The given note was compiled by the Northwest Center for Social and Legal Protection of Roma (the “Memorial” Society of Saint-Petersburg) with the assistance of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights (Moscow).
In the Russian Federation the Romany (Gypsy) population numbers in the hundreds of thousands. According to the data of the latest official census in 2002, the number is 182,000, although this figure is without doubt lower than the true number. According to several sources (Federal National-Cultural Autonomy of Russian Roma, FNCA), the number of Roma in the Russian Federation exceeds 1,000,000. The exact figure probably lies somewhere between the two estimates. Within the Romany population itself, there are a number of different ethnic groups: Russian Roma and groups related to them by language and culture https://adcmemorial.org/en/news/on-the-situation-of-roma-in-russia-february-2006(Polish Roma, Latvian, Estonian, Lithuanian, Finnish, Siberian), as well as groups notably distinct from Russian Roma, such as Kelderash, Lovari, Krimi, Kishinevtsi, Plashuni, Servi, and Vlach. Groups originating from other countries include the Madyari (the Transkarpatian region in the Ukraine), the Lyuli (Central Asia), and Moldovan Roma. The majority of Roma (Tsigane in Russian) speak one of many dialects of Romanes, the Gypsy language—although almost all also speak Russian sufficiently well enough to interact socially with ethnic Russians. Several groups have lost their native language and have adopted other languages—the Madyari now speak the Trans-Carpathian dialect of Hungarian, several Moldovan Roma speak Moldovan (Rumanian), and the Lyuli (Mugat) speak Tadzhik and Uzbek languages.
As a minority the Roma are regarded in a particularly distinct and biased manner. Although they do not represent a large share of the Russian population, as in several central European countries, they nonetheless hold a characteristically special relationship with Russian society. One often hears the opinion that Russia is a unique country where Roma have always been well-accepted and beloved. This notion was brought about the fascination of affluent Russians in the 19th and 20th centuries with several elements of Romany culture. In fact, the popularity of Romany songs and dances created the image held and loved by most Russian people of Gypsies as a talented and merry people, as is also reflected in Russian literature. However, the approval of talented Romany artists did not imply the approval among society of Tsigane on the whole—their special way of life, their resistance to assimilation, their distinctive culture, contained not so much in songs and ballads, as in the interactions between their language, the proceedings of their traditions, and faithfulness to their craftsmanship. Roma have always been exceptionally adept at harmoniously adapting to virtually any circumstance, while remaining entirely unwilling to reject their own customs and traditions. Their stubborn resistance to attempts to assimilate them and force them to live “like everyone else” has not conflicted with their readiness to adapt themselves to the rules and laws of their surrounding society. Conflicts have occurred, but they occur at the moment when society denies Roma the right to maintain their identity—a situation that regrettably occurs all too frequently. The notion that Tsigane are not adjusted to modern life is simply yet another stereotype created by a society that is itself not adjusted to accepting a minority, which has always had asserted its rights, without even knowing of them.
With regard to Roma, there is a number of violations of the articles in section II of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. The main violations concern art. 4, part 1, and 4, part 2 (discrimination of national minorities and absence of equality in economic, social, and political life). With regard to these problems one may also speak of special forms of discrimination—leading to a violation of art. 5, part 2 and art. 6, part 2, as well as to violations of art. 10, 12, and 14—on account of the fact that the majority of Roma in the Russian Federation speak various dialects of their own Romany language; thus, as a rule, is not accepted or respected by both law enforcement agencies and educational institutions.
