Plight of Roma a Causes for Concern in Various Ministries

Plight of Roma a Causes for Concern in Various Ministries

Russian Nazis criticise the Minister for National Policy Issues, but agree with the Deputy Minister of the Interior.

On 29 August this year, an event took place that is of significance to anyone who concerns themselves with the plight of ethic minorities in the Russian Federation, and in particular for the lack of legal defence for Roma in Russia. The Minister for National Policy Issues in the Russian Federation, Vladimir Zorin, was involved in the creation of a group of experts dealing with issues relating to Roma in Russia, which included both representatives of the various ministries as well as distinguished Roma cultural figures. At the first meeting of this group, V. Zorin mentioned the need for involving Roma in the current economic life of Russia, and raising the social status of this section of the population of the country. The minister also drew the attention of representatives of the Roma intelligentsia to the problem of schooling, and called upon Roma not to ignore an extremely important public institution, namely: the general school.

It seemed hard to object to these sentiments. Undoubtedly it has long since been time to solve the problems of many Roma who have been excluded from the social and economic life of the country. In order to do this, political decisions are required, as are the combined efforts of all state bodies and Roma organisations. Even the situation mentioned above – that of the education of Roma children – is not determined by an “unwillingness” to study at school, but is to a large extent the result of a great lack of special programmes for children of different cultures. After all, Russian is not their mother tongue, but instead their “first foreign language”. Many schoolteachers know very well that Roma children need to be taught using a different approach, particularly in areas where Roma are living in high concentrations, and where the Roma language and culture are thus dominant. “What we need is a programme for ethnic minority schooling,” say the teachers at the primary school in Oselki in the Vsevolozhskii District of Leningrad region, who work with classes of Roma. But such a programme has not yet been set up, and teachers have to decide whether or not to teach these children. And if they decide to teach them, then how should they teach them? It is clear to see that a uniform approach needs to be worked out, that will allow children to obtain all the knowledge they need without losing their own identity. It is equally important to find solutions to the other problems – employment, social benefits and pensions, accommodation, health. Thus genuine dialogue between the authorities and Roma activists is only to be welcomed.

However, a peaceful and humane approach to ethnic minorities will of course always have its opponents. It is no surprise that V. Zorin’s initiative was not popular among activists from “Russian National Unity” – a strongly nationalist, indeed fascist organisation whose activities were condemned and even banned in many regions of the Russian Federation. Russian supporters of Hitlerism – a regime that destroyed Roma, describing them as a “criminal race” – naturally repeat the old lie that “traditionally this race made its money through theft, swindling, horse-thieving and the abduction of children”. And even now, according to RNU members, “the economic achievements of Roma are in no way connected with a school education”, at which point they impudently “refer to the words of Mr Zorin” in connection with his speech at the meeting of the group of experts.

What is surprising is this: that the arguments used by these extremists in defence of their anti-Roma views are literally a quote from a statement by the Deputy Minister of the Interior A. Chekalin regarding the results of operation “Tabor” (July 2002). “As Chekalin said, Roma make their children practise vagrancy, begging and swindling, and use them for their own selfish goals”. This was followed by some figures from Militia checks (how many Roma, how many children, and also regarding weapons and drugs confiscated in the course of operation “Tabor”).

To be fair to the journalists, when they quoted the Deputy Minister a year ago, several of them added their own commentary, such as: “Such crimes by no means justify the ethnic cleansing carried out by the Ministry of the Interior. Why, instead of carrying out checks on a racial basis, do the militia not simply carry out checks on beggars with children?… There is no doubt that it is not only Roma who exploit their children” (prikom.panorama.ru – 30.07.2002).

We should also add that such crimes do not justify the blatant racism of statements made by the militia, whereby the word “Gypsy” is used to mean simply “criminal”, and even the name of the project – “Tabor” – implies that people are suspected of criminal acts purely on the basis of their race, and not due to any legal reasoning. It is not all that strange, then, that A. Chekalin’s words appealed to the RNU activists, which they literally repeated in their criticism of minister V. Zorin. In fact, on the RNU website, these words are quoted with almost no commentary at all, because the logic of the Ministry of the Interior is perfectly satisfactory to the Nazis! All that remained for them to do was to add a column of condemnatory figures and briefly conclude, “So these are the economic successes of the ‘restless tribe’”.

So what is the state policy of the Russian Federation towards the “Roma question”? Surely the Ministry of the Interior cannot simply condone nationalist attacks on the Ministry for National Policy Issues, who for their part are placidly calling for the integration of Roma into the economic life of the country, and the improvement of their standards of living? Ideally ministers would not simply talk about a tolerant approach to ethnic minorities, but would also set right their cabinet colleagues who are still practising the repressive nationalism that is so popular among extremists.

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