Help For Keldarari-Roma With Regard to Housing

A seminar was
held at ADC “Memorial” on March 22, 2008 for lawyers working within
the framework of the project “Legal Help for Kelderari-Roma with Regard
to Housing.” Given that the project is developing all over Russia,
lawyers not only from St. Petersburg, but also from other towns such
as Ivanovo, Yekaterinburg, Kazan’, and Tambov took part in the seminar
as well.

The compact
settlements of Kelderari-Roma all over Russia are in a very difficult
position.  In Soviet times, the land on which these settlements
were built did not belong to anyone, and neither the authorities nor
the Roma themselves thought to establish the legal status of the plots
of land and houses.  Now, as land is being bought and sold, a long
bureaucratic process has to be carried out in order to formalize the
existing plots and housing.  Many villages which have existed for
many years, but which are not legally registered in accordance with
modern regulations, are under threat of demolition, and their residents
are faced with the possibility of eviction and homelessness. S. Smerdov
(Yekaterinburg) and S. Korsakov (Kazan’) have previously described
similar situations in their respective regions.

In a few places
(for example in Kaliningrad and Chudovo) demolitions have already taken
place, and so the lawyers are defending the rights of the Roma residents post factum.  Vladimir Luzin is one of the authors of the petition
to the European Court of Human Rights in the name of Kaliningrad’s
Roma residents. In his appeal he touched upon the issue of discrimination:
at the same time as their Russian neighbors were allowed by the administration
to formalize the legal status of their housing and plots of land, the
Roma were disallowed from doing so, and the court decided to demolish
their village – a decision which is now being contested through international

A positive
example of a “non-violent” solution to the problem of Roma settlements
does exist.  In Tiumen, ADC “Memorial” lawyers managed to initiate
discussion between the Roma settlement, the town administration, and
the investor who will be developing the plots of land where the “tabor”
is currently situated. As a result, a project was initiated for the
encumbrance of the plots of land, and the investor agreed to find solutions
to the Roma’s housing problems.  The Tiumen Region Office of
Property Relations, for its part, notified ADC “Memorial” in writing
that, “in the event that the winner of the contract should infringe
upon the rights of the Kelderari-Roma, liability measures will be taken
against the guilty party.”

However, in
our experience the situation in Tiumen is a unique case – where a
dispute has been resolved by the authorities and the commercial sector
by their entering into dialogue with the Roma and human rights activists.
In other instances it has been necessary to defend the interests of
Roma in court.  For example, in Yaroslavl’, the lawsuits made
by the administration against the residents of Roma villages were not
upheld, but neither were the counter-lawsuits by the Roma regarding
the lease of the plots on which their houses have existed for many years.
It is a contentious situation, but one that we nevertheless hope will
be resolved, as some families have already been assigned plots of land
which, although they are in another location, are still within the bounds
of Yaroslavl’.

A dramatic
situation has arisen in Chudovo, located in Novgorod Region.  Here,
a series of court cases have already taken place within which the decision
has been made to demolish houses in the so-called “small tabor,”
which was built at a slightly later date than the main Roma settlement
in the town.  The lawyer A. Tsarev in his court appearance spoke
not only about the Chodovo tabor, but also about the broader situation:
“In the majority of tabors there are no papers for the land or houses.
Moreover, the scenario is always the same:  Roma arrive, receive
oral permission to stay, they settle in successfully, go about their
lives, and no one finds fault with them until the time comes when either
that land proves useful in some way or a general sentiment arises in
the town that demands the Roma be removed.  The Soviet Union did
not sign on to the conventions which point out that specific peoples
have a preferential right to a permanent place to live, even if such
a right comes at the expense of national legislation. The problem of
discrimination against certain nationalities did not exist at that time,
nor did the problem of people wanting to lead a traditional way of life.
In general, the global problems that are faced by everyone today have
appeared only recently, in the post-Soviet era.

Strictly speaking,
the Roma are not a “repressed people” because no one has cast them
out of their historical homelands, as they never had such places.
This vicious circle forms the basis of the legal difficulties that have
recently arisen. As this is the case, presently, the only way to solve
these land disputes is to hold negotiations with the local administration.
In my own opinion, lawyers are not able to solve these problems alone;
they are but one participant in the necessary dialogue.

In Chudovo
there are many Roma, and it is interesting to note that the press pays
little attention to them.  In the past five years the local newspaper
did not mention the Roma once, nor did they feature on television in
any way.  On the Internet forum of the local administration the
following note is placed under the majority of messages regarding the
Roma:  “The moderator has removed this post as the contents do
not correspond with the legislation of the Russian Federation.”
This is the extent to which the population is hostile towards the Roma.
The Roma themselves need to somehow unite, mobilize themselves and not
fear officialdom and official proceedings.  It is also necessary
to generate positive press coverage, as Roma are currently evicted with,
so to speak, applause from the public, due to the prejudice that has
accumulated against them.  And finally, what is needed most of
all is simply legislation which would solve the problems of the Roma
in their entirety. Firstly, the Roma need to be recognized as a national
minority to clarify their status.  Secondly, the Roma villages
which have existed for an extended period of time need to have their
status legally established.