Parts 1 and 2 of Article 5 of the Convention speaks of the obligation of its parties to help preserve the language, traditions, and cultural heritage of minorities, as well (part 2) as the rejection of practices aimed at assimilation. Regarding Roma, a policy of forcible assimilation has been in effect since 1956, when a Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR was adopted forbidding a nomadic way of life. In many ways this policy still continues today. Not only is the right of Roma to continually move from place to place not recognized; the traditional practice of compact Romany settlements changing location once every ten to twenty years, moving away from one place and establishing a new settlement in another part of the country, also meets continual resistance from those in power. In the meantime, the denial of relocations inevitably leads to the destruction of Romany traditions and way of life. For the sake of preserving their culture and traditions, it is exceptionally important to many groups of Roma not to sever the continuity of their traditional professions and crafts. The need to register oneself according to one’s place of residence makes it impossible to lead a nomadic way of life which is most relevant to the professional needs of Roma. All Roma take pains to maintain their traditions while observing the registration laws, which demand frequent trips to be made, and at times even greater journeys, when entire clans sell their homes in one location and move to other cities. All of this often leads to a collision with the public authorities and law enforcement agencies. Roma, periodically traveling (most often on trade business), are constantly subjected to document checks, arrests, extortion, and at times expulsion from a city or region. Most often this occurs in large cities (Moscow and Saint Petersburg) where all who enter are required to obtain a temporary registration. The fact that the Roma’s physical appearance makes them stand out from the majority of the population of the Russian Federation notably aggravates their situation. In the words of S. Ikonnikova, a Penitentiary Authority chief in Pskov, “We recognize Gypsy by the way they look and their clothes.”
In the last few years it has become increasingly common for Romany camps (tabor in Russian), particularly those of the Kelderash, to be rejected by local authorities. According to one account by Roma, a Kotlyari group left Volgograd in 2004 and attempted to settle in the Serpukhov area near Moscow. However, the group of settlers was forced to leave when the local police threatened to “let skinheads loose on them if they do leave” (a joint report of St. Petersburg “Memorial” and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), “Roma on the crossroads of discrimination”). At the same time, the fact that it is forbidden to remain on the move and to establish new settlements makes it impossible to carry on a traditional Kelderash way of life. Most Kelderash command the same crafts and trades; thus, remaining in a single rapidly growing tabor (such as in Volgograd) does not provide enough work for everyone in the camp. In order to maintain their traditional sphere of occupation, metal crafts and fortune-telling, the Kelderash look for opportunities to relocate themselves to new places where such activities may appear to be in demand.
Yet another group from the same tabor in Volgograd arrived in Arkhangelsk in the summer of 2004. They arranged to rent the land in the Varavino-Factoria district, and have since begun to set themselves up there. A series of severe and unusual occurrences surrounding this Roma group has caused a storm of political passions—a man who was running for a mayor, A.V. Donskoy, initiated a campaign against them at the end of 2004. Openly opposed to the Romany way of life, Mr. Donskoy accused the Roma of a whole series of ostensibly “traditional” crimes. Even during his election campaign Mr. Donskoy declared numerous times that he would not permit the existence of a Gypsy settlement in Arkhangelsk, since “Tsigane have traditionally dedicated themselves to begging, swindling, and stealing. They are not accustomed to doing anything else. And now drug-dealing has also become a traditional activity of theirs” (Pravda Severa newspaper 22/09/2004). Upon becoming a mayor of the city, Donskoy continues to declare that, “My position has not changed” (Minutes of a Round Table Meeting on Problems of the Kotlyari Roma, Arkhangelsk, 15/07/2005. St. Petersburg “Memorial” archives). In practice the mayor’s position was focused on attempts to win a court case that would deny the Roma the right to live in Arkhangelsk. To this aim the mayor’s office submitted a series of suits to the court with various claims: the termination of a contract which granted the Roma the right to rent the land, the cancellation of their registration in Arkhangelsk, the demolition of the houses already erected on this land. By now the court has ruled that the registration was legal, but that the houses must be torn down. The question of the land was settled in favor of the mayor’s office in a court on 19 September 2005.
