Ethnic revolution in the Balkans

In Eastern Europe and in the Balkans there is an ongoing ethnic turnover due to very low birth rates of the natives and the very high birth rates of Roma people and by 2050 Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia and Serbia could be Roma-majority nations.

The ethnic composition of the eastern periphery of the European Union is destined to change deeply in the near future according to numerous demographic projections and scenario analyses elaborated by research institutes and demographic centres of Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Serbia and Slovakia.

Each of these countries hosts important Roma communities, settled in these territories since the year 1000, whose demographic weight has been growing in the last decades due to the reduction of the birth rate of the natives below the replacement level fertility able to provides a generational turnover., ie 2,1 children per woman, and the exodus of millions of workers, especially of childbearing age, towards the countries of Western Europe following the fall of the communist regimes, while Romanis show high and constant fertility rates.

The demographic projections elaborated by the United Nations and the World Bank foresee that the most serious and rapid depopulation of the planet will take place in the Balkans from the current era to 2100: by 2050, Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia will have lost more than 15% of their inhabitants and by 2100 will pass respectively from 7 million and 128 thousand inhabitants to 3 million and 400 thousand, from 19 million and 710 thousand inhabitants to 10 million and 700 thousand, and from 7 million and 57 thousand to 5 million and 330 thousand.

Bulgaria is the country in which the depopulation is already proceeding at a fast pace: 60,000 people less per year, 164 per day.

In the same period in which the indigenous peoples will almost disappear, Romani should turn from a minority to the first ethnic group: an apparently inevitable demographic revolution to which are linked inextricably significant consequences on society, economics, culture and politics.

The overwhelming majority of Roma communities in the Balkan countries are concentrated in ethnically homogeneous suburban neighbourhoods characterized by social exclusion and ghettoization, with no or poor access to basic essential services, such as education and health. In addition, high rates of illiteracy, combined with low life expectancy and high infant mortality, explain a large part of the high fertility which anywhere is above 3/4 children per woman.

Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Serbia and Slovakia are the most emblematic cases of this ethnic revolution.

Ethnic groups and distribution in the Balkans (Source: Global Millennial)

The Roma issue in Romania

In Romania, in the period from 2002 to 2011 the total population surveyed decreased from 21 million and 680 thousand to 20 million and 121 thousand. A more in-depth analysis shows that in the decade of reference a numerical reduction was recorded in each ethnic group, the most serious among Romanians, passed from 19 million and 399 thousand to 16 million and 792 thousand, except among Romanis, increased by 535 thousand to 619 thousand. [1] [2]

In reality, the number of Romanis over the total population could be much higher and it would be between one million and 200 thousand and three million and 500 thousand, according to estimates provided by the Roma and Travellers Division of the Council of Europe, the National Agency for Roma, and the Demographic Research Center (DRC) of the Romanian Academy.

Vasile Gheţău, director of the DRC, has elaborated a scenario analysis that has received a wide media echo in the country by taking up the findings of a 1992 research conducted by Catalin Zamfir of the Institute for Quality of Life Research, according to which, at the time, there would have been about a million of Romanis instead of the 400 thousand surveyed.

According to Gheţău, if the gap between the fertility rates of Romanian women (1.2-1.3 children per woman) and Roma (3 children per woman) were to remain unchanged, by 2050 Romanis could represent 40% of the total population becoming the first ethnic group by 2060. In the same period, the Romanian population would face a serious ageing process that would lead them over 65 to represent 31% of Romanians as early as 2030.

A study by the National Institute of Economic Research and the DRC entitled “Declinul demografic si viitorul populatiei Romaniei” (Demographic decline and the future of the Romanian population) has come to similar conclusions: Romanian population will extinct due to the exodus, more than one million and 500 thousand expats in the period 1990-2007, and due to the strong gap in birth rates among the ethnic groups of the country, 25.1 born per 1000 Romanis, 17.8 born per 1000 Turkish, 16.9 born per 1000 Ukrainians, and only 10.2 born per 1000 Romanians.

The coexistence between Romanians and Romanis is already complicated today, both for the spread of antiziganism in large sectors of the Romanian population and for the absence of will from the Roma minority to a real integration. According to Ilie Dinca, secretary of the National Council for the Fight against Discrimination and former director of the National Agency for Roma, the policies of social inclusion undertaken by the various governments over the years have failed mainly for reasons imputable to the Romanis: the policies to raise awareness on the importance of school attendance clashed against the persistence of early school leaving and the inclusiveness policies in the labor market clashed against the culture of parasitism created by the welfare state.

The statements of Dinca are also corroborated by an investigation of The Economist of 2015 on the integration of Romanis in the labour market, according to which only one out of five Romanian Romanis was employed at the time.

