Is the Bulgarian census about to fail?

The following is a statement from Proud Roma Free Europe’s Bulgarian partner, Roma Standing Conference, in response to threats to accurate data collection on Roma during the national census, which runs until 3 October.

The year 2021 is filled with several significant events for Bulgaria. Besides the launch of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (2021 – 2027), this year will also mark the implementation of the National Strategy for Roma Inclusion and Participation for the period 2021-2030 and the execution of the national census.

The census, which occurs once every decade, provides an overview of demographic trends in Bulgaria and is to be conducted according to the guidelines set by Eurostat – the European Statistical System.

In the case of the last several national censuses, data on Roma has been lacking. For reliable and accurate statistics on the Roma community in Bulgaria, many institutions and state bodies rely on data collected and produced by scientists, researchers and non-governmental organisations, especially at the local level. This allows them to plan and implement programs and policies targeting Roma more adequately.

To support the accurate collection of data on ethnic minorities, Eurostat has produced guidelines on conducting censuses, taking into account the required methodologies for dealing with ethnic groups across the EU Member States.

At Roma Standing Conference, we understand the significance of the census for Bulgaria and the Roma community. Roma must participate fully and equally in the census to guarantee the reliability of collected data.

As part of our work, we have conducted a massive campaign to inform Roma communities of the importance of active participation in the census and encouraged as many Roma as possible to register as enumerators.

One of our most significant proposals as part of these efforts was opening electronic census points in large Roma neighbourhoods, where volunteers would assist Roma in participating electronically. Unfortunately, the National Statistical Institute (NSI) rejected our motion. Despite the NSI’s apparent openness to work together with us to encourage Roma participation in the census, their actions suggest otherwise.

In addition to these challenges, certain municipalities have engaged in dubious practices threatening the full participation of Roma in the census. In accordance with Eurostat guidelines, more than 525 Roma candidate enumerators requested to be enumerators in Roma neighbourhoods; however, we have discovered many cases where approved Roma enumerators were sent to collect data in areas without a Roma population. This, unfortunately, facilitates the collection of poor quality and inaccurate information while hindering the work of the enumerators and placing them in potential danger.

Simultaneous to these practices, non-Roma enumerators are being sent to collect data in Roma neighbourhoods. We have obtained information suggesting that non-Roma enumerators are collecting census data without conducting the questionnaire in person. Where the questionnaires are completed in person, individual participants are not always asked about their ethnic identity and are registered as Bulgarian – a direct violation of the law. This amounts to the distortion of census data, which Bulgaria must rely on for its development over the next decade.

The failure of the NSI to comply with European standards when it comes to the collection of census data on Roma will result in a distorted picture. Without an accurate overview of the number and demographic conditions of Roma in the country, Bulgaria will be unable to develop and implement effective policies for Roma over the next ten years. Moreover, such failures in the census process deprive Roma of the right to self-determination.

Roma Standing Conference insists that urgent measures be taken to:

  1. Open electronic census points in strategic locations and neighbourhoods where significant numbers of Roma citizens reside. Roma Standing Conference is committed to providing volunteers to assist citizens wishing to be counted electronically at these points.
  1. Urgently send instructions to the District Census Commissions to review the distribution of Roma enumerators, ensuring that they are sent to areas where a majority of Roma reside.
  1. Re-count households in settlements in which non-Roma enumerators violated the data collection process and marked Roma as Bulgarians.
  1. Extend the current census period.

The census requires the participation of all citizens in the country. The NSI is obliged to consider the specific requirements of all communities in Bulgaria and take necessary measures to reduce the risk of census failure.

This article was first published in Bulgarian on the website of Roma Standing Conference. You can view the original article here.