Roma Standing Conference
Roma Standing Conference is set-up as a national platform for elaboration of consolidated positions on issues important for the Roma community. It will assist LIDER in the advocacy efforts.
We aim to make sure Roma voices are heard in the upcoming parliamentary election in 2021. The initiative will strive to ensure political committment towards the Roma community on behalf of people from different political parties runing for MPs from the region of Blagoevgrad. We will seek to do that through a series of training for Roma leaders, community meetings, partnership seminars with non-Roma allies and advocacy efforts. Increased informed Roma participation in the elections is expected.
Region of Blagoevgrad - both the town of Blagoevgrad and 4 other localities in the region
The Roma community in the region of Blagoevgrad is traditionally disengaged from political processes. According to the 2011 census, Roma represent around 5% of the population in the region, although our assessment is the actual percentage is nearer to 10%. This population is in unequal footing in terms of housing, employment, access to education, healthcare and other services. Our experience in working on the ground shows that the community is normally distrustful to authorities as a result of years of unkept political promises along with scapegoating the Roma community to mobilize nationalistic vote. The relationship between the community and those in power (or running) is however not broken beyond repair.
1) Roma community – investment in the Roma community to advocate for itself on local level and inspire active citizenship; this group includes 5 initiative groups in 4 localities and 15 Roma leaders which will undergo specific trainings.
2) Local stakeholders – professional and social groups with potential interest of implementation of Roma integration policies. These are possible allies on issues that concern Roma.
3) Candidates for parliament in the Region of Blagoevgrad – they will be e approached by advocacy efforts and invited to take specific commitment to address the issues for the community in the region. The project will reach out to candidates from the whole political spectre and independent, but leaving out nationalistic formations who use heavy anti-Roma rhetoric.
• Leadership trainings for Roma leaders – 15 Roma leaders from 4 localities will be trained on political process, issues prioritization, self-interest identification and alignment;
• Community meetings – 10 community meetings with Roma in 4 localities to identify pressing issues, prioritization and community agreements
• Partnership seminars – 10 partnership seminars with social and professional (non-Roma) groups to align their interests with issues concerning the Roma community
• Advocacy meetings – meetings and consultations with candidates for Parliament running in the region within the political spectrum
• Political forums: one political forum with candidates before the elections to present platforms and commitments; one forum with elected MPs from the region after the elections.
The direct impact in the Roma community includes increased leadership and community engagement capacity among leaders from four localities, along with engagement of wider groups of Roma in prioritizing and communicating pressing issues for the community. A shift in the perception of political process and re-imagined relationship with authorities and policy-makers is also expected through the direct contact between the community and power holders and achieving political commitments. As a long term-impact, the project strives to achieve positive policy developments in the region (with political commitments being implemented).
It is expected that new coalitions between Roma and non-Roma groups are built around shared interest and that political actors change their perspective on Roma voters.
While the Roma community does need specific measures to overcome the deep social exclusion it endures, that does not need to happen at the expense of the community at large. LIDER association has been designing a new model for cooperation which aligns the interests of the Roma community with other social groups and creates an environment where authorities are held accountable to their commitments. The model requires engaging broader groups within the Roma community, train Roma leaders and reach community agreement on priorities to be communicated to those seeking power. All of this is in the tradition of active civic participation within a community which is ususually excluded from the process.
The leadership, staff and volunteers around LIDER association are from the Roma community and are well aware of the challenges Roma face. Through our direct work with Roma communities and institutions in the region we have been able to identify major weak spots in the way Roma-related policies are being elaborated and implemented. We came to the conclusion that no significant change is going to happen unless a strong Roma community, in coalition with non-Roma groups, pushes for it and holds power-holders accountable. This project is also a statement against paternalistic approaches in working with Roma communities, which look at the community as a problem, rather than a resource and source of power and inspiration. We are undertaking this project to empower ourselves and our community.
Funding requested from Civic Europe
Human resources (staff, trainers, local leaders): 22 000 EUR
Trainings (travel costs, accommodation, catering, materials): 6 800 EUR
Community events and partnership seminars (room rental, catering, materials): 4 000 EUR
Advocacy efforts (travel costs, catering): 2 000 EUR
Political forums (travel costs, room rental, catering, materials, streaming): 5 000 EUR
Indirect costs (office, print, overheads): 2 000 EUR
We are interested to recieve any feedback, but experience/know-how on identifying social and professionals groups of the Roma community and engaging them in a process of alligning self-interest would be particularly welcome. Other experience on similar political process will be also appreciated.
We are deeply moved by the situation in our country. Bulgaria is an EU member state with the most people at risk of poverty, forced to assess with less than BGN 5 per day. Social inequalities between people in Bulgaria continue to increase. Some regions in the country become poorer. The state budget and social programs cannot contribute to decrease poverty and inequality. Neglecting us Roma prevents us from giving our full potential and contribution to Bulgaria. However, we work and contribute as much as we can, despite all the humiliation, fear and violence we face while working, while looking for work, while our children are learning in school. Often even our neighborhoods are attacked by radical groups, neo-Nazis and power excavators.
Why can't we wait any longer? We are deeply concerned about the situation in our country. Bulgaria is EU member state with the most people who live in the risk of poverty, forced to survive on less than BGN 5 per day. Social inequalities between people in Bulgaria continue to increase. Some regions of our country are getting poorer. The state budget and social programs fail to contribute to reducing poverty and inequality. The solution to this situation is in the hands of the Bulgarian nation. However, Bulgaria is losing its people. There are too many people who die prematurely and the birth rate remains low. Too many people are leaving the country, and too few people are ready to stay and live in Bulgaria. Bulgaria's aging population needs pensions, social and health care, but there is too few who can work to provide them. In such a situation, we have withdrawn, we are not voting, we are not raising our voices for the decisions that concern us. The Roma are part of the solution in Bulgaria. We are about 10%, the youngest and most vital part of society. Neglecting us Roma prevents us from giving our full potential and contribution to Bulgaria. However, we work and contribute as much as we can, despite all the humiliation, fear and violence we face while working, while looking for work, while our children are in school. Often even our neighborhoods are attacked by radical groups, neo-Nazis and power excavators.