At a round table meeting in June 2005 regarding the Romany settlement in Arkhangelsk, the mayor declared: “If I do not understand how these people make their living and there are problems,… then I cannot agree with such a lifestyle in the territory of the city of Arkhangelsk” (Minutes of the Round Table Meeting on Problems of the Kotlyari Roma, Arkhangelsk, 15/07/2005. Saint Petersburg Memorial archives). Earlier at a working meeting with colleagues, he formulated the following position: “Gypsies are incapable of dedicating themselves to good deeds. If the decision over the question of their eviction is delayed it will be necessary to place a policeman next to them. It is necessary to create problems for them when they create them for us” (A. Kuleshov, “The Gypsy Question Remains Unanswered by the Mayor,” Nashe Slovo, inter-regional online newspaper, http://www.nasheslovo.ru/).
Motivated by unclear logic and their aversion to Roma, the legislative assembly of Arkhangelsk, with Valentina Sirovaya speaking as a chair of the permanent commission of the City Council of Arkhangelsk declared on 12 December 2005 that: “Gypsies are nomadic people, so it would be more logical for them to live in the South, not in the North” (Regnum Information Agency, www.regnum.ru/news/559462.html).
This kind of attitude towards a Romany way of life clearly speaks of the unwillingness of those in power to respect traditional Romany culture, leaving Romany people practically no opportunity to live their own lives in peace. More and more frequently Roma are faced with a tough decision: either to assimilate or simply disappear.
Art. 4, part 2
Lack of equality in economic, social, political, and cultural life is another significant violation of the principles of FCNR (art. 4, part 2). Every group of Roma living in Russia suffers from unemployment, low standards of living and lack of education, as well as difficulty accessing essential personal documents, social services and programs, and personal safety (see reports of FIDH/Memorial and the European Roma Rights Centre, ERRC 1). Another enormous problem is the segregated location of several Romany settlements, where people live without access to clean water, in inadmissibly crowded and cramped conditions, and at risk of fires and sanitary danger. Such settlements are usually in stark contrast with neighboring Russian cities and towns, where there are no problems of this sort in accessing clean water and electricity, such that Roma fetch water from their Russian neighbors, paying five to ten rubles per bucket (The Northwest Center for Social and Legal Protection of Roma, Bulletin No. 5 (2004), 10 and 11 (2005), http://www.memorial.spb.ru/; FIDH/Memorial report).
The administrations of cities and settlements where there are compact Romany communities find themselves in a complex situation and use different strategies in order to come up with compromise decisions, suiting public authorities and joint-stock utility companies providing water and electricity to the settlement and related to the authorities, as well as to the Roma. In the town of Chudovo (Novgorod province) the administration prompts the Romany community to form a territorial self-government, thus aiming to shift responsibility for all economic problems from themselves onto the leaders of the Romany community, referring to the Federal Law on General Principles of the Local Self-Government Organization of 6 October 2003 (No 131-FZ). At the same time, during discussions between human rights advocates from “Memorial,” the Roma, and the administration in November of 2005, suddenly the administration announced that it would agree to settle the issue of the Roma’s housing registration only upon fulfillment of an unexpected and distinctly commercial condition: the Roma should at their own expense transfer a water pipe that runs under their homes and supplies water to nearby villages. The local joint-stock company, Vodokanal, is interested in this so that the water pipe might continue to supply the Russian homes from its current location behind the Romany tabor, while desiring foremost to bypass the Romany side, having deprived them of access to running water. It seems utterly strange that all the costs for a by-pass in the town’s water supply that will deprive the Roma community of running water are supposed to be paid by that very Roma community and should they refuse, the city administration, supporting Vodokanal, will not allow the critical issue of the Roma’s housing registrations to be resolved. The connection between the interests of the water company and the aims of the administration is in no way concealed, demonstrating the emergence of new relations in the socio-economic sphere, when questions of an essentially civil character (such as registration) become dependent upon the financial influence of a private enterprise upon the local economy. Thus, the question of overcoming the discrimination of Roma suddenly becomes a question of economic bargaining. An increase in such tendencies will likely threaten the very existence of many Romany camps, which until now have survived thanks to the remains of social policies of local authorities, or on account of opportunities to make agreements with private firms, bypassing official instances.
