Zor - Inside Europe’s largest Gypsy ghetto
In today’s Europe, challenged by unprecedented migratory flows and with the rise of nationalism not only along borders but also inside countries, minorities have been forced into ghettos where they are cut off, as if they were wounds, needing to be healed and prevented from infecting the immediate environment.
In 2019, Europe had more than 11 million members of Roma and Sinti communities, a number equivalent to the entire population of Belgium. But Roma communities suffer systematic discrimination. In June 2021 in the Czech Republic, a Roma man died when police oﬃcers knelt on his neck. In November 2021 in Greece, a little Roma girl was crushed by a gate, and died after more than an hour while passers-by simply looked the other way. According to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) in its second survey on minorities and discrimination (EU-MIDIS II), 80% of Roma people are at risk of poverty. The same survey reported that Roma people formed the largest minority in Europe, and suffered more discrimination than other groups.
In the city of Plovdiv in Bulgaria is Stolipinovo, the largest Gypsy ghetto in Europe. In the Communist era, it was an ordinary neighborhood, but became a ghetto after the fall of Communism and with the privatization of industry when Gypsies lost their jobs because of discrimination. Today, the people of Stolipinovo (approximately 80,000 according to the European Forum for Democracy and Solidarity) are social outcasts rejected by the Bulgarians living in Plovdiv.
The residents in the ghetto of Stolipinovo have a Turkish background, speak Turkish and identify as Turks. Most are Muslim, but diverse religious identities, including paganism, coexist within the community. The social structure is based on the family unit, with clearly defined gender roles and hierarchies according to levels of respect from the community and wealth. Cultural traditions are core values; events are celebrated in the open, usually on the streets, and are open to the community.
Residents of the Gypsy ghetto of Stolipinovo are victims of discrimination, being seen as stereotypes not fitting in with the local Bulgarian lifestyle and culture. They live in squalid conditions, with social, housing and health problems at critically dangerous levels. Stolipinovo, being surrounded by hostility and an atmosphere of increasing nationalist sentiment, stands as a portrait of systematic discrimination in Europe in the 21st century.