An article in The Economist from October 8th spoke of “a week of racially charged rioting” in Bulgaria. I want to use this post as an opportunity to refute this article.

The problem as I see it is that last week, a crime occurred in Bulgaria, which raised a debate about a social issue. The Economist inaccurately interpreted it as a racial issue.

The palace of the gypsy mobster Tsar Kiro

These are the facts: for the last three years, there had been a feud between two families in the Bulgarian village of Katunitza, near the city of Plovidv. The feud culminated on September 23rd with the murder of a 19-year-old member of one of the rival families. So far, the issue seems completely criminal.

The matter became more complicated when the entire village, enraged by the brutality of the murder, rose to a violent protest against the family of the killer: the villagers threw stones and bricks at the mansions of the assassin’s kin, set one of the houses on fire, and completely destroyed a few of their luxury cars. The two families, the villagers, and the police got involved in the turbulence, and several people were severely hurt.

Angry village sets Tsar Kiro's house on fire

Let me explain why an entire village would rise against a single family. This particular family clan is that of Kiril Rashkov, or as he calls himself, Tsar Kiro. Tsar Kiro is a well-known criminal who built an empire producing and selling fake alcohol. He is filthy rich (thus his mansion and luxury cars in a village near Plovidv), and is obviously involved with corruption since he has not been put in jail yet. He has been arrested for owning fake alcohol distilleries several times and has numerous charges for illegally acquiring property. Tsar Kiro is, therefore, one of those filthy rich gangsters who think that they stand above the law and can do anything without worrying about the consequences. Unfortunately, this is a very typical phenomenon for Bulgaria and the Balkans in general.

The riots in Katunitza occurred because Tsar Kiro and his mobster clan had been terrorizing the village unpunished for many years – it so happened that the recent brutal, insolent murder broke the camel’s back.  Therefore, the reasons behind the riot were social: it was a reaction to an impudent reign of crime.

Peaceful protests against the police's tendency to close eyes before crime

And now, let’s get to the racial aspect of the issue. Tsar Kiro and his family are gypsies – or Roma, call it as you wish. He calls himself a “king” but in fact he has never helped “his people”. He is as far from the poor, deprived gypsies as any rich Bulgarian criminal would be – he lives in palaces while they live in the slums, and he does not give a dime about them. The 19-year-old victim of the feud was indeed a Bulgarian boy, but he wasn’t killed because of his race but because he threatened to bring a case against Tsar Kiro to court. Thus, the tension in Katunitza was of social, not racial nature.

It is ironic that during the unrest, the police was protecting Tsar Kiro’s property instead of defending the taxpayers, but this is a different matter.

The news about the events in Katunitza of course evoked various reactions. Many people from different cities around the country went out peacefully demonstrating in the streets as a sign of support for the villagers. In several places, these demonstrations were headed by an extremist Neo-Nazi group called Ataka: they raised anti-Roma slogans and tried to create calamities in Roma neighborhoods, but were quickly stopped by the police. The latter short-lived anti-Roma demonstrations expressed the views of one single group of people and by no means the views of the general population or of the entire Bulgaria.

Therefore, dear Economist, we are talking about a crime and a social issue, but not about ethnic tension in Bulgaria. 

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