Not a single Tsigan participates in the country’s political sphere, and as far as the cultural sphere on the national level, the only appreciable achievements are those of popular and accomplished theater and musical groups (such as the Romen theater, group Kabriolet, etc). However, the majority of Romany people, which remains in the Russian countryside, lament the absence of opportunities to take part in professional cultural activities or join amateur collectives, as well as the shortage of cultural projects and the overall lack of education. The majority of Roma do not even know that their language exists in written form, which does not come as a surprise, since the publication of Romany dictionaries, Romany translations of classics from the world and Russian literature, and the preparation of textbooks and materials for Romany schools had all been suspended since the 1930s.
It is worth noting that a textbook recommended as a standard educational aid for high schools in the Russian Federation expounded a blatantly negative stereotype of Tsigane (ERRC report, p. 188).
Art. 6, part 2
With regard to the Roma in the Russian Federation (as well as other visually identifiable minorities) we find a constant violation of article 6 of FCNM, especially p.2. Such minorities are constantly exposed to threats and attacks from the neo-Nazi and other extremist groups with nationalistic sentiments, such that Roma do not feel and enjoy protection of law enforcement agencies. Roma often complain about unwillingness of the police to interfere in conflicts with violent “patriots.” There are well known cases of individuals being released by the police from detention early after having been arrested for beating and even murdering Roma. One such case took place after a murder of the Madyar Romani woman, Anna Farkosh, in St. Petersburg on August, 2003. She and her relative, Luisa Farkosh, were attacked by skinheads, and Anna was knifed to death, while Luisa managed to run away after being wounded. The following day the murderer was identified by Luisa at a police station, but he was released shortly thereafter, and the case has since then been considered closed (FIDH/Memorial report). Kelderash Roma from the town of Peri in the Leningrad region continually complain that they are subjected to attacks from skinheads and that they are unable to secure the intervention of police forces. In response to direct appeals and calls for help the police have simply answered that, “(If we could) we would have joined in (the attack) ourselves.”
On the night of 25 August 2005 the home of the Nikolaeviches, a Romany family in Belgorod (South of Russia), was attacked by a large group of masked individuals yelling “Beat the Gypsies!” The attackers threw burning objects and bottles containing flammable liquid through the windows, and then beat the Nikolaeviches with metal rods and knives. This attack resulted in several people being hospitalized, having suffered serious traumas and injuries. One of the victims managed to disarm and apprehend an attacker. Journalists reported that the perpetrators were student activists of the fascist organization “Russian National Unity.” Regardless of this, Belgorod Department of Internal Affairs reported this incident as a case of hooliganism—noting no elements of ethnic hatred as a motive for the crime. Chairman of the Belgorod Fund for the Protection of Minorities Artur Bidzjiev made a flowing comment: “Yes, the incident is certainly unprecedented. Such a massive attack on a peaceful family has never occurred in the history of Belgorod, neither toward people of foreign nationalities, nor toward local residents. I am afraid that this case has not become a warning precedent. Regrettably, the investigation moves extremely slowly, and the case is constantly on the verge of being closed” (Meridian, Belgorod, 13/09/2005, No. 37 (140)).
Roma in Iskitim (Novosibirsk region) have also complained, with regard to the police, about the absence of effective protection from racist attacks. When a series of Romany homes in this town was set on fire in February 2005, the victims reported that the police not only failed to arrive at the scene of the incident, but even hindered the movement of fire-trucks and ambulances. Soon after beginning the investigation was discontinued, and in November 2005 another two Romany households were burned down. An eight year old girl died in one of the fires, and her mother suffered severe burns. According to Boris Kreyndel, a human rights defender from Tomsk, the perpetrators have been identified, but were not charged for a long time by the prosecutor’s office with the crime since the local population has allegedly “for a long time been concerned by the growth of drug traffic in the region and strongly wants all the Gypsies leave” (news by Information and Analytical Centre “Sova”). Only in February 2006 seven people were arrested with respect to one criminal episode and accused of organization of a criminal community.