The Roma issue in Bulgaria

In Bulgaria, over the period 2001-2011 the total population surveyed decreased from 7 million 932 thousand to 7 million 354 thousand. In particular, Bulgarians recorded a reduction from 6 million 655 thousand to 5 million 664 thousand, and also Romanis, the second largest national ethnic group, recorded a slight reduction, from 370 thousand to 325 thousand people. In reality, the true dimension of the Roma community could be much higher considering those who identified themselves as Turks or Bulgarians due to religious views or clanistic-family history and those who preferred not to declare their ethnicity (14.9% ). It is analyzing these eventualities and the ethnic composition between the age group 0-9 years that the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences raised the percentage of Romanis to 11%, while the Center for Demographic Policies of Sofia at 16-17% – ie one million individuals.

The Center for Demographic Policies of Sofia has drawn up some demographic projections, elaborated based on the emigration, mortality and fertility rates of the ethnic groups of the country, currently separated by important differences and in the future destined to crystallize or accentuate – unless there will be radical changes in national dynamics. By 2050 the Bulgarians could become the third ethnic group of the country, about 800 thousand people, overtaken by Romanis, 3 million and 500 thousand, and Turks, 1 million and 200 thousand; by 2100 historical Bulgaria could cease to exist, as inhabited by 8 million Romanis, 1 million and 500 thousand Turks and only 300 thousand Bulgarians.

The situation of the Bulgarian Romanis is the most serious among the Balkans in light of the percentage weight of the minority and of the future demographic dynamics that will turn Bulgaria into the first quasi-ethnically Roma country in the world.

The demographic transformation will be more traumatic than elsewhere in the absence of policies aimed at social inclusion, improvement of literacy, professionalization and nationalization of Romanis because already today Bulgaria is the European country where anti-Roma political rhetoric is more present and with the greatest inter-ethnic tensions.

The most recent studies by the World Bank on the Roma issue in Bulgaria, respectively conducted in 2003 and 2010, show some very disturbing data: 15% of Roma have not received any kind of education, while 89% of them only hold an elementary license; and every year the Bulgarian economy loses about 526 million euros due to the lacked integration of Romanis into the national labor market. Again in 2015, according to World Bank estimates, only one out of five Roma was employed.

The Roma issue in Hungary

In Hungary in the period 2001-2011 the total population surveyed decreased from 10 million and 198 thousand to 9 million and 937 thousand. Also, in this case, a more in-depth analysis shows that in the decade of reference there has been a significant numerical reduction of the majority ethnic group, the Hungarians, from 9 million and 416 thousand to 8 million and 504 thousand units, while Romanis have increased from 189 thousand to 315 thousand.[3] [4]

As in the other countries the real dimensions of the Roma community are probably greater, between 500 thousand and one million, according to the Roma and Travellers Division of the Council of Europe and to a research of the University of Debrecen.

A study of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences led by Attila Papp aimed at discovering the true percentage of Romanis based on their presence in schools has come to some very interesting conclusions and has received wide media coverage. Papp’s research revealed that Roma students make up 4.2% to 34.3% of those enrolled in public schools, with a high concentration in the regions of eastern Hungary. In some districts of Budapest from 23% to 43% of new students in elementary and high schools are of Roma origin.

The overtaking of the Roma on Hungarians expected in the near future cannot happen peacefully without radical changes in the Hungarian society, since this minority is largely excluded from the world of work (in 2015 only one out of six Roma had jobs according to the Bank World), high rates of school dropout are present and the conditions of endemic poverty and segregation feed a worrying tendency to involvement in criminal activities, in turn a source of further tension with the indigenous peoples.

According to a survey by The Independent in 2011, the inclusion of Roma in Hungary is very far: one-third of Roma children do not finish the primary education, the average unemployment rate in the community is 85% – with peaks of 100% in some regions. Furthermore, the gap between the fertility rates of Hungarians and Romanis will lead to an ethnic overturn in the near future given that almost one in two babies is of Roma origins and half of the Hungarian Romanis is under 20.

The Roma issue in Slovakia

In Slovakia in the period 2001-2011 the total population surveyed recorded a slight increase, from 5 million and 379 thousand to 5 million and 397 thousand. Also, in this case, the ethnic Slovakians decreased, from 4 million 614 thousand to 4 million 352 thousand, while Romanis increased, from 89 thousand and 105 thousand. [5] [6] As in the other countries the Roma and Travellers Division of the Council of Europe estimated a different population, indicating that in 2012 Romanis could be between 380,000 and 600,000.

In 2002 the researcher Akty Bratislava published “Projections on the Roma population” in which refuted the figures emerged from the census of the previous year, concluding that the Roma were probably about 378 thousand, corresponding to 7.2% of the total population, 37% of them under the 15 years. He estimated that Romanis would rise to 530 thousand by 2025, becoming 9.6% of the total population.[7]

The gap in fertility rates between Slovaks and Romanis should convert the latter into the first ethnic group by 2050, according to some demographic projections developed by the Infostat.[8]

As in the rest of the Balkans, the ethnic revolution is happening in a context of strong conflict and social division: 17% of Romanis live in ethnic ghettos and only one out of six Roma was integrated into the labor market in 2015 according to the World Bank, a lack of inclusion and maintenance in unproductiveness that generates annual economic losses equal to about 7% of GDP.

