Bulgarian Gypsies - Economy

Bulgarian Gypsies have not until recently been involved in growing their own food; they were not allowed to own land and instead developed service occupations such as fortune-telling, music, horse dealing, bear keeping, entertainment, animal training, acrobatics, blacksmithing, coppersmithing, tinsmithing, woodworking, sieve making, comb making, basket weaving, shoemaking, and seasonal agricultural work. Many of these occupations continue today, in addition to middleman peddling, black market peddling, and the almost ubiquitous wage labor. In wage labor, Gypsies occupy a lowstatus economic niche: unskilled factory jobs are common, as are agricultural jobs on cooperative farms, street cleaning, and railroad cleaning. With universal education, Gypsies are beginning to assume professional roles as teachers, clerks, lawyers, journalists, and government officials. Music has continuously provided Gypsies with a viable economic niche in Bulgaria, both in the private and government realms. Gypsies have a virtual monopoly of some instruments, namely zurna (oboe) and tupan (two-headed drum). Whatever instrument they play, Gypsies learn the repertoire of the local peasants in order to be indispensable at weddings, baptisms, housewarmings, saints' day festivals, etc. The past twenty years have witnessed a grossly inflated market for modern folk music in Bulgaria. Gypsies have played a central role in creating this contemporary "wedding music," which boasts star performers. Adaptability is the key to Gypsy occupations, whether in the private or in the state-sponsored sphere. When working a government job, Gypsies often mold the job to their own Family's needs. Some see this adaptation of jobs as a subversion of the Bulgarian work ethic, which stresses pride and devotion to the nation. Gypsies often change and recombine occupations, so a typical person may have 3-4 sources of income. Gypsies are economically flexible within the centralized Socialist economy. They manage to keep the benefits of socialism without giving up the independence of the free market.

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