A similar situation has also developed in Kaliningrad (on the Baltic Sea), where a number of Romany homes were demolished in November-December, 2005. Authorities formally explained that these were illegal constructions (neither street names nor house numbers appeared in the Roma’s passports). Commentary by the mass-media, however, unequivocally testified that the households were demolished because the Roma were considered drug-dealers by the authorities (www.kaliningrad.ru/news/community/k72128.html).
In December 2005 the Information Agency REGNUM ran the following report: “Employees of Gosnarkokontrol (special anti-drug police forces) in Kaliningrad have today, 21 December, begun the second stage of demolition of illegal constructions in the town of Dorozhny, where there mainly live Gypsies, and drug-trafficking goes on twenty-four hours a day.” “According to plans, tomorrow we will begin the demolition of the first block of flats, which the court deemed to be illegally constructed,” –continued the representative from Gosnarkokontrol, having noted that, “for the time being, the Gypsies do not exit their homes.”
Formally, the responsibility to demolish homes lies with the local administration, which should legally act upon the decision of the court; however, it is clear that the homes of these Roma are destroyed according to the decision of Gosnarkokontrol. Thus there is no one to protect the interests of the people living in these homes—regardless of their own innocence or guilt. For some reason the implication of the residents of Dorozjni in a criminal offence is not considered in court, but is instead resolved by demolishing their homes, which are inhabited not by the condemned, but by people—with families, children, and property.
In September 2005, Roma in Pskov (North Western Russia) also felt totally unprotected. After Vladimir Berezovsky, a Romany man, was murdered by some Russians from Pskov, unknown individuals, signing as the “Free Russia Movement,” put anti-Gypsy leaflets all over the city, the content of which groundlessly charged all Roma with being drug-dealers and made flagrant appeals to violence and pogroms. The flyers also manifested a readiness to provide “honest Pskovians” with the names and addresses of “Gypsy spiders.” After this occasion several Romany families (including that of the murdered Berezovsky) received threats by telephone, and at night their homes were surrounded by unknown individuals in cars, acting provocatively. A few Roma were beaten during the same days in Pskov, the attackers emphasizing their negative attitude towards Roma and praising the murderers of Berezovsky. The requests of the Roma to the police and the Prosecutor’s Office to strengthen security measures in Pskov have yielded no results. In response to a complaint human rights advocates Stephania Kulaeva (“Memorial”, Saint Petersburg) and V. Dostovalov (“Veche,” Pskov), the Department of Internal Affairs in Pskov stated that it is not possible to make a criminal case on the grounds of leaflets, due to a lack of evidence of a crime (see an open letter to the chief of the Municipal Department of Internal Affairs of Pskov V.I. Petrov and his response at adcmemorial.org). At the Round-table led by Saint Petersburg Memorial in Pskov, V.I. Petrov stated that the authors of the leaflets were identified (two students from Pskov), but that no measures had been taken against them (round table minutes, Pskov, 19/10/2005, Saint Petersburg Memorial archives). At Memorial’s second appeal, which made reference to the performance of V.I. Petrov at the Round-table, a refusal used the same old formula—“lack of evidence of a crime.” Thus, confronted by a situation in which people are in need of protection and effective anti-discrimination measures, those in power not only deny its importance, but respond to it inconsistently and contradictorily.
Art. 10 (parts 1, 2, 3) is also violated with regard to Roma. In violation of p.1 of article 10, conversations in Romany (the Gypsy language) are prohibited in prisons, as well as over meetings in person and personal correspondence of inmates. During interrogations by the police and in court cases Roma are practically never allowed to participate in their own language. Upon request, translators frequently respond that, “the Gypsy language does not exist.” A Tsigan under investigation in Ekaterinburg (the Ural) refused to answer questions in Russian, and as the investigation denied the existence of Romany, he was placed in a cold cell, “so that he would remember Russian.” In order to prove the existence of the Romany language his defense presented a Russian-Romany dictionary; the translator, however, remained unconvinced (Information provided by E. Romanova, a lawyer from Ekaterinburg, member of the board of an NGO Roma Ural).
