On December 22, 2008, first-graders from the Osel’ki school, who live in a nearby Roma village, together with their teacher Elena Evgrafova and an activist from the parents’ committee Elza Mikhai came to St. Petersburg. They walked along the Neva, admired the main New Year’s tree in St. Petersburg on Palace Square, and in the evening saw a wonderful production of the Zazerkal’e Theater, performed in the Hermitage Theater, “A Christmas Miracle.”

The children loved it all. They were enthralled by the festive holiday lighting that illuminated the city, they stopped before every single decorated and lit up tree. With their lifted spirits and dressed in holiday attire, they walked up the steps to the entrance of the Hermitage Theater. Our children were the most dressed-up and most disciplined there: with measured steps, they walked in pairs in the foyer and listened to the very end to the musicians who played before the play began.

They loved the play itself. The songs sung by the artists impressed the children most of all. One girl even said that they sang better than Roma singers. The happy, satisfied children returned to the bus that waited for them on the square, to their mothers who awaited them.

Unfortunately, a dark cloud was cast over this happy celebration by an unpleasant incident that occurred before the beginning of the excursion. At the very moment when the children and several of their mothers in traditional Roma dress got off the bus, a police patrol car drove up, and the police officers demanded that everyone show identification documentation. Of course, the mothers had not brought any identification, and they tried in vain to explain to the police officers what they were doing and why they had come to the city. The teacher who had brought the students was also unable to convince the police that nothing unlawful was taking place. Fortunately, right then an employee of ADC Memorial, psychologist Ilia Berdyshev, who was the man responsible for the event, approached. The police officers immediately left upon seeing him. Everyone’s mood was a bit dampened by what had happened, and only after the walk along the festively decorated bank of the river did the children and their mothers again begin to smile…

This time everything worked out worked out in the end, nothing serious happened, but it is unfortunate that Roma children from a very young age have to see that they are not very welcome guests in the “cultural capital” of Russia, even on such a happy and bright holiday as New Year’s.



Natalia Shkurenok


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