The swarthy electorate is most active at the polls
Elite political formations cannot do without the Roma vote. With it, they will enter the parliament, the holy abode of democracy
Elections are coming again and it will smell like a gypsy again. Because the swarthy electorate is most active at the polls. There is no force that can break his civic duty. For just a few leva, a portion of kebabs and a beer, the Roma enter the dark room.
Nikola Suknarov was the first to use this enthusiasm. “He has no great gifts, nor eloquence – a contemporary portrayed him. – Nevertheless, he leads the crowds. The qualities of a demagogue were great for the time. A large, strong, handsome man. A broad, handsome face, overgrown with a brown beard. Always smiling, friendly, flattering. Kind, helpful, attentive, open to everyone. No pride. Easily accessible even to the gypsies. He had learned a few words from their language, with which he commanded them at the elections.”
With the decisive Gypsy vote, Suknarov is a deputy in three National Assemblies. In 1885, he became Minister of Internal Affairs in the government of Petko Karavelov. However, he comes into conflict with the prime minister because he cannot appreciate the patriotism of his electorate. Moreover, in 1901, Karavelov demanded the withdrawal of Roma suffrage. He faces serious resistance in the parliament.
“I, gentlemen of the people’s representatives – pleads the village tribune Yanko Zabunov – I really see that by taking away the voting rights of the Gypsies, we encroach on the constitution. I admit that the Gypsies played a pitiful role in the elections; I also admit that it was abused many times with them, but you will admit, gentlemen, that whatever they may be, they bear burdens (taxes) in the state, pay tolls, and it would be unjust to deprive them of the right to vote.”
The writer Todor Vlaikov also opposes
“It is not only the gypsies whose votes have been exploited – he points out. – In such cases, whole masses of voters are dragged along like a herd and the gypsies follow the general trend. I witnessed how the gypsies from one village went with the mass of villagers from that village and they voted for one candidate, and the gypsies from another village with the mass of that village, and voted for another list. So that there was no case – at least I have not seen – that the gypsies were necessarily willing to vote against the government or for the government, but go with the general flow.”
The debate continues for several hours. Finally, Petko Karavelov takes the stand. “I will say a few more words about lighting – the first statesman raises his index finger. – If the American people will not allow any Chinese to settle in the United States, then I think it is desirable that the Gypsy rug makers should not be allowed to settle here either in Bulgaria. We don’t need voters of a low-culture nation.”
The American front-line experience convinces the audience. The hall accepts that non-Christian gypsies, as well as all those who do not have an established residence, are without the right to vote. The law was voted on in the third reading on May 31, 1901. Out of 96 people, a quorum of 90 raised their hands “for” and only 6 “against” the obvious discrimination.
The proud gypsy tribe cannot swallow the disgrace. The Roma barely lasted until 1905, when they convened a congress. The High Forum meets on December 19 in the capital’s “San Stefano” locale. The delegates from Haskovo, Kyustendil, Pleven and Byala Slatina arrive first. Then the others come.
The gypsy color of Bulgaria is grouped
At 2:30 p.m., Armadan Aliov, the mukhtar of the Sofia Roma, takes the podium. Dark, large, with a patterned turban on his head, a wide belt and a crotchless setre, he addresses the audience: “Allah yardum ewen! Welcome!”
After him, Ali Bilyalov and the Plovdiv delegate Ali Mutishev speak, who begins with “Sleep Prince Ferdinand! Long live Prince Ferdinand!” Then the lawyer Marko Markov stands up. It offers a six-person desk plus a cashier and clerk. They were elected unanimously. Markov does not promote himself as chairman, the post is implied.
The gypsies, the lawyer points out, are either an Aryan tribe from India, or they are Copts, that is, Egyptians. They came to the Balkan Peninsula in 870 during the time of Emperor Nicephorus of Byzantium. As Prime Minister in 1901, Petko Karavelov declared them an “inferior race” and took away their voting rights.
“The origin of Petko Karavelov is from the Karakachans – he is a gypsy!” Markov says authoritatively. Vasil D. Stoyanov, one of the founders of the Bulgarian Book Society (BAS), is also of Gypsy descent, the speaker claims.
The stenographic notes preserved the finale of the speech: “And if, say, the gypsies emigrate, who will tin the pots in the villages? Who will make us a hamaluk in the capital? (Voices: True-o-o.) Gypsies, gentlemen, are productive people and we are obliged to restore to them their deprived rights… (Applause.)”
The Congress elects two deputations
One for a meeting with the prince, the other for contact with the Speaker of the National Assembly. We are not an inferior race, the Roma insist. The electoral law must be fixed!
Among the guests of the forum is the correspondent of the London “Times” James Boucher. He bombarded the editorial office with notes about the event. Marko Markov shows the delegates a number and translates the word Gipsy. The Roma run to the Bulgaria Hotel to thank Boucher. He is gone and they order the porter to give him lots of health.
Albert Sonnicksen, a correspondent for the New York Evening Post, also took a keen interest. He even asks Markov to show him around the new gypsy settlement. He wants to immerse himself in the authentic atmosphere in order to convey it overseas, where at that very time the Chinese question is making noise again.
The world hears the voice of the Bulgarian Roma, but they remain misunderstood in our country. “Well, that’s enough, the cafe is full of pork and gypsies!” shouted a visitor to the elite establishment “Panah”. The protest was documented by the folk poet Ivan Vazov.
Now he’s going to get upset with a gypsy again. Because the elite political formations cannot do without the Roma vote. With it, they will enter the parliament, the holy abode of democracy. Where the fat salaries and juicy meatballs are.