Interactions between Tsigane speaking their own language in public places often arouse the discontent of those around them, which tends to be expressed by way of insults requesting that they speak Russian or be quiet. The condition of places traditionally occupied by Roma does not allow them to speak their own language when interacting with representatives of the administration, which frequently creates additional problems for those people who speak Russian poorly, those who are illiterate, and those who are unfamiliar with the laws.
Art. 12 and 14
Article 12 is also not carried out, as required, with regard to Roma—scientific research is not undertaken, educational and cultural textbooks and publications are not printed, there is no preparation of teaching aids in the Romany language or for the purpose of teaching Romany. Regardless of the numerous appeals to the Ministry of Education by an NGO Romane Prala (2002-04), proposing the creation of textbooks in various dialects of Romany, such programs have not been accepted, and the petitions remain unanswered. Throughout Russia there is not a single institute of higher education that teaches Romany language, meaning that there are also no pedagogical specialists capable of teaching the language. Based upon this alone, article 14 of the convention is violated as well.
In a number of schools that teach Kalderari-Romany, one also finds discrimination and segregation. Romany children are separated from other children and placed into groups of their own (examples: Perm’, Arkhangelsk, Astrakhan), and even in separate buildings (Leningrad Oblast region, Chudovo). In many schools throughout the Russian Federation Romany children are placed in category 8, thus not permitting them to receive a full or comprehensive education. Most often this is not caused by an actual lagging in intelligence or mental development, but by the unfeasibility of Romany children passing tests in Russian, which is to them a foreign language. Furthermore, illiterate parents cannot help their children to prepare for school (FIDH/Memorial report). Not a single school in Russia has carried out the recommendation that they teach Romany children in their native language, although several schools receive children who do not quite speak Russian. Clearly it is not possible for them not to lag behind other children under such conditions.
Increasingly often within the last two years Romany children are not being permitted to attend classes at school, and schoolchildren are being excluded due to lack of residence registration documents or lack of documented citizenship. In September of 2005 school No 414 in the Krasnoselski region of Saint Petersburg refused to accept two children, Yan Muradenko and Daniil Bogdanov, despite numerous petitions and appeals from parents, and human rights advocates from Memorial, Saint Petersburg. The director of the school denied the students based on the orders of the Saint Petersburg Government Education Committee (No.37 since 02/02/2005). In December 2005, at the same school a first-grader, Diana H. was excluded after a document verification which found that she was missing proper citizenship (although she had a proper registration). In fall of 2005, Pskov school No. 7 did not accept Masha Klein, whose family was in the process of attaining Russian citizenship, because by September of that year they still did not possess the necessary documents. This also violates Russia’s law on education, but Romany children continue to be deprived even of admission into primary school.
Art. 4, part 1
Apart from all the aforementioned forms of discrimination within socio-economic, political, and cultural spheres, Roma also frequently suffer discrimination originating from public authorities, law enforcement agencies, in particular, the police. The most flagrant occurrences of this came to light between 2002 and 2004, with a series of police operations titled “Tabor,” the very name of which (tabor being the Russian word for a Gypsy encampment), clearly demonstrates that the targets of these operations belonged to a particular ethno-cultural group, which is, thus, considered discrimination. This campaign was accompanied by vigorous support from the mass media, which featured every possible kind of interview with the police officers, who gladly reported on the results of the operation, or “the Gypsy inventory,” as they often referred to it. Thousands of Roma were subjected to document checks, searches, and fingerprinting (see ERRC report).
In July 2004 the second operation “Tabor” took place, which resulted in a total destruction of a tented camp of the Madyar-Roma in Obukhovo (on the edge of Saint Petersburg). The sole result of this action was the erection of a new analogous camp one kilometer away from the site of the old one. Both operations in Saint Petersburg were inspired by the head of the city Administrative Committee L.P. Bogdanov.
