Monday, July 2, 2012




London protest on Monday

A party activist lies critically injured ina Sofia hospital after a bomb blast onFriday (29 June) at the headquarters ofthe Euroroma Party in Sandanski, theonly Bulgarian town ever to elect an all-Roma municipal council.

When Malin Iliev (59) went to remove a suspicious package left in front of the building at about 6 a.m, the bomb exploded tearing off his arm. He was taken first to a local hospital but then removed to Sofia to be placed inintensive care.

Most of the windows in the Euroroma Party offices,which are located near the town’s market place,were blown out by the massive blast. Otherbuildings also suffered damage, according to the Novinite news agency.

Police are examining the remains to determinethe type and quantity of explosive used. At the time of writing no arrests had been made.

“Iliev was one of our candidates in local elections,”said Toni Angelov, head of the local EuroromaParty branch. “We believe this attack was raciallyand politically motivated.”

But Bulgariam Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanovwas already claiming on the day of the blast that politics was not involved. He said it was a “purely criminal act” and was confident regional police commissar Georgi Kostov would capture those responsible within a week.

Chairman of Euroroma Tsvetelin Kanchev, a former MP whose release from prison earlier this year on a pardon has been criticised by the current administration, has said he fears suppression of Romani political activity will continue indefinitely.

In London, Defacto news agency director Toma Nikolaev said the US State Department regards the marginalisation of Bulgaria’s 700,000 Roma as the most pressing human rights issue in his country. Corruption in government and the judiciary, and ill-treatment of prisoners, was widespread,he said.

“I can speak from personal experience,” Nikolaev said.”My offices were broken up, I was beaten in the street and abomb was placed on my balcony. That’s why I fled here to seek asylum.”

Nikolaev is facing extradition proceedings in London brought by Bulgarian prosecutors. They claim he should serve another five weeks of an original one year prison sentence imposed for a minor public order offence. The next hearing is taking place on Monday (2 July) at Westminster Magistrates Court.

A protest will be held outside the court agains this extradition and the latest bomb outrage.
Nikolaev, chair of Roma London BG, is campaigning against what he calls the apartheid regime of Prime Minister Boykov Borisov. Segregation in schools is still commonplac ewith many children live in shanty-town and get no educationat all.

On top of that, he claims the police under Tsvetanov are conducting a veritable reign of terror against Roma activists. Numbers are in jail, including colleagues of his in Kupate(Together) a political grouping of four Romani organizations which has put up candidates at general elections.

Initially, after the fall of communism, Roma came underpressure to vote for mainstream parties. You could lose your job, pension or apartment if you didn’t vote as you were told, says Nikolaev. There was also a lot of votebuying, which handicapped Romani political activity.

Euroroma was registered in 1998 and the following year Roma in Sliven founded Future, headed by Rusi Golemanov. Free Bulgaria and score of other groups followed, leading to the first successes in local elections.

Free Bulgaria won three mayoral elections and gained 60 seats on municipal councils. In 2001, two Roma wereele cted to Parliament but on mainstream party lists. However, after the 2005 elections only one Roma MP entered the Sobranie.

Two years later due partly to a voter registration drive by Amalipe and others, a coalition between Euroroma, Drom and PLAM, won close on a hundred council seats.Many other Roma were elected as mainstream partyc andidates. In Sandanski, though the town’s Roma community is not large,

Euroroma gained a clear majority on the towncouncil, setting a precedent in Bulgaria’s political history.

But this success, in a town named after Bulgarian revolutionary Yane Sandanski – who is alleged to have murdered numbers of his opponents – appears for now to be the hightide mark of Romani political progress. Dozens of Roma have been killed by police and neo-fascist thugs, and many more injured in paramilitary raids and pogroms. In today’s an atmosphere of repression few dare speak out while the majority are held down by a 70% unemployment rate and spiraling poverty.

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