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THE YOUTH PERSPECTIVE ON THE ROMA IN VIDIN

THE YOUTH PERSPECTIVE ON THE ROMA IN VIDIN

Jonah Blumenthal, Video Advocacy and Fundraising

Photo courtesy by the author

Symbolic monument “The Vidin Synagogue”

 

May 6th, 2019

Since arriving in Bulgaria it has been clear that the Roma face an uphill battle. They are this nations “other”. Even before arriving in Vidin, while in Sofia, taxi drivers and other Bulgarians would ask where I was moving to. I told them Vidin. Many would scowl and ask “WHY”? They would go on to tell me something along the lines of the following: “Vidin is infested with Gypsies”. I usually tried to change the subject, and yet these individuals often persisted as if they were saving me from some perilous doom by giving me a heads up that “Vidin is overrun with cockroaches”. One night I got fed up. In response I asked the man I happened to be speaking with if he had ever met someone from the Roma community. He said no.

 

These experiences flavored my expectations of Vidin. Yet as I arrived, I realized that this is far from the truth. While here, I have experienced no negative interaction with the Roma community. This experience made me curious. Do people in Vidin feel a similar way about the Roma? What could be the cause of these negative beliefs? I have done my best to stay away from discussing the Roma community in my classes as its controversial nature was bound to lead to disappointing conversations with my students. However, throughout the year I had heard off hand comments calling people in class “Gypsy”, or explaining someone’s negative behavior by labeling someone (often falsely) a “Gypsy”. In one particular instance, students were kicking a ball from the playground and hitting the windows of one of my twelfth grade classrooms. The ball hit the window with a thud, and my students got up in anger to peer down at the culprit. They explained to me that “they are just stupid little children, and Gypsies!” Following this unfortunate interaction, I began asking my classrooms the following questions:

 

 

  • What do you know about the Roma people?
  • Where do the Roma come from?
  • Do you consider the Roma to be Bulgarians?
  • What are your parent’s thoughts on the Roma?
  • Do you know any Roma personally?
  • Do you believe that there is a problem with the Roma in Vidin?
  • If so what is the solution?

 

In all, I collected responses from two eighth grade classes one ninth grade, and a small portion of an eleventh grade class. In total I received 54 responses. The remainder of this paper will address my findings. However, I will not be doing statistical analysis on this data and so all statistical interpretations are strictly based on clear visual trends that I found within the data.

 

The Findings:

In response to the open question: “Tell me about the Roma people”. A large majority of the students (65%) responded with some sort of negative comment, while 35% of the students responded with positive comments.

 

From my collected responses to this question, I noticed a wide range of attitudes. This was interesting because I expected to only receive negative responses. I was happy to see that some students wrote very encouraging statements such as “the Roma are people just like any of us” while others wrote that the only solution to “the Roma problem” is “to use an AK 47” when I pressed this individual on the issue he said “this is just my honest opinion”. Clearly there are discrepancies amongst the youth’s perspectives on the Roma in Vidin.

 

Interestingly, I found that in classrooms containing a Roma student who is a positive social and academic influence on the classroom, students tended to be much more knowledgeable about and accepting of the Roma people. However, when a classroom’s Roma students were not integrated well and disrupted class, the responses were more negative. This trend held regarding responses to “Do you consider the Roma to be Bulgarian”. Perhaps integrating fellow students positively allows classrooms to think of Roma students as “one of them” while students who are disruptive are seen as “others”. It should be noted that there are plenty of ethnic Bulgarian students who are also disruptive. However, they do not face the same level of social stigmatization as those disruptive students who are Roma.

           

Lastly this brief research project discovered that a majority of parents in the community felt negatively (close to 50%) regarding the Roma. It should be noted that 17% of the students did not respond to this question. Therefore, 58% of students responded that their parents held negative views regarding the Roma. Having a parent view the Roma negatively seemed to increase the likelihood that their children felt similarly.

           

This small and quick survey supports further integration of high achieving Roma students into the school systems. These students seem to act as ambassadors and break barriers and stereotypes. It also supports the integration of Roma students earlier into these classrooms as earlier integration may lead to less stigmatization and greater rates of acceptance. Furthermore, there must be more done to create the feeling that the Roma, having lived in Bulgaria for generations, are in fact “Bulgarian”. Lastly, it also suggests that more must be done to change the minds of parents as this has an impact on youth beliefs.

 

Disclaimer

 

First, although the author is currently working in Vidin through the Fulbright program, none of the opinions expressed in this article are representative of this program as a whole. They are solely opinion of the author. Second, although, the author is currently living in Vidin, but it should be noted that he has only lived here for seven months. Therefore, these perspectives are not as nuanced as they could be. Additionally, the majority of the time interacting with Vidin’s youth has been through teaching English at a single school. Therefore, the author’s perspective does not have the breadth that this title implies. Lastly, the author does not speak Bulgarian. Therefore, the perspectives of those students that speak English well are more impactful than those who do not.