Kremena Budinova: Like the Country, Like the Roma

Article published on July 2, 2014
Article published on July 2, 2014

Kre­mena Budi­nova is a Bul­gar­ian jour­nal­ist of Roma ori­gin with a long career in tele­vi­sion, print media and radio. Born in the Fakul­teta district in Sofia, Kre­mena lost her sight at the age of 14. Kre­mena proved to every­one, in­clud­ing her­self, that it is pos­si­ble for a blind per­son, stereo­typed by her eth­nic­ity, to be­come a tele­vi­sion re­porter.

“There is no ghetto in Bul­garia that I haven’t vis­ited,” says Kre­mena Budi­nova, after she gives me a warm wel­come to her house and leads me to the spa­cious gar­den. Kre­mena and her son built and fur­nished their new home, sit­u­ated in one end of the Fakul­teta district in Sofia, on their own.

“Mum made this,” says 13-year-old Ognyan Budi­nov, point­ing to a ma­sonry wall built of sym­met­ri­cally arranged round stones. One can­not but feel im­pressed not only at the fact this wall was built by a woman, but also that this woman is vi­su­ally im­paired. Some time ago, Arte came to Bul­garia to shoot a film about Kre­mena and record the build­ing of the house.

Kre­mena doesn’t like stereo­types and vig­or­ously neu­tralises them. “De­f­i­n­i­tions are il­lu­sive, I per­son­ally have no de­f­i­n­i­tion for my­self,” she says when asked how she iden­ti­fies her­self. “I’ve been re­port­ing on the topic for 17 years. Be­fore that I worked as a pub­li­cist of var­i­ous top­ics, but un­for­tu­nately, I’ve been la­beled a 'Roma jour­nal­ist', in­stead of a 'jour­nal­ist'. It puts me in a frame.”

Fakul­teta

Like the coun­try, like the Roma,” states Kre­mena firmly, while fo­cus­ing on sen­si­tive is­sues such as the lack of ed­u­ca­tion and jobs. She tells me that noth­ing in Fakul­teta has changed over the years, how the sub­stan­tial funds granted by EU in­sti­tu­tions have dis­ap­peared. Kre­mena di­rects her crit­i­cism both at the Roma and state poli­cies. Peo­ple in the neigh­bour­hood know by heart how much each po­lit­i­cal party paid them to vote dur­ing the EU elec­tions.

In the midst of our con­ver­sa­tion, loud music blares from a tape. Kre­mena and I ex­change glances (I re­alised this can hap­pen with a vi­su­ally im­paired per­son, as well). Not far from the house, there is a sev­eral-story white build­ing from where waves of music flood the neigh­bour­ing shanties every evening. A boy from the neigh­bour­hood ex­plains: “this is a restau­rant, some­times a disco” and that every­thing in “there is made of gold.” Fakul­teta, with its pop­u­la­tion of 45,000 peo­ple, has its sharp con­trasts.

Un­true stereo­types

The house has a spa­cious gar­den with rose bushes and bloom­ing trees. Kre­mena says that the Roma usu­ally do not like gar­dens around their homes but pre­fer their back­yards to be ce­mented in­stead, which is ac­cepted so­cio­-cul­tur­ally as a sign of clean­ness. When asked about the most un­true stereo­types about the Roma com­mu­nity, she starts enu­mer­at­ing.

“Chil­dren... Peo­ple think that the Roma give birth be­cause of so­cial ben­e­fits. Well, it’s not true. How will they sup­port them­selves on these BGN 35? (Bul­gar­ian Lev — Ed­i­tor) The Roma love their house to be full of chil­dren, to be filled with hap­pi­ness, it’s in their cul­ture. How­ever, a steady trend has emerged – the Roma have been giv­ing birth to fewer chil­dren be­cause of the cri­sis.”

Kre­mena points out the same trends ex­hib­ited by the Bul­gar­ian pop­u­la­tion as a whole can be de­tected in the Roma mi­nor­ity: in­ten­sive im­mi­gra­tion to the cap­i­tal, im­pov­er­ish­ment out­side of it.

“There are no big­ger pa­tri­ots than the gypsy,” Kre­mena adds, say­ing the Roma wouldn’t em­i­grate usu­ally, ex­cept for out of strong eco­nomic ne­ces­sity. When asked about the num­ber of Roma peo­ple in Bul­garia, she an­swers this issue is in it­self dan­ger­ous be­cause it cre­ates “so­cial ten­sion”. Ac­cord­ing to her, the num­ber of Roma peo­ple ex­ceeds 800,000.

The sup­port

The broad­cast about Roma is­sues has al­ways been an ex­ter­nal pro­duc­tion, which means Kre­mena has to make a liv­ing by con­stantly mak­ing ef­forts to find new donors. NGOs have of­fered her the strongest sup­port; BNT (Bul­gar­ian na­tional tele­vi­sion — Ed­i­tor) gives only air­time. At the award cer­e­mony in Berlin, Kre­mena learns from her for­eign col­leagues that the ex­is­tence of such broad­casts en­joys full sup­port of na­tional tele­vi­sions in other EU coun­tries.

At the mo­ment, Kre­mena is wait­ing for an an­swer from a few places where she ap­plied for fund­ing. De­spite the in­se­cu­rity, she feels grate­ful for her ca­reer and life. At the end of our con­ver­sa­tion, she shows me the bud­ding rose bushes in the gar­den, as well as her dog, which in­stead of growl­ing at me, waves its tail in a friendly way when it meets peo­ple.

Bi­og­ra­phy:

Kre­mena Budi­nova is a Bul­gar­ian jour­nal­ist of Roma ori­gin with a long career in the tele­vi­sion, print media and radio. She was born in the Fakul­teta quar­ter in the cap­i­tal of Sofia, which is pre­dom­i­nantly pop­u­lated by Roma peo­ple. Kre­mena lost her sight at the age of 14. Later, de­spite the phys­i­cal dif­fi­culty of prepar­ing for exams, she re­ceived one of the high­est marks at the uni­ver­sity lit­er­a­ture en­trance exam in 1993. While study­ing Bul­gar­ian Philol­ogy and Jour­nal­ism, she worked for a num­ber of media. Kre­mena proved (also to her­self) it is pos­si­ble a blind per­son to be­come a tele­vi­sion re­porter even though she was also chal­lenged by the stereo­types against her mi­nor­ity. Her work re­lated to the Roma mi­nor­ity started in 1997 with the “Ro­mano Dun­yas” pro­gramme on TV7, later on trans­ferred to the Bul­gar­ian Na­tional Tele­vi­sion (BNT) under the name “The world of the Roma”. Sub­se­quently, the pro­ject went under the aus­pices of the doc­u­men­tary broad­cast “Small Sto­ries” in 2011. Kre­mena lived through her hard­est times in 2012 when she tem­porar­ily lost her job. She found fund­ing for the pro­ject af­ter­wards but as of today she is again fac­ing fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties to keep the pro­gramme on air. In May, Kre­mena and doc­u­men­tary di­rec­tor Sve­toslav Draganov were awarded a prize at the CIVIS Media Prize 2014 forum in Berlin for their work.