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Bulgarian Gypsies - Marginalized Community by Unauthentic Religions

Associate Professor Vladimir Chukov, Ph D


    Gypsies, people migrated from Indian Pendjab, sprang forward throughout Europe. In keeping a centuries-long low level of integration, they suffer form external intolerance and infighting. Bulgarian Gypsy community is to be sampled as social outcasts whose background has been erased by the atheistic stamina of former totalitarian regime. The non-compliance with other main ethnic groups (Bulgarians and Turks) as though premised religious atrophy and civil-political sluggishness. The lack of strongly defined religious identity and in-group homogeneity remains among the underlying reasons for community's unsociability and political marginalization. In order to better revealing the religious profile of the considered community it is worth outlining the following:

    1. A narrow majority (50%) is Christian Orthodox confession. Indeed, the Bulgarian majority as holder of this denomination legitimacy shrugs off Gypsy laity through "expelling" them from ecclesiastic ranks. Thus, in being stripped of the official aparchy Gypsies seek to join another Christian denominations or beseech alternative cult proceedings to be implemented. Moreover, Julianian calendar safeguarding (like as the mostly Eastern Orthodox Churches - Russian, Serb, Armenian, etc…) by the local Gypsy Orthodox community, unlike the official Church, which accommodated Gregorian calendar (like the Catholics) in the outset of the 20-th century ground and fuel partitioning line between Bulgarian majority and Gypsy minority. So, feeling as "sectarian" Bulgarian Christian Gypsies closely approach Bulgarian Catholics and interact actively with them in third sector and political (predominantly municipal) level.

    Two significant political organizations "Free Bulgaria" and "Euroroma" had been founded. Both are mostly based on Gypsy Orthodox community, but Bulgarian political parties that claim to embrace Christian values do not officially interact with them. Communal coalitions remain the highest threshold of multifaceted interactions. It is noteworthy also to mention that the considered group completes local Gypsy intellectual elite on aggregate.

    2. The Muslims are the second group, nearly lesser than the previous one (45%). They felt in awkward situation because the Turks as holders of Islamic religion legitimacy in Bulgaria stretch out to swamp them as subordinate community like the other Muslims in the country - Pomaks, Tartars, Gircassians, etc… As a whole, the Gypsy dependence is so important that those people even do not consider themselves as such. They use the word "Millet" ("community", "mob" in Turkish language) to identify themselves in aiming to distinguish from Christian Romas. In the mean time, Gypsies are not welcomed in Turkish-frequented mosques, some Roma villages are devoid of clergy and mosques from the Chief Mufti institution gulfed by the Turks and Bulgarians. Even, some Turk radical imams refused forwarding funerals of Romas in Turkish cemetery.

    Minority status of Islamic religion follows in Bulgaria and Gypsy community's marginalization as though made Roma "wastepaper basket" for Islamic sectarian incursions. The Ahmadites, the Follows of Feutulla Gulen and other Sunni dissidents courted Romas since the political shifts had occurred in Bulgaria. In the same time, Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), the political organization of Bulgarian Turks coined ethnic pattern in the country to be known as "Bulgarian Ethnic Model", which relies on Bulgarian-Turkish relations only by undermining the large Gypsy community as significant domestic actor. MRF endeavors to topple down any attempt of Gypsy Muslims to be active on both civil society and political realm. Due to the above mentioned MRF policy ideas of alternative Chief Mufti institution and/or spread rival to official Sunni-Hanafi trend (like par example the Kharidjite one) recurred to few informal Gypsy leaders.

    3. The third main group is Protestant confession (5%). Its springing up as such engenders Roma community "permeability" and exceeding heterogeneity. As a matter of fact, varied Protestant denominations (Adventists, Baptists, Lutherans, etc…) as well as marginal Christian sects (Jehovah Witnesses, Christ Soldiers, etc…) have been chasing those people with objective of disseminating their religious views throughout Europe. As former Christian Orthodox they sold their souls for escaping from the poverty and official Church arrogance.

    The outlined topic is to be conducted strictly on comparative methodological frame. Firstly, the three-mentioned groups are to be compared on a gamut of religion-analyzing strands such as education, clergy formation, atheistic impact, day-life influence, permeability or resistance to sectarian pressure, preferred migration destinations (Christians - West Europe, Muslims - Turkey), etc… Important point to be enlightened is the relationship between religion and politics. Within this chapter an especial focus will be provided on Islamic community and its view towards Islamic radical tendencies and global terrorism spread after September 11 attacks. A fieldwork would be very useful in this sense.

    Secondly, a larger comparative framework is planed to be built. Adjacent Southeast Europe countries' Roma communities remain congenial measure for providing an in-depth analysis of Bulgarian Gypsies' religious background. I aim to bestow some time on study Romanian (with more than a million Roma gathering) and Macedonian (in practice, cantoned) ones that would be helpful while constructing Balkan comparative description.

    Finally, the main goal of the proposed research is revealing the anatomy of the Gypsy multifaceted religious background and the grim situation that they felt down. In short, the project aims to delve into interdependence religion-civil society activity within Bulgarian Gypsy community with special underscoring the peculiarity of religious traditions and cult procedures, which deeply impact the social and political isolation of the aforesaid ethnic group.