Research Task. Walk through Stara Zagora.
1) Read the following text on the neighborhood Stara Zagora:
Stara Zagora is among the large district centers in Bulgaria. The city is located on the way from the capital Sofia to the city of Burgas on the Black Sea coast. It is home to one of the large Roma communities in Bulgaria inhabiting the Lozenets neighbourhood. Many Roma live in many villages and towns around Stara Zagora as well as in the whole district. Part of the Lozenets neighbourhood is an informal settlement, which has encroached on nearby green areas. The expansion of the informal settlement was partly fueled by economic migration from rural and periurban areas with high unemployment to bigger cities like Stara Zagora offering more economic opportunities. The informal settlement in the Lozenets neighbourhood has been often attracted public and media attention by becoming the target of demolitions of informal buildings, which the municipality describes as implementation of legal orders while some NGOs perceive these campaigns as symptoms of political populism. Demolitions of informal Roma housing even when they are proven to violate international human rights law enjoy large public support among the majority population and therefore are part of the playbook of nationalistic and populist politicians.
2) Take a virtual walk through Stara Zagora.
Assuming that you have downloaded on your computer the “kml” files provided as part of this e-module, you can now proceed to open them from Google Earth. To do that you have to go to “Projects” click on “New Project” -> “Import KML file from computer”. The file is called ‘Stara Zagora Lozenets.kmz’. More detailed instructions are provided in the e-module A Walk Through Makoko.
3) Examine the following sources:
- You can look at this account of one the recent waves of demotions and related evictions prepared by the European Roma Rights Center, which also refers to precedents.
- The environmental justice atlas also has mapped demolitions in Stara Zagora as they are presented by the authorities as part of a reforestation effort. Destruction of green areas and more broadly the harm caused to environment is both a typical blame put on inhabitants of informal settlements and a formal reason for evictions and demolitions.
- Demolitions in Stara Zagora have caused some violent clashes of a scale, which attracted the attention of foreign media: Violence erupts in Bulgaria as Roma homes built illegally are destroyed | Daily Mail Online (report with photos). Bulgarian media often present a much less empathetic account of the same events.
4) Make a list of arguments, explanations etc. in favour of and against the demolitions. Use the quoted sources as well as any others you can find referring to examples of demolitions in informal settlements.
You can e.g. with the argument of of public authorities that they are just implementing the law. You may discover deep layers of emotional reactions, ethical arguments, rationalizations etc.
5) Write a short essay to answer the following questions (700-1500 words).
- What do you think about the weight of each argument on your list? What do you think of the whole set combined?
- Altogether do you think that demolitions are justified, unacceptable. If you think that it depends on the context please try to explain in what way.