The COVID-19 crisis has shown that ignoring the situation of our community puts us at too high a risk of infection and death. We lost quality education and the little income we had. This is not only a loss for us, but also a loss for Bulgaria. Our situation is deteriorating because of those who attack us and take our rightful place. Many politicians receive power from Roma, but do not share power with the Roma because they are afraid of the attitudes of the majority. But they also deceive the majority, they continue to destroy our economy, our health care system and education. They rely on fear, not trust. This is not the democracy we want. Many politicians win elections but lose the trust of the citizens. They have power, but their legitimacy is in question. If we continue not to vote, those who have lied and disappointed us will continue to do so. Those who attack us will be stronger. Our disappointment must be replaced by our strength to participate, to raise our voices more, to demand more justice. They took our vote and we gave them our place in power. We must regain our vote and regain power!
What can we do to change this situation? Bulgarian democracy is in crisis. However, we know that democracy depends on what people do with it. We want to fulfill our share, take responsibility and make democracy and Bulgaria better. We are part of Bulgaria and Bulgaria is also our country. We do not want anything from the majority. We want to work with all people who want a better Bulgaria for all. We want a democracy based on trust, competence and accountability. This is a task for every Bulgarian citizen and for all of us together. This is a new Bulgaria that we want to build and no one can turn us against our friends, neighbors, sometimes even members of our family who are not Roma. We want and deserve a new democracy, a democracy in which politicians are statesmen. We want to have a policy in which the people we choose are ethical and competent. Politicians we can trust. We want a policy in which we vote not only in elections, but our voices are heard after the elections. We want politicians to come to our communities not only before but also after elections. We want to be ruled by those who want better for Bulgaria, better for the Bulgarian future and better for all people in Bulgaria.
We must build on the achievements and wisdom of our ancestors. They always found hope where everyone else did not see it. They have experienced much worse moments. Thanks to them we are here. Our collective strength to demand change in our lives and our future has worked in the past. We have been fighting for 120 years for freedom and democracy in Bulgaria. Today our hope is our unity. The differences in where we live, how old we are and what language we speak, how we pray, what gender we are, do not matter. We are all Roma and we are together in this. Only together are we stronger and only together do we have a greater chance of change. Roma standing conference is our place for unity, common voice and strength. We are the largest, but also the least politically represented minority in Bulgaria. We are 10% of the Bulgarian society, but we are not 10% in the Bulgarian political institutions. If 20-30 years ago we did not see this, now we see it. Now we know. This injustice happens because they recognize our power. We are aware that we are a force. We know that we are many and that our community is growing. Our number is growing and our educated children and young people are becoming more and more. Our strength is growing. The question is, however, when we will say enough! The decision is up to us and now is the time.
On behalf of Bulgaria, we invite all responsible political candidates who believe in this new Bulgarian policy to:
You can support the Manifesto on the following link: https://bit.ly/3tv28Sr
When we talk about elections in Bulgaria, especially now when the parliamentary elections are coming up (April 4, 2021) there is low interest among the whole society. There is a thinking that the elections are rigged and the results are falsified, nothing depends on their vote. The corporate and manipulated vote is observed in almost all spheres of the social and economic life of the country. Administratively bought votes (circles of close companies, pension supplements, increase in salaries of civil servants) further affect the feeling of helplessness. The COVID-19 crisis has brought even greater frustration to society as a whole and a sense of injustice and prejudice. This feeling became especially clear after the implementation of the measures for Kovdi-19, which did not reach all sections of the population.
All political parties see the Roma as a source of votes, but not as a partner in political life. Political parties do not accept representatives of the Roma community on an equal footing in politics. They have an interest in keeping the Roma community in ignorance of political life in order to facilitate the manipulation of the electoral vote. For their part, there is political hypocrisy that uses the expertise and leadership of the community, but without publicly publicizing these relationships and without applying the principle of equality. Politicians are afraid to publicly engage with Roma issues so as not to receive an outflow of voters from other ethnic groups. The widespread lies and prejudices about the Roma community during elections often manifest themselves in strong aggression against the Roma.
For its part, the Roma community has great frustration with politicians and elections due to a lack of political responsibility for change. For a long time, the Roma have been lied to by both political leaders and political parties in all democratic elections in Bulgaria so far. There is a mistrust caused by the fact that for many years they have been lied to, misled and used by politicians.
The Roma community now more than ever wants a change and an alternative to the status quo. The Roma very clearly express their unwillingness to identify with the demonized image of the Roma community. There is already a strong active position of the people from the Roma community, who declare an adequate presence and desire to change policies with concrete and constructive ideas and solutions. They demand more clarity and transparency in the electoral process and political life, which will lead to the possibility of forming real expectations and opportunities. The community has a growing understanding that our future depends on ourselves, on our actions and reactions. The Roma community is ready for direct and open dialogue with politicians, it is ready to show interest and mass in the elections, it is ready to set the priorities and needs of the community, it is ready to infuse its potential for the prosperity of our country.
Politicians must realize the importance and potential of the Roma community, as the youngest minority as a resource for the economy and prosperity of our country. The Roma community as an ethnic society has contributed to the development of our country with a sincere desire for a better life.