A professional Roma woman shatters the clichés about the underdogs of Bulgarian society
Issue 51-52, December 2010 – January 2011
interview by Dimana Trankova; photography by Anthony Georgieff
"And what's your view on France expelling Bulgarian Gypsies?" Denitsa Mihaylova asked 15 minutes after we had been introduced at a cocktail party. Immediately she added, "You see, I'm asking this because I'm Gypsy myself."
At first, you'd never guess. Denitsa wears business suits, works at the consular department of the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry, holds a BA in economics and is writing a master's thesis that deals with the problems of Gypsy integration. She is 25 and has a four-year-old daughter.
If the 2001 census is to be trusted, there are 370,000 Gypsies or, as they are otherwise known, Roma in Bulgaria. Most live in Third World conditions and many are illiterate – 12.7 percent have never attended school, compared to just 3.5 percent of Turks and 0.4 percent of Bulgarians. A mere 7 percent of Gypsies have secondary or higher education, which explains the higher rate of unemployment among them as an ethnic group, which some statistics show to be up to 90 percent in certain locations. The child mortality rate among Gypsies is higher than average, and life expectancy shorter. The crime rate is statistically unproven, but lawbreaking is perceived to be more widespread among them and consists chiefly of pickpocketing and begging in urban areas, and pilfering farm produce and robbing houses in the countryside. Stealing metal wires and cables, and prostitution are widespread.
Gypsies seen to be making a living from work are usually employed by municipal waste disposal companies.
70 years ago, on 10 March 1943, Bulgaria's pro-Nazi government decided to defy Berlin and halt the deportation of Bulgaria's 50.000 Jews. This was down to the actions of one man - Dimitar Peshev. Just two years later he faced Communist justice and found himself on trial for his life. His niece Kaluda Kiradjieva remembers