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Fellow Seminar

01 June 2017

Dr. Maya Grekova will present her research proposal on the topic: "Rethinking the Process of Roma Minority Integration (The Bulgarian Case)" on 1 June 2017 (Thursday) at 16:30h at CAS Conference Hall.


The main goal of the project is to rethink the concept of "minority integration" against the backdrop of Roma integration policies carried by the Bulgarian governments after 1999 as well as their outcomes. Such a critical reassessment requires a detailed analysis of the existing documents of the EU and the Bulgarian state which constitute the framework for the implemented policies together with the regular reports summarizing the results of their implementation. Central to my analysis is to deconstruct the implicit understand of "minority integration" which shapes all policies in this regard.

Whether it is explicitly declared or implicitly acknowledged, the publicly valid image of Roma in Bulgaria today construes them as a group that do not belong to Bulgarian society because of its significant "cultural differences". Those who share this notion should also accept its fundamental premises: that is, defining Bulgarian (national) society on the basis of ethnic origins and, therefore, inevitably excluding everyone who has a non-Bulgarian ethnical identity. The latter views, however, are embraced and articulated in public space only by the so-called extreme nationalists - their "extremeness" stemming from the uncontestable (from their own viewpoint) understanding that the Bulgarian nation (national culture, national society, etc.) is ethnically "pure".

"Extreme" nationalism is embraced by a small segment of those Bulgarian citizens who identify themselves as ethnically Bulgarian. Yet, this does not hamper the other larger part of ethnic Bulgarians to regard and treat Roma in Bulgaria as non-belonging to the Bulgarian society because of "their" significant and sustained differences that are unacceptable to a "civilized" (Bulgarian) society but are irrevocable characteristics of all Roma (i.e. the entire Roma community, Roma culture in general, etc.).

Precisely this perception - maintained in society at large throughout Bulgaria's recent history - has led to the current societal situation and systematically reconfirms it: in the Bulgarian nation state today, negative images and notions of ethnic/cultural difference embodied by Roma are produced and reproduced and, in effect, Roma in Bulgaria continue to find themselves pushed to the margins of society, isolated (or self-isolated) or permitted in public spaces only as an "unavoidable evil".

"Roma integration" was declared a state policy in Bulgaria in 1999 with the adoption of the Framework Program for Equal Integration of Roma in Bulgarian Society and the opening of the negotiation process for Bulgaria's accession to the EU. In the following years, this policy was substantiated with a series of national strategies, action plans and programs which professed a stable interest in the ongoing process of Roma integration on the side of Bulgarian institutions. Regardless of annual reports registering accomplished results in diverse spheres of social life, this policy in its overall thrust can be judged a failure. On the EU level, policies of Roma integration in countries with substantive Roma minorities are time and again assessed as having achieved minimal success; all the while, various European and national strategies and action plans determine "new" measures and apply a "complex approach" to fulfill the strategic objectives of Roma integration. A typical example of improving the integration policy is an EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies up to 2020. Following the adoption of this document by the European Commission, the Bulgarian Parliament passed National Roma Integration Strategy of the Republic of Bulgaria (2012-2020) (resolution of 1 March 2012).

As long as we speak of "integration of Roma in Bulgarian society", nothing essential can be achieved insofar as this rhetoric alone presets and reproduces a division between "Bulgarian society" and "Roma minority". Thus, the so-defined integration attempts can induce only a decline of self-identification as Roma among members of this minority, a decline that nevertheless cannot guarantee their acceptance by the "Bulgarian society".

The project aims to problematize the notion of "Roma integration" in light of the following understanding: it is Bulgarian society that is disintegrated inasmuch as it encompasses individuals who are isolated and placed into a disadvantaged position because of their ethnic origins; the integration process is a process of integration of Bulgarian society on ethnic basis - this involves first and foremost dissolving the significance of ethnic origins/identity as a factor determining human interactions and relations, as a reason for group isolation, as something that defines individual destinies.



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