събота, февруари 05, 2011

Antoaneta Apostolova: “We will continue in the spirit of goodwill!”

The region called Slatina is situated in the eastern part of Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia. It stretches over an area of 1325.2 hectares, which represents 6.69% of the territory of the Sofia City Municipality. Its population is about 70 000 inhabitants, 8 000 of them being a compact Roma population who lives in the “Hristo Botev” quarter.

Antoaneta Apostolova was elected the mayor of “Slatina” during the 2007 local elections. According to the Roma from “Hristo Botev”, since taking the mayor’s office, she’s been putting a lot of work into solving Roma issues in collaboration with four local non-government organizations.

The greatest problem faced by the Roma from the “Hristo Botev” quarter is housing, which is unavailable for the majority of them. However, this is also an issue for socially vulnerable Bulgarians. “The problem is not ethnic”, declared Mrs. Apostolova and added that most citizens on the housing waitlists are Roma. More than 400 Roma families live in municipal housings. Apostolova notes that, unfortunately, Roma cannot always cover their electricity and water bills, rent, etc., because they are either unemployed or with low incomes. “Despite that the Roma are unable to cover their costs or are late with their payments, we do not divide the candidates according to ethnic criteria. We try to be professional and to satisfy the needs of the inhabitants of the “Slatina” region regardless of their origin”, the mayor stated. Thus far, 13 blocks of flats have been constructed in the Roma quarter “Hristo Botev”, where only Roma families are accommodated. There are 18 apartments in each block of flats. One more block of flats will be constructed soon.

Another pressing issue for the Roma living in the quarter is infrastructure, according to Antoaneta Apostolova. “The Municipality’s investment plan for 2010 includes the building of a railway crossing. This is a problem that has been postponed for 17 years, but hopefully it will be solved this year”, Mrs. Apostolova says with a smile. The biggest Roma school in the region, School No. 94, will be refurbished. During our conversation with her, she also announced that the kindergarten in the Roma quarter will be refurbished this year. According to her, the new urban plan of the “Slatina” region pays special attention to the “Hristo Botev” quarter. “Road arteries will be reconstructed, due to the plan that the junction for the “Tzarigradsko shosse” boulevard (one of the biggest in the city) should pass along the Roma quarter. “ Speaking of infrastructure, playgrounds have also been recently built in “Hristo Botev” with help from donors”, Mrs. Apostolova told us.

In the field of projects connected to Roma integration and social adaptation, in 2008 the region Slatina implemented the project “More different, more successful”, targeting children belonging to ethnic minorities. As the project leader, Antoaneta Apostolova invited four kindergartens, four schools and four Sofia city regions with compact Roma population– “Krasna polyana”, “Lyulin”, and “Vrubnitza” to take part in the project. “The project’s specific objectives were to ensure an equal start for the children of ethnic minorities during their enrollment in primary schools, the preservation and development of their cultural identity in a multiethnic environment, a  supporting educational environment for their successful socialization and cultural diversity as a source and factor for the mutual reconnaissance and the spiritual growth of the youths. The project was more than successful for us. After our successful work in collaboration, the four regions decided to propose an extension of the project”, Apostolova explained while discussing the region’s policy targeting the prevention of Roma children dropping out of school. Mrs. Apostolova is certain that this issue has been 100% solved in her region.  “1 000 children and their parents took part in activities such as the game “Mother, Father, and Me”, visits to museums and historic Bulgarian towns. We encouraged their participation in theatre plays, in order to motivate them to study and get them involved in various events”.

Bulgarian railways have been experiencing the problem of raids of Roma children on passing trains. In Slatina, the project “We become better and better” aims at decreasing and eliminating such raids. “There have been around 280 Roma raids on trains during 2007. Nowadays, when the train passes through the “Hristo Botev” quarter, there are no such problems, according to data from the Bulgarian Railways and Transport Police”, Mrs. Apostolova explained. This year, she will hold a presentation of the practices of the Sofia City Municipality in front of all regional mayors of the country, with the aim of disseminating and encouraging such projects. “We embark all the children on the most luxurious train, and go to nearby destinations. We do this periodically – once every five months. During the trip, we give them photos of broken train windows, and people who have been hurt during the raids. At the same time, they receive fruits, sweets, toys. After the trip, they also get hats and T-shirts with the inscription “We are better”. Thus, when the train passes through the quarter, the children do not raid it, because they know that they are also riding it”, said the mayor of Slatina, a region who is obviously successful when it comes to the issue of Roma inclusion.

