Last night I had a very curious dream. There was a Fulbright conference in Sofia, and all the Bulgarian Fulbrighters showed up. One of the presenters showed us three statues. The first was ivory, and the presenter said it represented ethnic Bulgarians The second was a brownish marble, and represented ethnic Turks in Bulgaria. The last statue was ebony, and apparently represented the Roma population. The presenter then said, "If only God had provided us with a paintbrush so we could paint all of the statues white." All of us Fulbrighters were surprised, and one of them, D, spoke up. "Wouldn't it be better if God had provided us with a scalpel so we could change the way the majority thinks?"
Obviously, this dream stems from things that have been happening in my life lately. We just had a conference in Sofia about social and cultural integration in the EU. Some of the presentations focused on integration within Bulgaria. It argued that if we were able to provide the Roma with a good education, they could be integrated into Bulgarian society.
The Roma 'problem' can't just be painted over. It is a systemic problem. Regardless of the education level of an individual, Bulgarians perceive the Roma as different, dirty, and not fit for work. Yes, it is important that all Bulgarian citizens are provided with equal opportunities in education. But we also have to look at how ethnic Romas are treated in the streets and in school. If ethnic Bulgarians cannot accept Roma as part of the country, the Roma will not have the ability or the desire to integrate. We can't just paint all of the statues white.