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At Europe's Biggest Gypsy Ghetto

In a contemporary Europe challenged by unprecedented migratory flows, a growing urgency to preserve national identity burns not only along borders but also inside, forcing minorities into ghettos. Like wounds, these need to be healed, prevented from infecting what is around them, closed. Gypsy communities count in 2019 more than 11 million people, and, according to an ethnographic study dated four years back, Stolipinovo, in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, is today the biggest gypsy ghetto in Europe.

Formerly an ordinary district of the city during communism, Stolipinovo was turned into a ghetto with the event of democracy and the resultant privatisation of industries which caused to gypsies the loss of their jobs because of racial discrimination. The current population of Stolipinovo, which is now considered as an outcast by the Bulgarian inhabitants of Plovdiv, is assumed to be around 80,000 people, according to the European Forum for Democracy and Solidarity.

The inhabitants of the ghetto have Turkish cultural and linguistic roots and identify themselves as Turks. Although the most common religion is Islam, the community of Stolipinovo has a diverse religious panorama, including paganism, and different religious identities coexist within the community. The social structure is based on family, strongly defined gender roles and a system of internal hierarchies, which rely on community gained respect and wealth. Cultural traditions are a core part of the system of values: life events are celebrated openly, mostly on the streets, and shared within the whole community.

Historically discriminated and stereotyped as in contrast with Bulgarian culture, the inhabitants of the gypsy ghetto of Stolipinovo live in squalid decay and daily social, housing and health emergency.
Surrounded by hostility and in an atmosphere of generalised awakening of nationalist sentiments, Stolipinovo is a portrait of systematic discrimination in Europe in our century.

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