The Roma issue in Serbia

In Serbia, in the period 2002-2011 the population decreased from 7 million and 498 thousand to 7 million and 186 thousand. In detail, Serbs have gone from 6 million and 212 thousand to 5 million and 988 thousand, while the Romanis increased from 108 thousand to 147 thousand. [9] [10] Also, in this case, the number of Romanis could probably be higher than the census, probably between 400 thousand and 800 thousand (2012) according to the Roma and Travellers Division of the Council of Europe.

The national Roma community experiences serious problems of discrimination, exclusion from the labour market, illiteracy and ghettoization. In 2015 the rate of unemployment among Serbian Romanis was 60%, one fifth of Roma children had attended the only asylum, only 8% of Romanis had finished secondary school, the rate of school leaving in primary school was between 70% and 90%, and two thirds of Romanis lived in communities and settlements with little or no access to water and electricity.

Other interesting and updated data on the situation of the Serbian Roma come from the Project Finally of 2013 by the researchers Ana Popović and Jelena Stanković: 80% of the Roma are completely or functionally illiterate, and the fertility rate is 5.32 children per woman, with an important 7.9% of Roma women with 11 or more children. [11]

Despite the absence of demographic projections on Serbia, by a quick and simple comparison of the wide gap between the fertility rates of Romanis (5.32 children per woman) and Serbs (1.46 children per woman in 2015, according to the Bank World), even in this case an ethnic overturn will occur in the near future with similar, if not greater, rates to those of Bulgaria and Romania.

The Roma community and diaspora in Europe. The map confirms the significative presence of Roma in the Balkans (Source: The New York Times)


Thus, between 2040 and 2060 in Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Serbia and Slovakia Romanis will become the majority ethnic group to the detriment of the natives; a demographic revolution that already presents the seeds of imbalance and conflict in the light of the conditions of chronic underdevelopment, spatial and social segregation, endemic poverty and illiteracy in which this minority stays both for greater forces and for the absence of will of a real integration.

Social inclusion programs, even subsidized by EU funds, have not had the desired effect and Romanis continue to live in conditions of deprivation and extreme poverty, in ethnic enclaves where often lack basic services – elements that explain partly the propensity to high birth rates and a serious involvement in illegal activities. It is a self-perpetuating vicious circle of underdevelopment, social exclusion and antiziganism that in the absence of far-sighted visions is destined to aggravate the inevitable ethnic revolution.

The main challenge in these countries will be the transformation of Roma people from unproductive and illiterate citizens to productive citizens fully integrated into the labor market and society, in the light of the need to fill the income gap linked to the low birth rates and ageing of the population among natives who risk to cause the implosion of social security systems and, in extension, the default of the states.

Some original experiments taking place today, such as the Roma self-government body in Hungary, could be adapted according to national peculiarities to remedy the failure of the programs implemented up to now. Zoltán Balog, minister of human resources during the Orban III government, suggested implementing a series of public investments in employment in Roma-majority communities, supported by investments in working and educational training in order to increase the number of Roma holding diplomas and degrees.

In addition to the investments in employment and integration it will be very important to invest in the education, to form a sexual culture aimed at lowering the high rates of sexually-transmitted diseases among Roma people, and to promote forms of planning parenthood in order to defend the effects of growth and development policies from the dangers of the overpopulation. In this regard, the studies on sexual culture and reproductive behaviors in the Bulgarian Roma community by M. Semerdjieva, N. Mateva, I. Dimitrov, I. Popov, I. Khristova, and S. Stoikov, considered generally valid for large part of the European Roma realities, could be used as a starting point for the formulation of policies adaptable to Roma specificities.

The main results of these studies show the importance of investments in culture and education: 57.3% of Bulgarian Roma women had their first child between 15 and 17 years, 78% do not use any contraception, only 12 % has some knowledge on the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, the average age of marriage is 15 years, and in 54% of cases the pregnancy has not been planned but is still carried out for cultural reasons. [12] [13]

The dynamics of future growth and development in the Balkans will depend on how the Roma communities will be integrated into the economy and society because continuing to ignore an inevitable change will further exacerbate an already precarious and conflictual situation.


[1]  2002 census:

[2]  2011 census:

[3]    2001 census:

[4]    2011 census:

[5]    2001 census:

[6]    2011 census:

[7]    Projection of Roma population in Slovakia until 2025:

[8]    Projections by Infostat:

[9]    2001 census:

[10]  2011 census:

[11]  Results of the Project Finally:

[12]  Sex behavior and contraception among the population of Romany origin:

[13]  Sexual culture of gypsy population:


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Emanuel Pietrobon. Graduating in International Sciences, Development and Cooperation at the University of Turin. Currently, he is enrolled at the University of Economics and Humanities in Lodz (Poland) thanks to the scholarship for the study of Information and Communication Sciences. Passionate about religious and energetic geopolitics, religion in international relations, sociology of religions and the masses. I speak English, Spanish and Romanian correctly.