In February 2005, in Sofia (Bulgaria) Central and South-Eastern governments signed an initiative under the name “Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015” in which were set various goals aimed to improve the socio-economic status of the Roma population within Europe. Half way into the Roma Decade, I went to Sofia were was to began this new era of tolerance and acceptance.
Bulgaria is the European country with the highest percentage of Roma population which stands to 5%. Despite this numbers, I found that the Roma population is hardly visible outside Roma ghettos in the country. Most Roma live separately from the rest of the Bulgarians. Schools are segregated, health clinics are not easily accessed, unemployment is rife. Most Roma even if are born in the country do not even possess a permit to stay which would entitle them to same rights as those enjoyed by Bulgarians. Fakulteta Mahala, the largest Roma ghetto of Sofia does not have regular waste collection, road management, adequate and safe electricity and housing. There is instead a world quite apart from the rest of the city, one in which ordinary Bulgarians do not enter, but fear and discriminate.
The reality is that for most Roma, improvements have hardly reached them. Entering any of the ghettos like Fakulteta Mahala in Europe you can hardly think of being in Europe.