Civil activism in Bulgaria from the perspective of the youth in the Roma community

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Usually, issues related to the Roma community are overlooked or discussed only in a negative aspect. For the socially active young people from this community, even less is said.

Beyond stereotypes and familiar headings in the media, there are active young people who contribute to their communities and society. These young people are in every area of ​​our society. Some of them remain invisible, while others are known only in their bubble of people and organizations.

They remain invisible for two reasons. The first, superimposed in society, with years, stereotypes, and hate speech. As a result, it is much easier to focus on the negative examples in the community. Although such exist everywhere.

The second reason is the choice to hide their Roma origin. Those are people who do not want to identify with the Roma community and hide their ethnic background. It is very likely that you know a person in your social circle who simply does not state this. Unfortunately, the motives of these people are caused by the first reason. It is difficult to face stereotypes and negativism in society.

Fortunately, there are many young people who are not ashamed of their identity and dare to change attitudes and stereotypes. Such a person is Evelina Dimitrova from the village of Galiche, Bulgaria, a girl who initiated the establishment of an association to work for the benefit of the citizens, in the village where she lives. “Roden Dvor” Association was established in order to develop cultural and youth activities in the village, engaging the local community.

The civic contribution of young and active Roma most often occurs in non-governmental organizations. They are the main motivation that helps and encourages young people to be active, not only in their communities but also in society.

One of these organizations is the Largo Association. It is located in the Roma neighborhood of Kyustendil, Bulgaria. Roma young people who are involved in the association, help in the development and creation of active citizens in the neighborhood and between their peers.

One thing is for sure – the young Roma community is part of society and will become more visible. There are active young people, but there are no national policies for the inclusion and meaningful participation of young people who can change their communities and be role models.

The Roma community in Bulgaria does not have adequate political representation. There are no Roma youth organizations to promote youth participation in the political environment. I hope that we have yet to see politically active youth.

The only platform that stimulates youth participation by engaging young Roma representatives is the Permanent Roma Conference, which actively works with the Roma community in a number of cities, focusing on building the capacity of active young people. They have initiatives to stimulate voting among young people, to take positions on certain issues, to initiate petitions on issues concerning this ethnic group, and to consolidate the community into a common Roma movement.

What can be done to provide a better environment for development and communication between different communities is mutual support and common activities. That is why we need cooperation between the different organizations in Bulgaria. This leads to knowing each other, to more visibility and to awareness of the other’s problems.

Working with a focus in just one place is not a bad thing, but at some point, you have to get out of that bubble. A few years ago, I myself dared to go beyond the “Roma bubble” and this is one of the best decisions I have made. I realized that the different communities, among themselves, do not know each other and do not communicate enough. And there is something to learn from each other.

I really want to learn to communicate with each other. Communication – in every sense of the word. This is how common values ​​are understood and common ones are built. In this way, we will learn to talk about the problems that exist and find solutions together.

Mariya Atanasova

Mariya Atanasova is a Roma activist with experience in volunteering and social work. She graduated from the Medical University of Varna and is currently part of a preparatory master's program at the Central European University in Vienna.

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