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Kiril Kertikov, Sofia
The 'crawling' unemployment presents one of the most dramatic social, apart from economic problems facing Bulgarian society. The concern about it is documented in systematic and continuous researches. The answers to the question Which is the gravest problem before the country?" asked at national surveys invariably point at unemployment as a priority in the mass consciousness:
Priorities among the problems before the country
Unemployment is an especially heavy problem for the Bulgarian Gypsies (or Roma) who represent the third in size ethnic community in the country.
Dynamics of the Gypsy population in the years when censuses according to the ethnic principle have been held 2 (in %)
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There is no methodical practice in the Bulgarian statistical tradition, including the period of the 1990s, of studying unemployment according to ethnic indicators. Certain data in this respect can be obtained by extrapolations made by the National Statistical Institute, the National Employment Service and by some of the representative sociological surveys conducted in the country. The expert assessment leads to the conclusion that unemployment among the Gypsy community considerably outnumbers the general level of unemployment in the country and varies between 75 and 90 per cent.
There are complex reasons for this unprecedented situation. The most significant among them are, as follows:
a) The Gypsies predominantly live in settlements of a village type, where they comprise 4.6% of the population, while in towns they are 2.8%. (Demographic Characteristics of Bulgaria, 1993: 92). The basic occupation of a large part of the Gypsies for the last thirty years have been agriculture and cattle breeding under the conditions of agricultural co-operatives and state-owned agricultural estates. After the adoption of the Property And Use of Agricultural Lands Act, followed by the restitution of the agricultural lands to their former owners, the Gypsies were left totally landless and deprived of farm equipment.
b) Due to their traditionally low educational, professional, and qualification level, the Gypsies became the community which was most affected by the consequences of the restructuring of the Bulgarian economy in the conditions of developing market economy. One of the reasons for that is the fact that because of their low educational level (Bulgaria 1997: 62), the Gypsies have mostly participated in subsidiary production activities.
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Educational structure of the population in working age from various ethnic communities (1992 , in per cent)
c) In the course of the transition from a centrally planned towards market economy, the optimistically prognosticated real 'labour market' has not emerged yet. Due to existing ethnic prejudices and general negative social attitudes towards this community on behalf of the new entrepreneurs, it proved to be the most discriminated one with respect to the opportunities for labour adaptation and realisation in the new economic conditions.
The problem with the unprecedented unemployment among the Bulgarian Gypsies should not be interpreted from its quantitative aspect only. It is even more important to bear in mind that the matter at hand is the typical 'structural unemployment', which is developing into long-term unemployment, lacking alternatives in the coming decades.
Within the framework of the National Sociological Study Bulgaria 1999", a panel study on the Gypsy community was conducted. The methods used were sociological observation,
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content analysis of documents and publications in the mass media, semi-standardised interviews, secondary analysis of already conducted sociological researches.
The aim of the study was to look for answers to the question as to how the Bulgarian Gypsies adapt to the conditions of an unprecedented unemployment in the country. It was found out that the Gypsy community is quite heterogeneous in terms of ethno-religious composition and territorial dispersion, and does not have an established 'solidarity' strategy for adaptation. Although worthy of particular attention, the Roma ethno-cultural and political structures, established in the conditions of ethnic democratisation, proved to be helpless in coping with the challenges of an almost total unemployment (Kertikov, 1994).
In spite of the benevolent concern on behalf of non-governmental (mainly foreign) organisations, their real influence spreads over the media landscape above all. Several pilot projects have been run already, giving promising results at the start. However, the final results are still unclear, and certain doubts are also present.
On the governmental level the attempts to purposefully resolve the particularly acute problem date back to the last two years only. By the moment the present research was designed, they had not progressed beyond the project proposal stage.
In these conditions of unemployment, the Bulgarian Gypsies are forced to develop and apply basic survival strategies. They can be divided in the following groups: legal, semi-legal, and distinctively criminal.
2.1. Legal Activities
2.1. Legal Activities
The legal activities of Bulgarian Gypsies are concentrated in several groups:
Firstly, after the liquidation of the co-operative farms, part of the former owners united into co-operatives of a 'new type'. Due to the ageing of the members, the new co-operative farms have
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to use as hired workers some of the former estateless co-operators, namely the Roma. Statistical data about this type of activity are unavailable.