The situation
in the Kelderari villages is particularly harmful in that it takes its
toll on the Roma children who comprise a significant part of the population
of the tabors.  The lawyer N. Maslova, appearing at the seminar,
described the situation in Kolyanovo Village in Ivanovo Region, where
a big Roma settlement has existed for 10 years.  It is made up
of 38 families, or around 600 people. Eleven of the 38 houses are soundly-built
structures that are registered as country houses.  The village
also contains temporary-style huts for which there were no papers of
any kind.  As of the end of 2006, the head of Kolyanovo rural administration
Iu. Semenov began to go to the tabor in person and insist that the Roma
abandon their dwellings.  This was connected with the fact that
a plan is currently being developed for the rebuilding of a local airport
that had once been operational in Kolyanovo.  Semonov stated that
“The government will pass through here, and your temporary huts are
not attractive.”

The residents
of the tabor decided, however, that they were not going anywhere, and
they informed the local rural administration.  Then, under a number
of pretexts, people started to come to the village:  first, the
police began to come, then the fire service, then sanitation services,
all of which made various claims about the Roma and their accommodations.
A real estate agent then appeared, M. Chetvernikov, who proposed buying
up the houses from the Roma for a reasonable price, despite the fact
that not all the houses were registered in accordance with the law.
The Roma agreed under pressure from the administration:  in oral
discussions the Roma received verbal promises that they would be assigned
some land in another location, and they were urged in all kinds of ways
to sell their homes.

In the end,
however, they were given no land of any kind, despite the oral agreement.
Moreover, each home owner received a mere 700,000 rubles, and each hut
was bought for 20-50,000.  The market price for the houses sold
was many times higher than the sums paid.  In short, the real estate
transactions were carried out under pressure, and the Roma were deceived.

To date, all
of the Roma have been evicted, and all buildings on the site of the
Roma settlement in Kolyanovo village have been demolished, with the
exception of the 11 solid houses. To this day, however, many of the
Roma continue to be registered in the Kolyanovo town council records
as residents of their former homes.  The boards of guardians and
trustees are not at all interested in the fate of more than 200 children
who, as a result of the sale of their families’ homes, lack adequate
accommodation and valid registration. (The children were never formally
registered themselves because parents’ passports contain their children’s
registration.) Moreover, the Roma who did not leave Ivanovo Region
and who currently live with relatives in a different village are being
fined for illegal residence:  this is because their registrations
in Kolyanovo were never annulled!

The situation
is further complicated by the fact that the officials in the Ivanovsk
regional administration clearly do not want the Roma to continue to
live there: these officials avoid holding individual appointments and
answer in outrageous ways to any attempts at communication.  Furthermore,
when the head of the regional Department of Land Use, N. Petrov, suggested
that the Roma turn to the head of the local administration to look into
the possibility of buying the plots, which are owned by ZAO (closed
corporation) “Kolyanovo,” the head of the local administration,
Belov, who had also received a copy of Petrov’s suggestion, wrote
the following resolution on April 23, 2007:  “Rejected.
I suggest in any other place, but not in the suburbs.”  When
some representatives of the village nevertheless turned to ZAO “Kolyanovo”
with inquiries about buying the plots, the employees enquired about
their nationality.

The lawyer
N. Maslova turned to the prosecutor’s office of Ivanovo Region with
a complaint about a breach of human and citizens’ rights and freedoms,
about inaction on the part of governmental organs and/or the local municipality,
and a breach of the norms of current legislation.  In the complaint,
she referred to the breach of a number of statutes in the Convention
on the Rights of the Child, the Family Codex of the Russian Federation,
and of federal law No. 59 which have been mentioned above.  Fourteen
families who have lost their homes continue to fight for their rights.

The ADC “Memorial”
project is, first and foremost, aimed at fighting evictions because
through evictions people lose not only their housing but also their
registration, which means losing pensions, benefits, medical policies,
and employment. In addition, in certain cases even the presence of
housing does not ensure that basic rights will not be breached: in
particular, the access to education in many tabors has become difficult,
and as a result children will, in the very best case scenario, only
complete their primary education.  In this respect the work in
Tambov Region on overcoming segregation is extremely interesting.
The schools there, whose pupils are exclusively children from Roma and
Kurdish-Yezidi families living compactly in Kalinichi Village, are in
a crisis state.  The parents of the Roma and Yezidi children are
unhappy both with the conditions in the schools and the quality of the

This is a case
of a breach of the right to education and, unfortunately, not an isolated
one: in many places of compact living, Kelderari-Roma children are
educated under very bad conditions.  If the possibilities of peaceful
dialogue with the responsible individuals are exhausted, and we do not
manage to convince them that children from national minorities have
rights that equal those of other children to education, then the lawsuits
regarding discrimination against Roma children in schools could become
just as numerous as the lawsuits by Roma demanding that their right
to housing not be breached.

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