Bulgarian Gypsies - Orientation

Identification. Bulgarian Gypsies are an ethnic group with strong historical ties to other European Gypsy groups. They have played significant economic and cultural roles in Bulgarian society since their arrival at least 600 years ago. In the 1970s, as part of the socialist government's assimilation campaign, the ethnic category "Gypsy" was abolished, and the word has begun to disappear from print. Despite the official denial of the existence of Gypsies, they are a growing population with a complex relationship to the socialist government. With the current retreat from one-party domination and the demand for democracy, it will be interesting to follow the fate of the Gypsies. Long-standing discrimination is not likely to disappear.

Location. Bulgarian Gypsies live throughout the country in both rural and urban areas. Their population is centered in cities with the largest concentrations in Sliven (over 30,000 Gypsies), Sofia, and Pazardzik. A number of Gypsy groups have been sedentary in Bulgaria for centuries, while others have been forced to settle more recently. The abolition of nomadism has been a goal of virtually every European government: an 1886 Bulgarian decree prohibited nomadism and the entry of Gypsies from abroad. Gypsies prefer to live in their own neighborhoods, but since the 1950s the socialist government has implemented a policy of integrated resettlement of Sofia Gypsies, tearing down many old neighborhoods and assigning housing in new apartment complexes. Many mourn the passing of the old neighborhood and extended family life, while others eagerly claim their right to live interspersed among Bulgarians. Although the entire extended family rarely lives together in a new apartment, they still gather frequently.

Demography. Reliable population figures for Bulgarian Gypsies are impossible to assemble because no census data on ethnic groups has been published since World War II. Foreign scholars estimate that there are 260,000 to 450,000 Gypsies among a total population of 9 million Bulgarians, representing 2 to 5 percent of the population. The Gypsy birthrate is significantly higher than the Bulgarian birthrate; families of 4-6 children are common among Gypsies, whereas the Bulgarian average is 1.5 children.

linguistic Affiliation. A large majority of Bulgarian Gypsies speak Romani, a member of the Indic Branch of the Indo-Aryan Language Group, and many also speak Turkish. The Kopanari, a subgroup living mainly in northern Bulgaria, speak Romanian. All Gypsies speak (and most read and write) Bulgarian, since education up to the eighth grade is compulsory. Romani has a rich oral tradition of songs, tales, and expressions, but it is not taught in the schools.

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