Bulgarian TV has lately been preoccupied with official proposals to close down many institutions for abandoned children. In a highly popular talk-show, the extreme right-wing party leader Krasimir Karakatchanov expressed his opinion on the issue, reaffirming his general position that the Roma minority is a burden for Bulgarian society and that drastic and often inhumane-sounding measures must be taken in the direction of their integration. Until recently, it was a public secret that the majority of the children in orphanages are of Roma origin. Unfortunately, this has now been officially confirmed. For this reason, many viewers questioned Karakatchanov’s presence in the talk-show: does he want to help the Roma despite his reputation of constantly vilifying the Roma in the media? According to unofficial sources, he is also behind the controversial Roma Growth Study which estimates the size of the Roma population in 2050 at 3 millions, based on a constant projected birth rate of 5-6 children per Roma woman. This is a different question because firstly, unofficial data estimate today’s Roma population as close to a million and secondly, not all Roma women are the same: some have only 1 or 2 children. Those with 5 or 6 children are a convenient myth suiting the needs of Karakatchanov. To return to the question, it is unlikely that Karakatchanov does have an interest in helping the Roma. He is more likely exploiting the issue to facilitate his political career. In fact, the method is effective since all major TV stations do not miss an opportunity to invite him whenever a Roma topic comes up, while forgetting to invite the Roma experts who have been working on integration policy for years. The effect of the media frenzy surrounding the closing down of orphanages amounts to a solidifying of the stereotype that Roma women have too many children, the creation of a stigma around the adoption of Roma children, and last but not least, free air-time for people like Karakatchanov to promote their ideas.
Everything has a clear and simple explanation. One of the main topics in the first Morning Show for 2011 on the channel of Bulgaria’s first national private TV was adoption. This channel had also been airing the campaign for the closure of orphanages. The adoption problem lies in the ethnic origin of the adoptee. One of the guests in the discussion was Velichka Georgieva, a 54 years old unmarried accountant. She is financially stable and can easily give an abandoned child a home and love. In the beginning of 2009 she filed for the adoption of a Bulgarian girl, between 2 and 4 years old, physically and mentally healthy. The problem is the word Bulgarian. As Velichka was explaining her situation, a TV host interrupted her at that word and asked her what that meant, and whether she would agree to adopt a Roma child. The answer was no. The next question was why. Equivocally, Velichka answered “I don’t know, I simply can’t!”
The main point of the discussion was to show the difficulties foster parents face. An advantage and a disadvantage at the same time of live talk-shows is that the topic can change completely if the journalist is not well-prepared. This is what happened here. Velichka said that she would adopt a Turkish-speaking child, but not a Roma one. By making a phone call, Tsvetelina Vassileva of the Adoption Council in Sofia, took part in the discussion. In her opinion, the main reason for the lack of speed of the adoption process is that most applicant parents put the condition that the child be light-skinned and not of Roma origin. Vassileva explained what legal reforms she hoped would be designed to stop the discrimination between light- and dark-skinned children. The journalist Anna Tsolova tried to give some edge to the conversation and asked Vassileva whether she believes there is no difference between a Bulgarian and a Roma child. Vassileva said she is convinced of that, but her answer sounded rather institutional than heart-felt.
Mrs Tsolova also professed her conviction, but forgot that when a journalist runs the Roma topic multiple times, he or she must be consistent in not bringing all Bulgarian citizens of Roma origin to the same common denominator. This has sadly not been the case for Tsolova. She asked what can be done to remove prejudice, oblivious to the fact that her generalisations in other shows dedicated to the Roma topic have also been feeding the prejudice against adopting Roma children. Tsolova and Vassileva as well as many other high-ranking Bulgarian officials and professionals have not learnt not to narrow in on the Roma issue in singular cases when a higher legal principle is at stake.
As long as Anna Tsolova continues generalising about the Roma community on most occasions, and Tsvetelina Vassileva keeps speaking a cold institutional language, many foster parents will not want to adopt a dark-skinned Roma child. The cue one could read at the bottom of the TV screen was “Why can’t Velichka adopt a child yet?” whereas it should have read “Why does Velichka not want to adopt a Roma child?”
Velichka does not want a Roma kid because she very often hears on TV how the Roma are bad and live in misery and believes that it might be genetic. Velichka does not want a Roma child because she sees that Bulgarian institutions do not respond well to Roma citizens. Velichka does not want a Roma child because the society, the media, the politicians have built a prejudice in her that the Roma are good for nothing. There is no single culprit for this misunderstanding, because public perceptions are constructed collectively and very much by the media and politics.
Published at Roma Transitions