Secondly, part of the workers in the former Cleanness" departments at the municipalities are still performing their previous labour obligations. Many of them have been dismissed in the process of privatisation. The fact of being employed notwithstanding, the rest usually express dissatisfaction with their new employers.
During the observation of the workers in the private company Wolf" (Sofia) it was found out that:
- With the exception of the administrative staff and the drivers, and the mechanics maintaining the machines, almost all the rest of the workers are Roma.
- Roma employees express dissatisfaction with their new employer (Wolf" private company) and manifest social nostalgia for the social conditions and benefits from socialist times.
- They insist on syndicate and political protection of their labour.
- They express strong concern about their employment.
Thirdly, in the conditions of unprecedented unemployment, a developed form of earnings is found in the collecting and handing in of materials for recycling. Subject of this activity are mainly a) ferrous and non-ferrous metals; b) paper and cardboard waste; c) glass and other materials. The conducted observation on three stations for collection of materials for recycling found out that:
- Only around 30% of the people occupied in this activity are ethnic Bulgarians, mainly pensioners.
- The remaining two-thirds are Roma, approximately 1/4 of them children.
Fourthly, a characteristic occupation of this population in the conditions of unemployment is the 'garbage-ransacking' - usually realised in extremely ugly forms. The Roma 'collect' all sorts of
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objects, cast off in the waist containers - old clothes, shoes, amortised electric appliances for household use, and (to a greatest regret), cast off food as well.
The pseudo-garbage-ransacking, that is, the typical garbage-collecting, finds objectives in one of its modifications, which has become a peculiar 'Roma industry'. The matter at hand are the self-organised Gypsy teams who daily forage the waste disposals in search of various 'valuable' garbage. There are publications in the media about Roma clans, feuding for territories for this activity according to the rules of market competition. The local authorities are taking measures for counteracting this social pathology. The reported results are qualified as 'encouraging'.
A sociological observation on the house managers (or in case of their absence - the treasurers) in one of the regions in the capital (the Mladost - 4" housing estate, zone B"), found out that in around 80% of the cases the staircases are cleaned by Gypsies. Their work is generally assessed as acceptable in quality.
2.2. Semi-legal Activities
2.2. Semi-legal Activities
There are various semi-legal strategies for adaptation of the Gypsies to the conditions of high and lasting unemployment. The main activities of this type are, as follows:
A small part of the Roma (according to an expert assessment, around 10% of them) have managed to enter the 'big' or medium-scale business. They are mainly wholesale dealers, and in particular cases - drug dealers. On the other hand, some of them are occupied in production, usually of counterfeit spirits.
The predominant part of the Gypsy 'entrepreneurs', however, established small businesses (as street-vendors). It is typical for them to develop their activities mostly in the sphere of the so-called 'shadow economy'. Crowds of Gypsy street-vendors flood the markets, railway stations, bus stations, town squares, subways, sidewalks, etc. The taxes gathered from these trading ac-
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tivities are close to nothing. This type of criminal behaviour, however, is not particularly characteristic for the Roma only. It is typical for the greatest part of the Bulgarian traders regardless of their ethnicity.
2.3. Illegal Activities
2.3. Illegal Activities
The illegal, in the sense of distinctively criminal, strategies for adaptation to the conditions of unemployment are mainly:
a) 'Acquisitions' (an euphemism, covering the real meaning - thefts). The mass media pay particular attention mostly to the thefts of ferrous and especially non-ferrous metals. Some of them are highly risky and life-threatening for the perpetrators. Thefts of electric wiring and other high-voltage electric transmissions have taken human lives. By this criminal activity the Roma often violate sacred symbols, such as tombstones and national relics - copper statues and monuments.
A new criminal layer emerged - one of the 'Roma auto-thieves'. There is a mass conviction that the vehicle spare parts which they sell are stolen. This is not hard to guess, because they usually sell the spare parts at dumping prices outside, or near the official markets for second-hand spare parts.
b) Prostitution. It has been empirically proven that no less than 80% of the prostitutes on the ringroad around Sofia are representatives of the Roma minority. These results are similar to the ones obtained in Rousse about the Danube Bridge. Nearly 100% of the prostitutes at the Sofia railway station are Gypsies. The experts are positive that in many cases these are underage persons.
c) Illegal gambling. This type of activity developed as a basic occupation for a large part of the Bulgarian Gypsies. It is symbolised by the street gambling games, the illegal bingo-halls, etc., which evade the control of the official authorities. An empirical study on this type of activity has been conducted in the Lebeda" motel on the Sofia-Rousse highway.
