Did Bulgaria successfully count its Roma?

The following article was first published in Bulgarian by Roma Standing Conference, local partner of Proud Roma Free Europe. The original article can be read here

The Population and Housing Census is organised once every ten years in Bulgaria and is extremely important for each community in our country. According to the World Bank, ethnic minorities make up around 18% of the total population, and unofficial data shows that Roma make up the largest ethnic group in Bulgaria.

From a historical perspective, we, Roma, have consistently been undercounted in all previous official censuses. There are multiple reasons for this, including systemic oppression and injustice, ethnic profiling, negative social stigma and assimilation, poor methodologies and inequality.

According to the last census in 2011, there were 325,343 Roma in Bulgaria. We know, however, that our community is much larger.

Various institutions estimate that there are between 800,000 and 1,000,000 Roma, who make up 10% of the total population.

At Roma Standing Conference, we implemented the “Proud Roma, Free Bulgaria” campaign to help ensure that Roma are counted in the census. Each day, our team of 52 activists met Roma across the country to provide them with information about the census and how important it is that we, Roma, participate. In total, our activists travelled to 51 locations in 14 regions.

According to our data, the average number of Roma living across these 51 locations is 229,131, out of a total of 5,257 locations housing Roma in Bulgaria at the end of 2020.

During the census, we received numerous reports about the incorrect completion of the census questionnaires and, in general, irregularities in the way the census was conducted among our community.

All of this gives us reason to think that the Roma community will not be counted correctly once again, and casts serious doubt over the reliability and comprehensiveness of the data collected on the number and characteristics of the Bulgarian Roma population.

Based on the National Statistical Institute’s data, the total number of citizens counted in the current census is a little over 81% of the total population.

The remaining citizenry will be counted based on data provided by national institutions. This again puts Roma at a disadvantage because questions regarding ethnicity, native language, and religion will not be asked with the population counted in this manner.

The negative impact on the Roma community will be even more disastrous because, according to the Ministry of Interior, around 130,000 Bulgarian citizens do not have valid personal documentation and accordingly, the country’s institutions do not have information about them. A significant proportion of these 130 000 citizens are of Roma origin and they will remain outside the scope of the census. Not only will they be deprived of the right to self-determination, but will also be excluded from the total population count.

As a result of all of the above, the following critical questions remain:

  • ‘Has Bulgaria successfully conducted a census in which Roma were able to participate and declare their ethnic origin freely?’
  • ‘To what extent did the data collected on the Roma population comply with census legislation?’
  • ‘To what extent can we trust the data collected by the National Statistical Institute on Roma?’