According to the information provided by Roma, their camps generate a significant amount of income for police officers: Roma must give 200-300 rubles for every tent in Saint Petersburg each month to the police (illegally, of course), and as much as up to 1000 rubles in Moscow. Roma from outside of town must also pay a certain percentage of each person’s income to the police (field studies, Saint Petersburg Memorial archives). Such forms of corruption make it impossible to fight criminality as well as to protect Roma’s rights.
The Lyuli, another group of nomadic Roma, who come from Central Asia, are also subject to forceful evictions throughout all of Russia. Their tented camps are destroyed, and their residents are loaded onto buses and driven away from the city. Such evictions have taken place in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Arkhangelsk, Vladimir, Nizhni Novgorod, Surgut (most recently), and many other cities.
In December 2005 the mayor of Moscow signed a decree allowing for vagrant and begging foreigners with underage children to be expelled from the city. According to this document, the government and the Moscow City Department of the Interior must prepare legal basis for deportations, which will undoubtedly be directed to nomadic Romany groups, such as the Lyuli and Magyari.
Forcible deportation is usually accompanied by unwarranted searches, seizures and detentions. In September 2003 a group of skinheads attacked two Lyuli women with young children. As a result, a six-year-old girl, Nulufar Sangboeva, died and another child was admitted to a hospital in serious condition. Yet again, the St. Petersburg police arrested not the murderers, who were found and convicted later, but rather the entire Romany camp. The Lyuli spent more than 72 hours separated in different police precincts, after which they were expelled from the Leningrad Oblast (Field Report, Saint Petersburg Memorial archives).
Cutting the hair of a detained Roma woman has become a method of discrimination by police officers. When Roma women (most often Magyari) are detained by the police, their hair is shaved off or cut by the police. In so doing, the intent of the police is to disgrace and shame the victim as much as possible with a conspicuous, hideous haircut (the police will cut a cross into the hair on the crown of the head, dye the forehead and/or a head with green, etc.) A similar practice exists not only with the police, but in the prison system as well. A prison on St. Petersburg’s on the Arsenalskaya Street houses women from very different ethnic groups (Kelderari-Roma, Russko-roma etc.) who, while under investigation, have their heads shaved. This is as much racial discrimination as it is gender, since hair is extremely important for women of Romany communities (only married women are deliberately shaved for certain types of guilt by their relatives to shame them). Since not all Romany women, but rather only those with long thick hair, had their heads shaved by the police, the Roma themselves tend to assume that the hair is then sold (Field Report, Memorial St. Petersburg archives).
Racial profiling is evident in both the public transit system and on the streets of Pskov. In May 2002 Fatima Aleksandrovich was detained after being accused of a purse theft. One of the people present, a relative of Fatima, said that a passenger (a plain-clothes associate of the police) announced that her purse had been stolen and everyone began to point at Fatima, yelling, “There she is, a Gypsy!” Fatima was taken to the police department and within a few hours died of unclear circumstances. Attempts by the lawyers of those who survived her (Fatima’s husband) to seek an honest investigation into the circumstances of the death have proven unsuccessful. After several unsuccessful checks by the prosecutors office and several trials, which never recognized any accountability on the part of the police or the plain-clothes associate, a complaint was submitted to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
In 2003, 2004, and 2005 the detention of Roma continued under circumstances similar to those in Pskov (see above). After the fact, the detained have said that during the course of the interrogations the police not only demanded a confession for crimes serving as an excuse for the detention, but, in addition, ordered them to confess to committing utterly different un-exposed police crimes. Similar “profiling” relations towards Roma like those towards the criminals are not only practices of the powerful, but have also roused declarations by various governmental representatives and likewise have been circulated in the media (MFPC and ECPC Report, and Field Report at Memorial, St. Petersburg.)
