Bulgarian Roma Families Left Homeless after Campaign Fueled by Racism

A disagreement over loud music, portrayed by Bulgarian media as an ethnic conflict, ends in the destruction of Roma housing units.

A squabble in June over listening to loud music in the village of Garmen, Bulgaria, received wide media coverage and was taken up by political parties. They focused on the fact that the conflict started between ethnic Bulgarians and ethnic Roma, thus presenting it as an ethnic conflict.

Locals urged the state to destroy the homes of Roma, which were built illegally, according to reports. This campaign was accompanied by public anti-Roma rhetoric, which was fueled, among others, by the media and the representatives of Bulgarian political parties.

Buildings destroyed

On June 29, four buildings were destroyed. The decision was taken under public pressure and in the form of a collective punishment for the alleged illegal activities of individuals in Garmen, without regard to the circumstances surrounding the people living in the buildings, who had not taken part in the incidents in any way.

The Roma families that had lived in the four destroyed buildings currently have no place to stay and are homeless, after the mayor of Garmen said there is no way to provide housing for them. The municipality intended to house them in an abandoned school building in the village of Osikovo, but the villagers there protested.

A home and family

On May 27, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) warned during the television program Bulgaria On Air about the risk of such escalations. BHC has repeatedly emphasized that the destruction of the homes of poor families, who had lived in them for a long time, without the provision of alternative shelter, is a violation of the right to private and family life and the right to housing — even if the homes were built illegally. Despite this, the destruction was carried out.

Forced evictions of people from their homes has already been condemned as a violation of international law in three similar cases against Bulgaria. So far, three different international bodies have ruled against Bulgaria: the European Court of Human Rights in the case Yordanova and Others v Bulgaria; the UN Human Rights Committee in the case Naydenova and Others v Bulgaria; and the European Committee of Social Rights in the case European Centre for Roma Rights against Bulgaria.

The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee will consider legal action against the violations of international law in this case.