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Displacement of Roma community due to reforestation in Lozenetz, Stara Zagora, Bulgaria


Description:

City administration of Stara Zagora set up a plan for mass eviction of all  Roma settlements in the Lozenetz quarter due to a reforestation of the area in the period 2014–2016 [1] [2]. The plan started with the demolition of more than 50 Roma houses in July 2014. Two years later (2016), the land had not been reforested [1]

In the period after 1999 serious tensions between the municipal council and some private land owners, on the one hand, and the Roma community on the other, emerged. As a result, there were several cases of anti-Roma demonstrations and planned evictions as an authorities’ response. Following the 2011 election campaign promise, the current mayor and his administration set up a plan for mass eviction of all  Roma houses in the Lozenetz quarter and reforestation of the area [1]. The actual construction of Catholic boarding school emerged however [1] [2]. 

Still, approximately four hundred Roma were facing an increasing risk of living on the streets [1]. Thirty-eight of those households still live in the neighbourhood, sheltered by friends or relatives. The demolition resulted in the displacement of 124 children [1].

“We know nothing about these people. We know only that they keep coming and coming", the Mayor of Lozenetz stated [1].  

The local authority and the neighbours cite "the expansion of the Roma neighbourhood beyond the urban regulated areas in 2015 – compared with an image from 2004 which is accompanied by total deforestation of the surrounding area" [1]. This is why the Roma were evicted. But still afforestation never took place nor are the Roma included in the green urban planning or the reforestation plan in Lozenetz [1] [2]. 

More than 100 inhabitants of the Roma in Lozenetz had been throwing tiles at the police from a roof of one of the houses to be demolished [2].Others erected barricades and formed a human chain [4].  Two protesters were arrested and and authorities pressed charges against them [4] . Moreover, Roma district Fakulteta in the city of Sofia was in support of the inhabitants of the Lozenets district in Stara Zagora, whose illegal houses were demolished. Three trains were blocked on the road as a result of the protest [3]. 

The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee were also protesting the procedure undertaken by the Stara Zagora town hall: "Practicing institutional racist violence" in this case  and  "the creation of homeless people does not address social problems, it creates them. The irresponsible behavior of the state will lead to more judgments against Bulgaria and in the long term will have serious consequences for all of society," the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee said in a press release [4]. 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Displacement of Roma community due to reforestation in Lozenetz, Stara Zagora, Bulgaria
Country:Bulgaria
State or province:Stara Zagora
Location of conflict:Stara Zagora, Lozenetz quarter
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Urban development conflicts
Specific commodities:Land

Project Details and Actors

Project details

In 2016 the actions and decisions related to the housing demolition and relocation of the Roma households due to a reforestation of an area that never took place. At the same time the Roma were not included in the "green" urban plan. Instead, the Roma were expelled from the neighbourhood and faced risk of living on the streets [1].

The mayor of Lozenetz stated: “They should go back to wherever they came from” [1].

Project area:80
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:400
Start of the conflict:01/01/2014
Relevant government actors:Bulgarian government. The mayor of Stara Zagora.
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Local Engagement for Roma Inclusion (LERI) (micro-credits based) https://fra.europa.eu/en/project/2013/multi-annual-roma-programme/local-engagement
World without Borders https://www.ngo.sviatbezgranici.org/
The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee https://www.bghelsinki.org/en/

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Local ejos
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession
Potential: Loss of landscape/sense of place, Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors

Outcome

Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Migration/displacement
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Under negotiation
Proposal and development of alternatives:World without borders NGO and the LERI succeeded in convincing a team of two university professors, one construction tutor and two master students students to prepare and design the standardised construction plan equal for everyone in the city of Lozenetz. Some municipal representers were present at the meeting as well. However the municipal officials who had been directly involved in housing integration disrespected the LERI field expert and used racist statements against the Roma [1].
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:On a positive note, some municipal decisions were taken, such as offering land plots at a discounted price for the Roma, and establishing a social housing structure based on the research. Still only four families (out of 400 people) were committed to have houses on the new plots and there is a civil organisation that is able and ready to advocate for them. On the negative side is the permanent threat of eviction stemming from the notices being distributed in some sub-areas of the neighbourhood, then postponing the action for an undefined term; then distributing new eviction notices in another sub-area, then postponing again, etc. [1]. The reforestation never took place, nor are the Roma included in the "green" plan. From the beginning, the plan is to exclude the Roma from the city. Therefore, this conflict cannot be characterised as a successful [1] [2].

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Alexey Pamporov (2016). Local engagement for Roma inclusion. Locality study Stara Zagora (Bulgaria). European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.26092.97920
https://fra.europa.eu/sites/default/files/fra_uploads/local-engagement-roma-bulgaria-stara-zagora_en.pdf

[4] Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, press release 22 July 2014
https://www.bghelsinki.org/bg/novini/press/single/poziciya-na-bhk-vlastta-v-stara-zagora-uprazhnyava-institucionalizirano-rasistko-nasilie/

Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, press release 22 July 2014
https://www.bghelsinki.org/bg/novini/press/single/poziciya-na-bhk-vlastta-v-stara-zagora-uprazhnyava-institucionalizirano-rasistko-nasilie/

[2] Clashes Erupt in Bulgarian Stara Zagora over Illegal Houses Demolition
https://www.novinite.com/articles/162144/3+Police+Officers+Injured+in+Roma+Clashes+in+Bulgaria's+Stara+Zagora

Illegally built houses are demolished in Stara Zagora, News bg, 8 April 2019
https://news.bg/regions/butat-nezakonni-kashti-v-romskiya-kvartal-v-stara-zagora.html

The vision for Stara Zagora development does not include a Romani gettho, Infoz, 15 April 2019
https://www.infoz.bg/region/stara-zagora/5609-zapochna-sabaraneto-na-54-nezakonni-kashti-v-romskia-kvartal-v-stara-zagora

[3] Roma Protesters Block Three Trains in Bulgaria's Sofia
https://www.novinite.com/articles/162327/Roma+Protesters+Block+Three+Trains+in+Bulgaria%27s+Sofia

[4] Stara Zagora undertakes demolition of illegally built houses, BG on air, 15 April 2019
https://www.bgonair.bg/a/108-video/166572-stara-zagora-zapochna-sabaryaneto-na-nezakonni-kashti-v-kv-lozenets

Meta information

Contributor:Ksenija Hanacek ICTA-UAB
Last update21/09/2019

Images

 

Roma people protesting

Clashes broke out between Police and the inhabitants of the Roma neighbourhood in the city of Stara Zagora, Lozenetz district. Source: Novinite.com July 21, 2014, Monday // 10:01

Roma people protesting

Clashes broke out between Police and the inhabitants of the Roma neighbourhood in the city of Stara Zagora, Lozenetz district. Source: Novinite.com July 21, 2014, Monday // 10:01

Roma people protesting

Clashes broke out between Police and the inhabitants of the Roma neighbourhood in the city of Stara Zagora, Lozenetz district. Source: Novinite.com July 21, 2014, Monday // 10:01