Bulgarian cynics – by now the majority of the population – have a saying: three day wonder. By this they mean that every crisis, however extraordinary, lasts for three days only in people’s consciousness. For three days, the great and not so good wring their hands, previously supine authorities take spectacular decisions and newspapers devote pages of analysis. At the end of three days, whatever the original event – be it tens killed in a bus or train that has not been properly inspected for decades, or evidence of chronic corruption in high places, or some horrifying tale of surgical incompetence – it will be superseded by some other story and all will be forgotten in the labyrinth of the Bulgarian legal system.
And so a single event has disrupted the traditional Bulgarian election procedures, where red faced well fed men and women in suits forsake their gated communities and descend on town squares amid fanfares, pop stars and balloons to meet their voters. A nineteen year old boy was killed in the Plovdiv village of Katunitsa. It was reported in headlines as Bulgarian youth murdered by gypsies.
In Katunitsa – its very name is suggestive of a significant Roma presence as Katun means Gypsy Camp – inter ethnic tensions had been running high. It is worth noting at this point that the Bulgarian media never refers to members of the Roma community as Bulgarian. Crimes committed by Bulgarians are reported without reference to ethnicity. All crimes alleged to be committed by Roma are directly attributed to either gypsies or our dusky brethren. Katunitsa contains a number of exceptional residences built by Kiril Rashkov, a Roma Baron better known as Tsar Kirio. A local “Bulgarian” family had previously complained to the police about death threats made by Rashkov and his family. Their complaints were noted but not acted upon. Two days after their latest complaint was ignored nineteen year old was run over by a van driven at speed out of one of Rashkov’s compounds. Witnesses aver that the boy’s resulting death was no accident.
What happened next could be described as an outburst of retributive justice. Supported by incoming bikers and football fans, local youths set Tsar Kirio’s houses ablaze. Policemen stood by watching. The next day the central squares of the largest towns filled with young people responding to calls from facebook groups. There were chants of Gypsies to Soap and Turks to the Knife! – though the original incident had nothing to do with the Turkish minority. A march to burn down the central mosque in Sofia was stopped by a suddenly active police force.
Commentators in the media fell over themselves to explain what had happened. They fell into two groups – one decrying the baleful influence of uncensored facebook groups on the impressionable young; the others hailing the demonstrations as a cry for help from Bulgaria’s law abiding and abused majority. Politicians – even those with most to gain – were caught on the hop. None of the mainstream parties could look back on their record of inter-ethnic policies with pride. They had allowed the boil to fester until it exploded right in the middle of their festive season.
The death of a young person in Bulgaria acts as a catalyst for soul-searching from the media and for shoulder sloping from the powers-that-be. Spectacular action was called for. It would not be enough to arrest the driver of the murderous van but Tsar Kirio as well.
Stable doors that had been previously been left wide open for a thousand horses to bolt had now to be publicly closed.
Tsar Kirio was arrested. Like any alleged gangland boss he suffers from high blood pressure – so he was quickly driven from prison cell to hospital bed. What he is being charged with is not yet clear. But newspapers are now anxious to provide detail on how this one time pick-pocket has risen to become head of one of the most powerful Roma clans in Bulgaria.
The emerging details – if true – cast a fascinating light on the relationship between politicians of successive governments, the police and organized crime.
In summary it appears that since the fall of Communist rule, Kirio Rashkov has become a millionaire from the production of fake alcoholic drinks. Although in the past twenty years, his factory has been raided and even one occasion charges have been laid, he has somehow evaded any punitive consequences. Prosecutions begun by vigorous young investigators have wallowed in the marsh of judicial process, passed their sell-by date and come to nothing. In spite of all the palaces Rashkov has built for himself and the fine fenced park he has illegally created from state owned land, it emerges that he has paid no tax since 2005.
Several explanations have been offered for Rahkov’s apparent immunity from judicial or fiscal process:
1.He has advanced huge bribes to local police and customs chiefs.
2.The powers-that-be like to deal with feudal Roma overlords. They can keep their community’s petty criminals in check.
3.Roma barons can guarantee the gypsy vote – quite a considerable factor in elections – to the political party willing to pay the most.
The second explanation is particularly applicable when one looks at the power wielded by the Roma barons within their communities – particularly in those so called ghettos of broken blocks and shacks where the Roma have lived since communist times. It is a constant source of bitterness for the majority Bulgarian population that the Roma living packed in the squalid ghettos do not pay for electricity, but siphon it illegally and dangerously from the main grid.
What is less well known is that Roma do pay for their electricity – not to the appropriate company but to the Roma Baron.
The thought though that Bulgarian pensioners freeze to death through fear of high power bills while the Roma luxuriate in free warmth has infuriated the average person. When you add the certainty that Politician’s promises of an equitable rule of law are just words written on toilet paper disintegrating in an open sewer, you begin to understand the hopeless rage felt by one community against another. Both communities are exploited and extremely vulnerable. The young people on the streets chanting for the extermination of gypsies will be tomorrow’s emigrants. Their parents may turn to the right wing extremists for comfort.