According to Mrs. Apostolova, the Roma from “Hristo Botev” consider themselves a dignified community and do not want to be compared with others, who are notorious for their negative features. “In our region, the Roma do not sell their votes. There were three election campaigns during the past two years. No one sold his or her vote. How did we achieve it? Easily: by keeping our promises”, explained Mrs. Apostolova, who only spent two years of her mandate. Thus far, she has kept her promises towards the Roma: certain streets and school yards had been asphalt-coated, the subsidy of the cultural club has been increased, and the Roma participated in gala performances held in Hall No. 1 of the National Palace of Culture.

“I do not consider the inhabitants of “Hristo Botev” different or problematic. They appreciate the sincerity and the work that the others do for them. When I became mayor, it was necessary to become aware of the chaos in the Roma quarter. That is why I requested to have a deputy mayor responsible for Roma issues, in order that the people should see that the policies are made by them for them”, said Mrs. Apostolova.

According to her, the positive developments in “Hristo Botev” should be credited to the regional administration’s will to acknowledge the problems of the Roma community and to collaborated with it in order to solve them. “I like to communicate efficiently with people. If some of my colleagues from other regions of the country do not succeed, that is due mostly to their distance from the problem, which makes them unaware of it. We have to respect these people as they are. I will give you an example: the whole municipality collected clothes and furniture for a mother of 19 children to furnish her house. Besides, we have been providing her with daily food. We do not reprimand her for having 19 children. We are helping her to bring them up”, Mrs. Apostolova said in a resolute tone.

We also found out during our discussion with Antoaneta Apostolova that the crime rate in the Roma quarter has decreased. “The statistics for the region Slatina show that most crimes on our territory have been committed by Bulgarians. In addition, according to police data, the number of juvenile offenders is also decreasing”, she explained.

“From now on, I will continue working in the same spirit. We should not try to integrate the Roma. We should unite with them, through understanding, joint work and love.”

P.S. In 2010 Mrs. Antoaneta Apostolova was named the best district mayor in Bulgaria for her work on Roma issues.

Published at Roma Transitions.

3 коментара:

  1. Оги, нямаш идея колко нагла и безочлива жена е. Всичко написано е просто лустро. Аз живея в този квартал, аз бях част от обществения съвет, който спря да работи преди да е започнал. Там чух как за циганите нищо не може да се направи, защото те крадат и няма защо да се хвърлят пари на вятъра.
    Ваня Григорова

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  2. Ами аз писах тази статия, когато Милен й беше заместник. Сега вече не знам какво става!

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  3. Явно са те подхлъзнали с информацията, защото аз говоря за същото време. Да, направи някакъв проект съвместно с още няколко района, с чиито резултати не съм запозната.
    Но отчетената детска площадка представлява едно пространство 3 на 3 метра. С поставена една люлка и една мини пързалка. Неотговарящи на съвременните изисквания. Достатъчна за 5 деца макс. В цигански квартал от поне 10 000 души!
    Асфалтирането тази година се заключава в 500 метра от главната улица, преасфалтирана два пъти през няколко месеца, защото качеството е под всякаква критика. Останалите улици и остатъка от тази улица са като след бомбардировка.
    По 5-6 пункта на улица за изкупуване на отпадъци, които пречат на нормалното преминаване на хора и коли по улиците, защото препречват пътя. Които палят гуми и други буклуци, за да отделят полезните за тях части. Постоянно над квартала се вият гъсти, черни облаци, от които не се диша и водят до тежки заболявания.
    Мога да изброя хиляди неща, за които тя е алармирана и не й дреме.

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