If no investment is made to mobilise the economic potential of Europe’s largest minority – the Roma – they will remain in a “poverty trap”, while Bulgarian economic growth is threatened by a lack of workers, writes Nikoleta Popokostadinova for the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network.
The author describes the scenes of poverty that can be seen in Romania and Bulgaria, both members of the Union since 2007. The Roma population did not benefit from the employment boom which affected both countries, she says. Lack of education and qualifications have kept them “hermetically sealed from the economic changes”, she adds.
Moreover, the situation is not likely to change in the two newest member states, as Bulgaria is set to import foreign workers to fuel its economy “rather than mobilise the existing Roma minority into its labour force”, Popokostadinova says.
According to the paper, even though the EU urged Bulgaria and Romania to make integrating Roma a priority, the amount of funding that has been made available is insufficient to address the issue, highlights the paper.
The author gives examples of similar situations in Hungary, Serbia and the Czech Republic, where most Roma live below the poverty line. Popokostadinova quotes Rumayan Sechkov, a Bulgarian historian, who explains that “the rejection of Roma has its roots deep back in that era.”
The author therefore returns to the history of Roma and the Ottoman Empire, where Roma “were not welcomed but not exterminated”, and the communist regimes, when, for example, some Roma women were sterilised as part of a Bulgarian state policy to reduce their numbers and recognition in 1990.
Even though the recognition of Roma as an ethnic minority in 1990 was a positive development towards their integration, they remain “locked in a cycle of discrimination, neglect and exclusion.” The author outlines issues such as access to education and health and safety problems, which contribute to locking Roma in this cycle of exclusion.
These issues were part of critical reports from Brussels during the pre-accession phase for Bulgaria and Romania but did not bring about much change, and officials still ignore the Roma issue, she says.
While Bulgaria risks a slowdown in economic growth due to a lack of workers, addressing the issue of Roma unemployment would enable both the re-launch of the economy and the integration of the Roma minority, concludes the author, after having quoted a number of economists and specialists on the issue.