London protest on Monday
A party activist lies critically injured in
a Sofia hospital after a bomb blast on
Friday (29 June) at the headquarters of
the Euroroma Party in Sandanski, the
only 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 in
intensive 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. Other
buildings also suffered damage, according to
the Novinite news agency.

Police are examining the remains to determine
the 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 Euroroma
Party branch. “We believe this attack was racially
and politically motivated.”
But Bulgariam Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov
was 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 newsagency 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 a
bomb 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 against
his 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 commonplace
with many children live in shanty-town and get no education
at 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 under
pressure 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 vote
buying, 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 were
elected 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 party
candidates. In Sandanski, though the town’s Roma community
is not large, Euroroma gained a clear majority on the town
council, 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.