Minister (without Portfolio) on Roma Affairs: opportunities and threats

For the first time, the post of “Minister (without Portfolio) for Roma Affairs” is being created. For the first time, a Roma woman has been nominated for a ministerial position. The introduction of the position of “Minister (without Portfolio) on Roma Affairs” is a step that could accelerate the integration process, but at the same time it is not a universal solution, a panacea and hides many pitfalls.

The facts

  • after more than a decade of extreme nationalism involved in running the country and talking about Roma and Roma integration was stigmatized (the fact that the word “Roma” was gradually replaced by “vulnerable groups” and talking about Roma integration was reduced to accusations of non-governmental organizations and the whole Roma community that it cannot / does not want to integrate). To this we must add the strong anti-Roma discrimination that we observe among the broad strata (a Eurobarometer survey from 2019 shows that Bulgaria and Romania are the countries with the strongest anti-Roma attitudes);
  • in recent years there has been a rapid improvement in the educational level of the Roma community. A 2019 study by Golbal Metrics and the Trust for Social Achievement shows that in 7 years, the percentage of Roma participating in secondary education has doubled and the number of Roma studying at universities has increased sixfold. This creates an increasing middle class in the Roma community;
  • Until now, there has been no Minister of Roma origin in Bulgaria. There were four Roma deputy ministers in different governments, one of whom was a woman;
  • In Bulgaria, there has never been an institution with managerial powers whose main competencies are related to the implementation of Roma integration policies. This is an obligation of the main institutions of the executive power (MES, MLSP, MH, MRDPW, etc.), as there are no directorates or departments for implementation of the integration policy, and usually this is an additional obligation to the work of a certain expert. An exception to this rule is the Center for Educational Integration of Children and Students from Ethnic Minorities at the Ministry of Education and Science, which also has no political-determining functions.
  • The coordination of the implementation of the integration policies between the different institutions and the cooperation with the civil sector are assigned to the National Council for Cooperation on Ethnic and Integration Issues. It is well known that the NCCEII does not have managerial powers and cannot fulfill these obligations. In 2013, most Roma organizations left the NCCEII with a request for institutional reform, which has not yet taken place;
  • The introduction of the position of “Minister (without Portfolio) on Roma Affairs” is not related to the creation of a sustainable institution. The practice so far is that the Minister without Portfolio has no deputies, administration and budget for the performance of his duties.

The pitfalls

In the There is such a people’s (abbreviated ITN) political intentions and programs announced so far, work on Roma issues has not been explicitly stated, respectively there is no position on what the Roma integration policy should look like and what measures a future government would take. There is no relevant information on the powers of a future Minister without a Portfolio on Roma affairs. It is possible to have the following negative consequences:

  • Institutional segregation of the Roma issue, which will lead to the abdication of the main institutions of the executive power with managerial powers (MES, MLSP, MH, etc.) from the implementation of any integration policies.
  • Exceeded expectations from the Minister of Roma Affairs, without him having institutional powers
  • Reaffirming the stereotype that Roma professionals can only work on Roma issues

The objective process of raising the educational level of the Roma community and the creation of a Roma middle class leads to the formation of a large group of professionals – Roma, who can and should work to increase the welfare of all Bulgarian citizens. There are enough specialists of Roma origin in Bulgaria who could hold leading positions in the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy and others and this would be the highest degree of real integration.

Dr. Antonia Valentinova, proposed by the ITN as Minister (without Portfolio) for Roma Affairs, is an example of a highly educated professional of Roma origin who could also perform managerial functions in the Ministry of Health.

Another important point that we must emphasize is that for the modernization of the Roma community it is extremely important to give a chance to professional women from the community. It is important that this opportunity is real, not just declarative.

Good luck to Dr. Valentinova, in whatever direction her career develops!

You can see more about the position Minister (without Portfolio) on Roma Affairs here.