Ellie Ivanova: “Some deeply ingrained stereotypes still exist today in Bulgarian society because of a lack of contacts and familiarity. Things will be different once everybody in Bulgaria has a Romani friend. The Roma don’t really need to be “integrated”, but to have the same access to opportunities available to all other citizens and to be free from the discrimination that leads to isolation and poverty”.
What are the main similarities and differences between American and European (Bulgarian in particular) attitudes to diversity?
Both the United States and Europe (including Bulgaria) constitute very diverse societies, the Balkan Peninsula in particular is a melting pot. However, the diversity is open, well-recognized and very visible in the US. In Europe and particularly in Bulgaria, minority groups are hidden both from public view (from the media and the public sphere) and from mainstream discourse, such as history and culture textbooks, as if they didn’t exist and people didn’t see them as real. When I first read a history book on Bulgarian minorities that listed well-know public figures whose ethnical background I had no idea about, I realized that there is a history and social reality kept well hidden from Bulgarian society. It is so sad that many people today have to hide their ethnic origin to receive mainstream recognition instead of taking pride in it and trying to shape the ethnic landscape of our country in a positive way. There is a whole layer of Bulgarian culture that we don’t know and that we have to learn from scratch about. A lot of groundwork has been done in this respect in the US and I’d be really happy to contribute a little bit to the public recognition of Roma culture in Bulgaria. Of course, there is discrimination in America as well. But society as a whole considers it a bad thing; it’s considered bad taste and a behaviour that goes against the norms of civilized society. In Bulgaria, on the other side, it’s not even recognized, and it’s considered normal. That’s the big difference, and for things to change, there is a huge need for a public debate on all of its levels and aspects. My hope is that my project will help change attitudes in this respect.