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In My Eyes: The Human Rights Situation in Vidin from a Foreigner’s Perspective

Ms. Amanda Mayer

Advocacy and Fundraising

NGO Organization Drom

31 JAN 2018

As a visitor, there is only so much I can see. Having arrived in Vidin less than five months ago, I am still a firm outsider, and thus my observations on a topic so complex as the human rights situation in the small city of Vidin are and incomplete. I live nearby the relatively bustling city centre, and, admittedly, I do not see very many signs on a daily basis that would indicate the reality of a deep-seated problem with inequality and segregation.

In my eyes, this issue of human rights in Vidin as it relates to the Roma community could initially be easily overlooked by someone passing through. Apart from the occasional man or woman on the corner in need of spare change or something to eat, one could walk through the streets and even spend a fair amount of time in this city without realizing the deeper issues at play.

But with about 17,000 of Vidin’s 50,000 residents living in Roma ghetto on the outskirts of the city, according to a 2017 report, it is no wonder that there is so little an outsider can actually see. Roma kids are segregated into all-Romany schools, and shops and facilities are concentrated within separate areas on the city’s periphery, effectively keeping the Roma community apart from the rest of Vidin’s population (Open Society Foundation, 1). And the fact that they are unseen both exasperates the discrimination issue and allows it to continue.

Moreover, the Roma ghetto is surrounded by a wall and very often Roma kids and parents have to climb stairs in order to go to kindergarten and school outside of the ghetto.

For instance, the right to housing and shelter—while seemingly fundamental— is seldom considered by one who has never had it threatened or revoked. For those of us with places to live, it is not necessarily instinctive to dwell upon the plight of those without. But coordinated projects such as Organisation DROM’s Equal Access to Housing for Roma in the Town of Vidin, conducted with a grant from the Open Society Foundation, reveal Vidin’s crisis of systemic discrimination against a minority. An outsider learns that Roma houses found to be illegal according to building laws must either be modified to become legal, or else face demolition by the government. And in the common scenario whereby the illegal house served as a primary or only shelter, families are left completely homeless once it is demolished. Even in the case of legalization, it is often prohibitively expensive for Roma families who secure access to housing rights to pay off the necessary amount in tender (2017, p.10). 

 As a teacher in the local English language high school, the only context in which I even hear mention of the ethnic inequality that exists in Vidin  is the occasional, offhanded use of the word “gypsy” by students in the classroom, as a derogatory term to classify the Roma people. And although this stands out to me as plainly disrespectful, I am aware that it more likely comes from a place of jadedness and detachment than one of true hatred or malcontent on the part of the students. Perhaps they are numbed to the true depths of the human rights situation in Vidin by having lived here their entire lives, and in all probability, they do not think there is any way of changing the status quo.

In my eyes, I see traces of similarity between the social and institutional marginalization of the Roma population in northwestern Bulgaria and the treatment of African Americans in the United States prior to and surrounding the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Vidin’s human rights situation is unique, discrimination is not unique— not to this city, this region, or this country. It is a shared problem of all mankind, and our collective responsibility to eradicate it.

In my eyes, research and awareness campaigns, coupled with systematic efforts by NGOs such as the Open Society Foundation and Organisation Drom to collaborate with government entities, are the catalysts for change and represent a way forward for improving the human rights situation in Vidin. In my eyes, every person—man, woman, student, visitor, passerby, and resident alike—has a role to play in this mission, and has the potential to make an impact by supporting these organizations however possible.


Image credit: NGO Organization Drom, 2018