Roma Are Equal! Justice Commissioner Vera Jurova Condemns Anti-Gypsyism in a Reply to RomaVersitas Bulgaria Regarding the Mitko Case

Two months ago, Roma university student members of RomaVersitas Bulgaria initiated a letter of appeal to the European Commission regarding the circumstances of the violent April 16 attack on a 17-year-old Roma boy that was recorded and distributed across social media. Mitko was beaten on camera by Angel Kaleev in Ovchepoltsi, a village within the administrative borders of Pazardzhik Municipality in Bulgaria. Kaleev punched, kicked and humiliated the boy, yelling that he isn’t equal to him because he is Roma. According to the uploaded video on Facebook, the attacker showed visible hatred towards people belonging to the Roma minority. The beating of Mitko subsequently went viral, but not as Kaleev expected, as it rallied Roma from around the region in a call to end violence and discrimination against Roma.

Members of Bulgaria’s RomaVersitas program, motivated by Mitko’s courage to stand up to such violence, lodged a complaint with the European Commission. Their letter, also addressed to Bulgaria’s core government institutions, concretely addressed persistent anti-Gypsyism in the country:

We, Roma citizens of the Republic of Bulgaria, do not support any violence or civil disobedience in this country, which claims to be democratic, but the facts show otherwise. We call upon all national and European leaders and to come up with a personal statement and position, and the national institutions to react quickly and take immediate and adequate measures under Article 162, Paragraph 2 of the Criminal Code which states: “Imprisonment of one up to four years and fine from 5000 up to 10,000 levs (€ 5000) for one who uses violence against another or damages his property because of his race, nationality, ethnicity, religion or political opinion." We ask for measures that would combat the anti-Gypsyism and would prevent the politics, the economics, the culture, the media and the academics from its varieties that currently exist in all public and private democratic systems.

The appeal was signed by over 149 Roma students from Bulgaria and other countries where RomaVersitas programs are being implemented, by Roma and pro-Roma NGOs and organizations, and by activists, academics and professionals from Bulgaria and around the world. The letter was sent to the Bulgarian authorities and to the Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality Vera Jurova.

On May 25 Commissioner Jurova replied in an official letter, stating that “the European Commission strongly condemns all forms of violence, especially against children, and any forms or manifestations of racism and xenophobia, including in the form of anti-gypsyism directed against members of the Roma community.” She assured the students that the Commission is committed to ensure that all Member States effectively apply Framework Decision 2008/913/JHA, which obliges all Member States to ensure that the racist motivation of any crime is regarded as an aggravating circumstance or is in any way taken into consideration in the determination of the penalties. In closing her letter, the Commissioner stated that “Videos that incite hatred should not be reproduced on the internet and should be removed expeditiously,” and for that she is looking for solutions together with IT companies, civil society and Member States.

In a move that surpassed the expectations of the signatories of the appeal, on May 31 the Commission, together with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube (“the IT companies”), unveiled a code of conduct that includes a series of commitments to combat the spread of illegal hate speech online in Europe. This response is unprecedented and proves categorically the power of Roma youth and students to change not only public attitudes but also official policies. After years of developing Roma students’ academic and professional capacity through scholarships, and insisting they engage in and contribute to their communities, the Roma Education Fund is happy to report this development.

To join the movement spurred by Mitko’s case, follow #Romaareequal

For Romea's article on the Jurova actions, click here.