Friday, August 17, 2007

Bulgarian police: Our safety first!

The above image is from yesterday Netinfo report about events that took place several kilometers from where I live ( Here is a quote from the text:
"On Tuesday night, there were Roma riots in the (Sofia) district of Krasna Polyana. Several cars were destroyed. Nobody was injured. Police presence was reinforced. The day before, four men were hurt after being beaten in a cafe... They were attacked by about 150 Roma who mistook them for skinheads. Property at the cafe was also damaged."
For those who don't know, "Roma" is the politically correct term for Gypsy.
Now, the million dollar question: If mobs of Gypsies armed with rods, spades and knives goes on a rampage through the city, damaging property and beating innocent people, who is to blame?
The answer of Volen Siderov's fans: The nasty Gypsies, with whom one should deal as Hitler did.
The answer of some politically correct people living at a safe distance from the Gypsies: The racist Bulgarian majority which, by discrimination and abuse, has driven the poor Gypsies to such acts of despair.
The answer obvious to anyone of the meanest understanding: The police, whose job is to deal exactly with behaviours like these.
However, our police have a different idea about their job. I am translating a little more from the same Netinfo report:
"Kamen Penkov, Deputy Minister of the Internal Affairs, spoke for the Darik Radio. In response to critics saying that policemen were standing by, idly looking at the armed men, he said that the police acted adequately in the very unruly night of Tuesday. "In this situation, against this group of people who cannot be compared to environmental activists, protesting Suhodol residents or retired citizens, I think that the tactic chosen by us was absolutely right," Penkov said."
The environmental activists Penkov was referring to are obviously the protesters campaigning to save Strandja (see my July 9 post). Suhodol is a Sofia suburb where the garbage of the entire city is stockpiled; the garbage was to be dumped there for a fixed period of time but the city authorities continued transporting it to Suhodol after the deadline and this triggered protests by residents. I am not sure which retired people Penkov meant, but police have recently mounted a campaign against old women who try to make ends meet by "unauthorized" sale of flowers and berries in the streets (Simion Pateev eye-witnessed one case and described it at, in Bulgarian).
In all these cases, the police acted brutally against people unwilling and often unable to defend themselves by force. I haven't blogged about this, as I didn't initially intend to blog about this week's riots. I am not going to let either the Gypsy problems or our rogue police dominate my blog. But Penkov's statement was too juicy to omit. Let me translate its essence to plain understandable language.
"We, the police, are prepared and willing to use force against offenders such as peaceful protesters and old women selling flowers. Don't demand us to confront numerous armed and aggressive men. We were quite right not to intervene in this situation, because it was unsafe."
This is indeed exactly the attitude and mode of action of Bulgarian police, as I have observed it for years. However, it was surprising for me that Penkov said it in plain text.


programmer craig said...

Our LAPD and Sheriff's Department did the exact same thing during the LA riots.

The police did absolutely NOTHING for the first two days. When the riots first started they were isolated and small, but when the police didn't react they spread across most of greater Los Angeles.

The riots, beginning in the evening after the verdict, peaked in intensity over the next two days, but would ultimately continue for several days. Continuous television coverage, especially by helicopter news crews, riveted the country and shocked viewers around the world. People watched as parts of the city went up in flames, stores were openly looted, innocent bystanders were beaten, and rioters shot at police. A curfew and deployment of California National Guard troops began to control the situation; eventually federal troops from the 7th Infantry Division in Fort Ord and United States Marines from the 1st Marine Division in Camp Pendleton would be sent to the city to quell disorder.

And that's not even accurate. After two days the National Guard was deployed, but they were largely ineffective (and ignored). It wasn't until Federal troops arrived in large numbers and with armored vehicles that the riots stopped. And thank God they did. I spent most of my 6 years in the Marines in the 1st Marine Division. I well recall what our training was for dealing with violent mobs, and that training did not include arresting people.

I've never quite forgiven LAPD for letting that situation get so out of hand.

Maya M said...

Programmer Craig, thank you for this comment! Although most commentators here make comparison with the 2005 Paris riots, I was thinking more of the 1992 Los Angeles riots and your comment at
It is said that the Krasna Polyana rioters had reasons to riot. They claim to be systematically harassed and attacked by skinheads. Without being very pro-Gypsy, I believe them (and not the police who deny the skinheads' existence). But, while a citizen may have reasons to violate the law, the state has no reason to tolerate this.
Without a state, the ordinary people could manage (with varying success) trade, communications, health care and education. In fact, the education system in Bulgaria is already dysfunctional and must be supplemented by some home-schooling, a fact partly explaining why the Gypsies cannot integrate. But ordinary people aren't able to manage law and order on their own. This is the state's basic function and therefore the state is never allowed to abdicate of it.