In a meeting between the Governor of St. Petersburg Valentina Matvienko and the General Consul of France, P. Mober, the latter complained that French tourists are often the victims of street attacks in Saint Petersburg, to which Matvenko responded by saying, “Well, these are all committed by Gypsies, but if we combat them human rights activists give us trouble.” Mober shared his response with NGO representatives later; he said that that the complaints coming from French tourists usually stemmed from problems with the police—not Gypsies (P. Mober, oral interview).
Discrimination occurs often in relations between Roma and public officials. Often in a hospital or a birth clinic, newborn Romany children are not returned to their mothers. Instead, the children live in “The House of Babies” or in orphanages and the parents are unable to obtain permits for return of their children. Orphanage workers are often convinced that Roma are bad mothers and therefore find various legal or not entirely legal methods for depriving Roma parents of their rights and turning the children up for adoption (Report by St. Petersburg “Memorial” on the situation of Roma children to the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, adcmemorial.org).
The practice of discriminatory segregation of Roma has been practiced in many hospitals (including children’s hospitals), birth clinics and public bathhouses. In Toskovo Children’s Hospital in the Leningrad Oblast, Romany children are placed in separate wards. This unwritten rule is enforced even when the warmer and more comfortable “Russian” wards are empty. In Nizhnie Oselki, Leningrad Oblast, Roma are forbidden to visit the public bathhouse even on a commercial basis (Field Report, Memorial St. Petersburg archives).
Roma face huge problems in employment. The majority of employers refuse to hire Roma, and at times even explicitly justify their refusal by citing the nationality of the applicant. An overwhelming majority of Roma in Russia are unemployed.
Even the attitude of human rights ombudspersons to Roma is often biased. In September 2004 at a meeting with human rights activists the Leningrad Oblast Ombudsman A.G. Pisarevskii stated the following: “I don’t know anything about this; my opinion is that there cannot be a problem with Gypsies, and if there are, then the Gypsies themselves must be creating them” (MFCP Report). The Arkhangelsk Human Rights Ombudsperson N. Dityateva addressed the situation of Roma there by saying that, “Today, I support Aleksandr Vicktorovich [Donskoy]. I think that not any compromise would be a solution. If we give land to the Gypsies and let them stay in the city, we will have to station guards, OMON security forces” (Minutes of the roundtable meeting on problems of the Kotlyari Roma, Arkhangelsk, 21/09/2005. Memorial St. Petersburg archives).
In general, article 17 is complied with in Russia. In previous times it was possible to mark the increase in the number of registered Romany social groups by their activation alone. However, Romany activists now complain about the creation of the Federal National-Cultural Autonomy of Roma (Gypsies). Although this structure has been registered in accordance with the Law of National-Cultural Autonomy, many Roma frequently voice the following grievance: “We did not vote for this, they speak of these sorts of rights through the guise of our voice.” We must note that, on a governmental and inter-governmental level the FNCA (OSCE, European Union) has posited itself as the sole voice for all Roma, despite not having input from any ethnic or language group, and practically not maintaining any relations with such groups.
After the break-up of the Soviet Union many Roma ended up having no citizenship. The practice of moving around or migrating did not fit the new situation with several new countries emerging. Many groups continue to migrate, ignoring new government boarders (Magyars from Ukraine, Lyuli from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are moving into Russia). These groups are extremely vulnerable—the absence of legal status leaves them virtually unprotected. Therefore, measures aimed at legalization of migrating Roma on inter-governmental level is of utmost importance. Only an agreement between former members of the Soviet Union may provide solution to this problem. This initiative was proposed by “Memorial” and FIDH and supported by ERRC at the 2004 OSCE Human Dimension Implementation meeting in Warsaw.
Meanwhile, the initiatives to discuss problems regarding Roma at inter-governmental level have yet to receive any governmental support or even a response.
1 In Search of Happy Gypsies. Persecution of Pariah Minorities in Russia, ERRC, Budapest, 2005, www.errc.org (Abbreviated throughout the text as ERRC report).