Whoever aspires to hegemonize the region must deal with the trend and lead the historic transition to a post-Slavic order
Author: Emanuel Pietrobon – 29/01/2020
The Balkan peninsula is recording the world’s worst demographic crisis and no government has found any solution to reverse the trend until now. According to the United Nations’ projections, whose reliability is strenghtened by national data and studies, by the end of the century countries like Moldova, Serbia, Romania, Bosnia, North Macedonia and Bulgaria could virtually disappear as their native populations are expected to decrease at critical levels until the extinction point.
In the above-mentioned countries, the fertility rate has been being below the replacement line – 2,1 children per woman – since the late 1980s and early 1990s because of the constant discrepancy between deaths and new births and high rates of mass emigration abroad.
Bulgaria represents the most emblematic case of such demographic crisis: the country is estimated to resize at a rate of 164 people less per day, 60,000 less per year. Between 2050 and 2100, the total population is set to diminish from the current 7 million 128 thousands (2016) to 3 million 400 thousands.
But there is something untold about what is going on in the Balkans. While it’s true that the Slavic-centered ethnic core that has characterized the peninsula for centuries is likely to fade significantly, it’s true as well that these countries will continue to exist but under a different cultural and ethnic framework.
In fact, while natives emigrate abroad and those who don’t re-settle choose not to have children or to have small-sized families, Roma people, whose presence in the Balkans dates back to the year 1000, tend to have very large families for cultural reasons and their growth is now posing a challenge for the traditional social order because of the gradual disappearance of ethnic Slavs.
By the year 2050, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic will be Roma-majority and the ethnic transition will not take place peacefully. Inter-ethnic clashes, appearance of far-right vigilantes and people-led assaults on Roma ghettoes have become common phenomena in Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary, and they will characterize the rest of the Balkans as soon as the social pressure coming from the increasingly numerous Roma community will start arising and being felt in the neighborhood.
Turkey has understood what is going on and has significantly extended and deepened its presence in Bulgaria’s Roma community by means of culture centres, schools and mosques. Bulgarian Romas tend to be Muslims and Turkey is being pursued a strategy of re-Islamisation towards them which has also led to the first cases of religious radicalisation and the departure of dozens of them to Syria and Iraq to join the so-called Islamic State.
Bulgaria’s government has replied by expelling some Turkish-paid radical imams and strenghtening the control over Roma ghettoes but, in the end, the “containment” will fail because the ethnic transition will occur in any case.
According to Sofia’s Center for Demographic Policies, by 2050 Bulgarians will be the country-third ethnic group, after Romas and Turks, and by 2100 their presence will be almost insignificant – 8 millions Romas, 1 million 500 thousands Turks, and 300 thousands Bulgarians.
It’s clear that whoever is interested in shaping Sofia’s internal affairs must deal with the ethnic revolution and find the instruments to conquer the favour of Romas: today’s persecuted and much-hated minority, tomorrow’s major ethnic group.
Only three countries have the instruments to play and win the Roma game: Romania, Russia, Turkey.
Romania hosts the Balkans-largest Roma community, composed by 2 – 4 million people, Russia and Turkey have a historic and deep-rooted presence in the peninsula.
Many Europe-based Romas share a common heritage: their ancestors were born in Romania and it’s no coincidence that the most spoken dialect among Roma peoples is the Romanian variant, be they live in Serbia or be they live in Italy.
Roma culture is already spreading in Romania and the hidden segregation is slowly expiring as their folklore, music, costums and traditions are melting with the Romanian ones. Furthermore, many Roma “royal families” are based in the country and have a kind of influence among their connationals.
Romania can use its strong cultural influence, but Russia and Turkey could do something else: to exploit Roma people’s endless segregation to make the chaos spread. In Russia’s case, the chaos would serve the purpose to weaken the Atlantic Alliance’s eastern periphery; in Turkey’s case, the chaos would be useful as it would facilitate the neo-ottoman penetration in the region.
Shortly: Roma’s anger can be wisely exploited to make them a dangerous fifth column with which set on fire entire countries and challenge the EU-US control over the region.
It’s only matter of a few decades until the time bomb to blow up. Some countries, like Hungary, are trying to grant Romas some forms of self-government but, again, this strategy can be weaponized: self-government is the first step towards autonomy, towards independence.
Whoever is interested in winning the game must make the effort to understand the Roma world and how to use their centuries-old condition of segregated minority to re-shape the regional geopolitical panorama.
It is mandatory to train Romani-speaking experts, to open and fund culture centres to revive Roma traditions, to fund non-governmental organizations involved in Roma-related issues, and so on.
The Roma card will hit severely the peninsula and have the potential to drive towards a new Balkanization in the above-mentioned countries. The EU tried to play the card, with the so-called Decade for Roma integration, but it ended unsuccessfully: they keep being largely excluded by the labour market and the basic public services, they keep having the highest rates of illiteracy, petty crimes, and sexual-transmitted infections, the host countries did nothing to improve their standards of living and racism and segregation increased.
The game is yet to be over, but the question is: who’s going to open the second and last half?