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d) The boom of fortune-telling. Many Gypsy women stand on the streets and 'tell your fortune' by looking at hands, coffee, playing cards, etc. They catch many clients, because this type of activities are broadly advertised by the mass media as well. They publish and broadcast information about horoscopes, fortune-telling, prophesying.
e) Begging. This is one of the most characteristic forms of adaptation of the Gypsies to the conditions of high and lasting unemployment. It is considered as traditional for this minority group in the past, before 1944. However, in the present conditions it acquires new, extremely ugly forms. It becomes almost ubiquitous. Moreover, there is a massive use of intoxicating and harmful soporific substances, which real or pretended mothers give to children - mostly infants - in order to demonstratively keep them asleep in the cold outside. There is evidence for the existence of mafias who force their members to beg and collect the 'profits' afterwards.
f) Sales of Gypsy 'brides'. The matter at hand is an old Roma tradition and practice which has been officially prohibited during the decades before 1989. In the conditions of democracy and market economy this type of activity is freely flourishing. The tradition is being realised according to the market principles. The 'offer' for a 14-year old girl on the Dimitrovgrad market (registered by observation) starts at 2 million Levs.
g) Drug addiction and drug dealing. Drug addiction (especially in the form of inhaling of toxic substances such as acetone glue) is registered as an everyday practice of underage Gypsies at the Sofia railway station. In a free discussion with policemen who patrol at the railway station, they admit that drug-dealing is an usual business for the Roma circulating in the region around the railway station.
h) Intensive emigration - legal or criminal, Westwards or towards Turkey, Greece, Cyprus - in any geographical direction.
The xenophobic attitudes towards the Gypsies are mostly due to the above mentioned activities, rather than to ethnic prejudice. In certain cases conflict situations arise. In 1992 a group of researchers (Georgiev et al.) registered the predominant ethno-psychological stereotype about the Gypsies, built by the other two large ethnic communities in the country.
Stereotypes about the Gypsies (in %)
Despite the optimistic prognoses, shared by certain scientific circles, the data from the national representative surveys conducted under the leadership of Prof. N. Genov do not give reasons for reassurance.
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Would you accept a representative of another ethnic group for:
In the conditions of high and lasting unemployment, the Bulgarian Gypsies are faced with irresolvable, or at least hardly resolvable socio-economic problems. They are not merely Gypsy problems". They are, in their full and clearest sense, Bulgarian national problems. The reason for that is the fact that in the conditions of uncontrolled transformation of the Bulgarian society, the illiteracy, or semi-literacy of the Roma present a perspective for a large part of all the Bulgarians. Its consequences would generally repeat the structure exactly of the Gypsy unemployment.
Due to this reason there exists the gloomy perspective that the traditionally studious young Bulgarians (under the imposed 'market', but actually pseudo-market educational conditions) would be forced to remain undereducated and turn into cheap personnel working for foreign, no-better educated investors. Bulgaria has to face the crucial dilemma: Europeisation (that is, modernisation), or 'Gypsysation'.
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In the existing economic and social context it is not unlikely that the isolated cases of xenophobic attitudes about the Bulgarian Gypsies today would be reproduced tomorrow as analogous attitudes of the civilised world towards Bulgaria. That is why the major problem is: How to prevent the opportunity of the Gypsy unemployment in Bulgaria turning into a negative prototype (or model) of unemployment in Bulgaria in general?
One of the possible answers is to stop regarding and implementing the structural reform merely as 'privatisation', 'liquidation' and 'isolation' of production branches which have been successful until not long ago. In other words: to finally build a national strategy, envisioning not only privatisation (and even less a further liquidation), but rather such a restructuring of the economy which would lead Bulgaria to a merited and respectful position in the new international division of labour.
1The researches are conducted by a team under the leadership of Prof. N. Genov. The sum of the answers is less than 100% because the remaining seven answers are excluded due to low accumulations in percentages.
2In the period between 1976 and 1992 the ethnic self-determination" indicator has not been included.
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