalition. The problem is that if we don’t begin to call Roma crime by its name, its rationalization - and more importantly, its prevention - then we’ll have the broad characterization that ·the Roma are criminals” and then certain things will happen, which have not happened on Bulgarian territory for a long time. The danger of the emergence of a general stigma to the effect that the Roma do not work, comes from the most prevalent part. Reporting on the ethnic identity of the perpetrators of crimes in the media is important in many cases. Besides, whenever a Bulgarian commits an act of violence against a Gypsy, it is reported as such, while the other is absolutely implicit. Roma crime is criminalized; I don’t know whether we could apply that term, rather it is demonized.... The things that took place over the past several months, with regard to the massive clashes between ethnic Gypsies and 5 OBEKTIV
ethnic Bulgarians, were not the fruit of the emergence of Attack and had nothing to do with it. They were something else, which in criminology is called the tolerance threshold. When that threshold is crossed, the population begins to organize itself. In the absence of action by the state, whose role is to maintain order and justice, one group or another takes justice into its own hands, which is very terrifying, because it leads to very grave injustice. This is the major problem: in certain places the tolerance threshold has been crossed; in some it will be crossed tomorrow, and in others this will lead to major conflicts.
Are the media guilty of demonizing the Roma, when they specify the ethnic origin of people who are charged with crimes? The statistics regarding the perpetrators of crimes should also be applied to the newspapers, so that you can see what it is we are writing about. According to these statistics, about 25 percent of all punished crimes are committed by Roma, by no means are 100 percent of the crimes we report about committed by Roma. It is abundantly clear that Mityo the Eyes, about whom we report every day, is an ethnic Bulgarian, and it would be ridiculous to write ·the Bulgarian Mityo - the Eyes”. But when we are writing about Roma, that usually has some bearing on the crime. One typical Gypsy crime is the robbery of a train in the station; 95 percent of such crimes are committed exclusively by Gypsies. We are talking precisely about the type of Gypsy crime that is typical. Typical Bulgarian crimes at this time are drugs, automobile theft, economic crime, corruption... which is perhaps also a typical Turkish crime. One of them is that which takes place every night at three or four train stations in Sofia, and in another dozen or so around the country. When we talk about ·white collar” crimes, it is even less possible to accuse the press or the other media of taking a biased approach. The official statistics really do not include such crimes, but there are other ways of measuring the level of corruption and economic crime, which the media report on very successfully and abundantly. Ethnic identity is obvious, for the simple reason that there is not one Roma who could embezzle funds from a ministry, although in theory and in practice, there are Roma who participate in privatization deals. There is no reason to blame the media. There is a widespread public opinion that there is a high rate of Roma crime, I think you would agree, and there is also another opinion, that there is a high rate of corruption among Bulgarian leaders. Continued on page 6
OBEKTIV DISCUSSION CLUB Continued from page 5 These attitudes are formed from the reflection of the world through the media. The media see the world that way and show it that way, that is their way of fighting against those trends, and what is done by those who are running the state is a completely different subject. The idea of special squads to protect Bulgarian citizens from Roma attacks is totally ridiculous. What should be established are special squads to make Roma children go to school; not with bats or other such means, but via a mechanism of economic coercion. To support those Roma parents who want their children to grow up educated, and to punish the others, who do not want that. It is well known that a huge proportion of the Roma population receives social welfare assistance; not just children’s allowances, but also aid for the socially disadvantaged, etc. And that’s not just true of the Roma. All of this country’s citizens should be looked at as parents, and it is entirely normal for parents whose children do not attend school to be questioned as to why they should receive social welfare assistance. The cup of milk and roll given to children so that they have something to eat is something very small. We should think about creating the conditions for Roma children, and all children from problem families, to go to school. Families should have an incentive for it.
Citizen awareness needs to be raised, and civil rules enforced everywhere throughout the country, using civilized and legal means. Many more things need to be done, since crime itself may be provoked by two social factors: each one for itself, are all together. This is a job that calls for a very serious program. I don’t know why in this country we have been talking about Gypsy crime for the past ten years, about tolerance and intolerance between ethnic Bulgarians and Roma, about learning tolerant attitudes, but up to now nobody has said anything about the causes, ranked from 1 to 50, that created this criminal behavior, and what measures will be taken in order to lead to the elimination of those causes. If we begin with understanding for each other, passing through sociology and the other’s way of life, through other sciences about maintaining public order and for building the state, perhaps we can reach some sort of specific and greater successes. Even under socialism, not enough attention was devoted to national psychology. If you force someone into an apartment building, he cannot live that way - he brings his horse inside, rips up the wood flooring and burns it, and breaks the windows. So that means you have to do something different. We can only understand what that should be after understanding the people.
Continued from page 4 non-Bulgarian. And since such a level of isolation between ethnic Bulgarians and Roma has been reached in this society, that they don’t live and work together, the Bulgarian’s impression of what the Roma are is created by reading the newspaper. And almost every time what they read about Roma concerns the commission of a crime or some other disorderly conduct. The newspaper does not report what life is like in a Roma ghetto, or what the ordinary people in it live from, since this is not attractive for a media outlet. This reinforces the stereotype that practically all Roma are criminals. Our own research shows that over 80 percent of the people in Bulgaria believe this to be true. Presently there are about 11,000 inmates in Bulgarian prisons, about 2,000 to 2,500 of them Roma. This means 2,000 serious crimes, many of them committed against Bulgarians, most often theft or home robbery. If you wanted to describe Roma crime, and to name a Roma perpetrator, you could write 2,000 newspaper stories, in which the perpetrator is a Roma, thus filling the crime pages for an entire year. The rest of the crimes, however, were committed by ethnic Bulgarians. If we don’t write anything about them, the reader will be left with the impression that only Roma commit crimes. And ·white-collar” crimes - bribery, corruption, police torture, criminal privatization and other such deals - are something that could fall under
those statistics in some sort of way, not only in Bulgaria, and they are not committed by Roma. The idea of setting up volunteer squads was a political provocation, and there is no point in even discussing it, since in view of the decreasing crime rate, the creation of a new crime-fighting force would be pointless. We have some experience with volunteer squads from the days of socialism, when people signed up not because they were afraid of crime or because there was a lot of it, but because there were certain advantages to be gained. When we discuss fighting crime, we should be clear about what it is we are fighting against. Bulgaria is a relatively safe and secure country. There is currently a mass hysteria that the crime rate here is high, but it is a fact that according to any statistical method it is among the lowest ones in Europe, seven times lower than that in the USA and three times lower than in Hungary. There is no society that has managed to completely eradicate crime, and it is impossible to have a society in which there is no crime. That does not mean that criminals should not be pursued and punished. When it comes to Roma crime, the proposals put forward by the Attack Coalition and by the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Party were based on the idea that Roma crime is on the increase, and that the special squads should be directed particularly in that direction. OBEKTIV 6