In the first days of 2013 a photograph got to the attention of Bulgarian anti-racists and elicited a few quick replies. The photograph was uploaded in the spring of 2012 by a 28-year-old ethnic Bulgarian female, Margarita Angelova from Radnevo. The text that accompanies the photograph expresses outrage at the high income of single mothers of Romani descent inBulgaria. According to Margarita’s description, the photograph shows “An 11-15 years’ old Gypsy woman, who, instead of studying, has given birth to her first child, is automatically allotted the following childcare benefits.”
What follows is an erroneous calculation illustrative of Margarita’s inability or unwillingness to perform the elementary arithmetic operation of addition. According to the calculation, 100+35+20+2,15=240. Thus Margarita is able to claim that the net income of the Gypsy woman (240 BGN) exceeds the net income of a working “white slave” of the 188 BGN minimum monthly salary after tax deduction. Further, Margarita asserts that the Gypsy woman parasites on the “white slave”. The young woman’s racist resentment and curious arithmetic are sad to observe. Unfortunately, Margarita’s is not a singular case. In the progressive unfolding of social crisis since 1989, low literacy, political disorientation and chaotic resentment have been normalized.
All countries inEuropehave registered increased unemployment rates in the years of the financial crisis. In southern and eastern Europe impoverishment has been most substantial for the continent. The liquidation of industries and profitable enterprises (such as the Vazov Machine Plant in Sopot whose workers were protesting privatization at the time of writing) contributes to the lower employment rates and respectively, reduced income and greater insecurity for households. For an increasing number of households basic goods are becoming items of luxury consumption. Heating, electricity and water bills present the greatest challenge and protests against the heating and electricity monopoly companies are no surprise. Prospects are gloomiest for unemployed women and single mothers, especially in a country with a weakened social security system. A fresh example of resistance is the mothers who protested the meager maternity and childcare benefits. However, the protesters demanded that right to social benefits be made conditional upon a level of educational attainment. In practice the demand would amount to a legal exclusion of the poorest citizens – including a significant part of the Roma minority – from social benefit entitlement. It would mean the legalization of their social death.
The demand for educational attainment compromises the mothers’ protests by lending them a class-racist connotation. The protesters are not targeting the capitalist system, the profit principle, or the free market, which concentrate in the hands of the rich the goods created by the hands of working people. What they actually demanded is that goods be distributed between the exceptionally rich and the middle strata, practically exterminating the poorest working or unemployed citizens. However, systematic and longterm discrimination against the Roma in Bulgaria has resulted in extreme impoverishment, social exclusion, workplace and housing ghettoization, making Romani mothers and their children the de facto targets of the protesting Bulgarian mothers. This intersection of impoverishment and ethnoracial discrimination I call class racism.
On average the whole Roma community (because there are many wealthy members) is significantly below the national socioeconomic average. They are de facto segregated, have high unemployment rate, low education level, poor health and bad housing conditions. The overpraised European integration policy only draws water in a sieve and incites racist and anti-Gypsyist fantasies. Margarita Angelova is the embodiment of panicky anti-Gypsism. She claims that Gypsy received higher welfare benefits and live and breed on the back of the Bulgarian “white slaves.” Apart from erroneous arithmetic, her claim is also based on wrong assumptions.
The Bulgarian legislation does not distinguish between ethnic minorities. State and local authorities grant equal welfare to all ethnic groups. All in all, the support consists of 50 euros monthly allowance for uninsured mothers, single or married. Those who have worked, but have no insurance, or those who have gaps in the insurance payment over the last 18 months before giving birth, still receive 17 euros monthly child allowances. To get a supplement to differentiated minimum income of about 1 euro, a parent must complete a whole stack of papers. To continue to receive this “generous” sum after the third year of the child, the mother has to do community service work 4 hours a day for 14 days. The time-consuming procedure of claiming this 1 euro is hardly worth the effort even for those living in greatest misery. On top of that, filling in the papers is hardly possible for those most in need: lonely, unemployed and socially alienated mothers – ethnic Bulgarians and Gypsies – who are often illiterate, unemployable, and dig the trash bins in order to feed themselves and children. Finally, to receive all humble benefits listed above, children must have all compulsory vaccines. If your child is sick and the doctors postponed a vaccine, it will be disqualified from the social assistance system.
Against the background of this grave injustice, a few encouraging examples of alternative thought emerged. The position of Margarita Angelova quickly received critical responses. The first one was a humane call to all mothers and people to see the common social problems and not be racist. It was followed by an insight into the sexual abuse of minors placed in the context of patriarchal relations and the growing social crisis in the country. Yet most of the commentaries shared on the internet exhibited blatant automated racism. Of approximately 20,500 shares of the photograph, probably 500 made a critical remark. Mainstream media did not cover the story and politicians did not comment at all.
Here, I wish to emphasize another aspect of the whole case that I consider crucial. It concerns the displacement of the trope “profit” from capital onto the deposed ethnic group. In other words, the smokescreen of anti-Gypsy pseudo-statistics and criminology – as Margarita Angelova’s comment under the picture – has overshadowed the class conflict between workers (of all ethnicities) and capitalists (of all ethnicities). Profit, as we all know – but often tend to forget – is the driving force of capitalism. The sole raison d’etre of capitalists is their profit. No conservation, no health care for people, no commodity diversity: their personal profit earned on the back of the workers. When they control the relations and processes of production, capitalists organize them for the sole purpose of maximizing profit.
It is striking that Margarita Angelova describes the young Gypsy mother as one would describe a capitalist: a social parasite that lives off workers, works less, and gets more in the form of welfare “profit”. The only glimmer of hope in the confused words of the young woman is her ability to articulate criticism of the grave injustice to all poor people in just a few lines. But the potential critique of capitalism along class lines is completely shifted in the wrong direction the moment race – portrayed in the young Gypsy mother – starts painting the picture in different colors. Sadly, Margarita did not learn to recognize the source of social injustice, but this is not inexplicable. When in 1990 the school teachers were instructed to erase the last remnants of the political propaganda of the Communist Party, they threw the baby out with the bath-water. While the new neoliberal “democracy” showed its true face in the growing social abyss of post-socialism the new generations grew devoid of the tools of anti-capitalist critique.
The story about Margarita reminds us that it is time to start giving things their real names. How many people call the Bulgarian political economic system of the last 30 years capitalism? How many speak not of “democracy”, “transition”, or “communist corruption”, but of full-fledged, robust capitalism? Very few. And even fewer among those do anything to oppose the capitalist plunder. The privatization of industries, the liquidation of collective farming, the destruction of all common goods and services in Bulgaria, have all given rise to resistance movements, but these have been brutally suppressed, denigrated and discredited. Instead, the crimes of capital are presented as “a necessary evil” on the way to the bright future of the private entrepreneurs. How ironic! This future can bring us nowhere, as privatization is nothing more than the process of capital accumulation by the capitalist class at the expense of workers. As a result we witness the progressive impoverishment and alienation of the people on a daily basis.
It is high time we recognize that capitalism is the real cause of our social ills and resist it by fighting to create a better society of mutual aid, equality, and prosperity; one in which the welfare of the underprivileged is a common priority. The current moment of the crisis of capitalism is the ideal time for class war. We will not pay for your crisis.