Up-Close with Violeta Draganova: “The First Woman from Roma Origin on National TV in Bulgaria”

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Violeta Draganova

There is a lot of attention on Roma origin today and recently the topic of double-discrimination of Roma women has become very popular.  In this context it becomes very important to emphasize Roma origin through positive examples. But placing too much emphasis on ethnicity can sometimes overshadow the qualities of a person and his or her achievements. That is why I want to tell you the story of a woman who is talented, hardworking and just happens to be Roma – Violeta Draganova.

I was always curious about the personality of Violeta Draganova – “the first woman from Roma origin on National TV in Bulgaria” – because somehow the most important news around her was always connected to her ethnicity. A few weeks ago I had the idea to talk with her, person to person.  In spite of the fact that she didn’t know me, and that I am not based in Bulgaria, she was very open with me. During the interview I discovered a very nice young woman, who has had diverse experiences, and is very talented in many areas. She was laughing from time to time and was very down to earth.  Somehow she was not as impressed with her Roma origin as many people seem to be.

Born into a family of professional musicians, Violeta graduated with a degree in Bulgarian Philology in 2004 from Plovdiv University “Paisiy Hilendarsky”.  She then continued her education at Sofia University “Kliment Ohridsky” with an MA in Electronic Media. While studying she became famous after she was hired by Bulgarian National Television as TV reporter, reading the news on the morning shift in 2000. She was placed in the spotlight because she was the first Roma woman to work there.  

When I asked her to introduce herself, she started with the simple sentence – “I’m Violeta Draganova. From Bulgaria. Journalist and writer.”  When she introduced herself in this way I realized that for her ethnicity wasn’t so important like it was for us. She defined herself by her vocation, as a writer and reporter.  

Her parents are Roma and they met while they were studying. Her mother was a choreographer and her father, guitarist. In spite of the fact that her parents are professional musicians she chose another path, or as she said.

 “Yes, music is part of my life, I’ve studied musical theory, piano, violin, I’ve studied in musical classes, etc. But then my interests changed and it was natural to follow them, to do what I’m interested, what I want. Music is part of my life, that hasn’t changed. I just never chose it as a career.” 

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Violeta Draganova

When she graduated from high school, Journalism “found” her when a TV team from a private TV channel in Plovdiv offered her a job. She “found it interesting” as she said. “I was only 19 then and that is how I start walking on this road.” That is how she started working as a journalist and that is how we know her today.

After the TV channel in Plovdiv, she started working for Bulgarian National TV in 2000 where success quickly followed. Not hiding her origin become one of the most commented facets of her career, since few people were expecting a Romani woman to work on National TV. After two years she won an award “For her contribution to the advancement of the Roma identity” from the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture in 2002. When I asked her why she didn’t hide her origin and if she was expecting the attention, she gave me an answer that made me ashamed for asking:

“I am a down-to-earth person so I didn’t expect such serious attention. It’s changed my perception of myself, not thinking that I have the world at my feet now. Rather knowing that I need to be serious about it, because it’s a big responsibility for the future.

The sudden attention from the media started to make me a bit uncomfortable because they were always focusing on my Roma origin. From their point of view it was like my origin meant something and it doesn’t. I am just from Roma origin like a lot of other people.  I wanted to show that I am not the only educated young Roma person in Bulgaria. I wanted people to see something more.”

Mrs Draganova had an unfortunate experience with discrimination when she was refused access to the public swimming complex “Leda” in Sofia. Eventually she won the case but for me it was an opportunity to ask her openly: Is there discrimination in Bulgaria against Roma?

  “Of course there is discrimination. But only by talking about it nothing will change; only actions can change the situation. Nothing else. When this situation happened I raise my voice because if I don’t do anything against the act, what kind of example I am going to give to the others? We need to show the people who are discriminating that there are laws and we need to obey them.“

Mrs. Draganova stopped working for National TV in 2006. After this she worked for the broadcasting training center ProMedia as a PR advisor, producer, and coordinator for the investigative TV program “Na Chisto” (Clean Slate), until 2010. While working at ProMedia she produced documentary movies on social themes which included Roma subjects too. From 2010 she worked for the TV channel TV7 as an editor.

In addition to her career in television she is also an author.  In 2008 was published her first book called “Alone with the Truth”, a novel which received the “young author” award in honor of Nikolai Haytov in 2008. I didn’t have access to her book from where I live in Budapest so naturally I was curious after all the good reviews I had read. I asked her what she felt about her work:

“I have loved books since I was child; I learned to read in kindergarten.  While I was growing up I often wrote a lot but never showed it to anyone. One day I began writing what I thought would be a private short story, just because it’s a pleasure for me. But then I was writing more and more and more. Suddenly I realized it was big enough to be a book and I decided to try to publish it.

My book is a fairytale for grownups.  One big metaphor is contains is – Can we hide from the truth? Can we make her to obey our interests? Can we change the truth? Can we sell or buy her? It’s about the truth in our life. It’s about how we deal with the truth; if we can we stay alone with her and what happens if we do.”

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Violeta Draganova

Having the chance to talk to a woman from Roma origin who has achieved what many Romani girls dream about, I wanted to end by asking Mrs. Draganova her opinion of the problem of Roma women’s discrimination and whether we should continue working toward equality:

“This is a subject that is never white or black because the Roma are so diverse. Even within Bulgaria we are diverse and Roma women are not a homogeneous group. We still have Roma girls in Stolipinovo,[where in some poor families] for example, where the most important thing for them is to get married, to have a husband and kids without even thinking that there is something else besides this. But we also have Roma girls for which there is nothing more normal than graduating university. This situation requires different measures and approaches. Whether the approach up until now has been adequate is a different question.

In Roma groups where women are living in closed communities and are illiterate we need a better approach. And by that I mean ways to get close to them, to actually speak to them and find a way to motivate them to want more for their future.“

Mrs Draganova is continuing to write and soon maybe we can enjoy her second book. I am more than sure that she will have even more bright future. I am sorry we didn’t have the chance to record full video interview, because I think more people should see Violeta Draganova “behind-the-scenes”, as a strong, educated, motivated woman from Roma origin who is very open and generous.  And I can say I feel proud that she is Roma and she doesn’t hide it.

Her ideas about the truth challenged me to think. If we remain “alone with the truth” about our origin can we be honest with ourselves about the importance of the fact that we are Roma?

I know my answer to this question, but I am leaving you to answer this yourself. I’m still inviting you to share your thoughts with me in a comment or email.

By Galya Stoyanova