Thursday, August 23, 2007

Gypsy teenager murdered by Bulgarian teenagers

On Aug. 21 in the town of Samokov, two groups of teenagers met, one consisting of Bulgarians and the other of Gypsies. They started a brawl. One of the Gypsies, 17-year-old Asparuh (family name given by different sources Iliev or Atanasov) was beaten to death. The crime scene was in the range of security cameras and suspects were identified quickly. Four were arrested, of whom two turned 18 this year and the other two are juveniles. The authorities, again, are eager to dismiss any notion that the crime was motivated by hate (
I remember a similar murder which took place in 1998 in Sofia. A homeless Gypsy boy was killed by skinheads, all aged 15-16. Then, a human rights activist said, "I cannot think of a crime more scary than murder of a child by children." I agree.
I never knew whether anybody was punished for the 1998 murder, but it is said that in Samokov alone, this week's murder has been the 4th murder of a Gypsy in 7 years and nobody has yet been convicted ( On July 27, 2007 Bulgaria was sanctioned by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg for failure to bring to justice the perpetrators of another racist killing. The victim, a Gypsy man (28), was murdered in 1996 in the town of Shumen by seven Bulgarian teenagers, all but one of whom were juveniles. Although the case was fairly clear, investigation was protracted until the statute of limitation expired and nobody was convicted (sources, in Bulgarian, in English).
I have been several times in Samokov, which serves as a gate to the Rila mountain. I remember it as a quiet town, I'd even say boring and sleepy. But it isn't quiet anymore.
When I heard of Asparuh's death, my first impulse was to pay a tribute to him by modifying or even deleting my Aug. 17 post, which is directed against his people. But then I thought over and decided to leave the post exactly as it was. Yes, it feeds stereotypes. But hate crimes aren't caused by stereotypes. They are caused by the idea that if The Other creates problems for us, we may solve the problems by getting rid of him.
People campaigning for minority rights often say, "We must fight prejudice, we must shake stereotypes." I don't find this a very good idea. Most stereotypes are firmly rooted in facts. Hence, "shaking stereotypes" means denial of reality and immersion in wishful thinking. Nobody needs a rosy picture portraying The Others as perfect people who they aren't. What is needed is acceptance. It doesn't mean that we may not want The Others to change and may not demand things from them. Rather, it means that no matter how problematic they are for us, we may never wish them away.
As for Asparuh, I hope that unlike the earlier cases mentioned above, this time justice will step in and perpetrators will be punished. Let me repeat what I added as a comment to the same Aug. 17 post: "To manage law and order... is the state's basic function and therefore the state is never allowed to abdicate of it."
UPDATE (Aug. 28): While police continue to deny that the murder in Samokov and the earlier riots in Sofia are motivated by ethnic tensions, psychologist Hristo Monov reported why the Bulgarian teenagers attacked: they thought that Gypsies mustn't be let into the central part of Samokov (source: Mediapool). Other sources said that the Gypsy youths went to the town center to buy ice-cream.

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