|Relations with Authorities|
Registration and relations with local authorities
The relations with local authorities are regarded a crucial matter by Kelderari Roma communities, who often take the initiative in negotiating agreements, that regulate mutual relations. The approach of local authorities towards Kelderari Roma communities differ to a great extent and often policies depend on (changes in) the political line. Registration, in Russia referred to as “propiska”, is one of the fields, that is used by the local authorities to grant or deprive locals from their privileges. Registration depends on the amount of square meters of living space available or on the rights of owners and tenants of a given living space.
In Tyumen, the local authorities developed an active approach towards the communities of local Kelderari Roma. An additional registration of the Kelderari Roma whose houses were to be demolished was carried out in 2006, while in the same year, the local authorities stopped putting the usual registration stamp in the newly issued passports of youngsters.
Both in Barnaul and in Krokhal’ (Novosibirsk province) the local authorities refused to issue new passports after old ones had been destroyed as a result of fire. In Krokhal’ an entire Kelderari Roma community of hundreds of people are living without documents proving their identity. 26 houses of the local Kelderari community burned down in 2004, together with passports and other documents of the owners. The local police refuses to issue new (copies of) the documents and meanwhile keeps on arresting Roma and demanding payment of penalties for the absence of their documents.
In Novaya Bykovka (Vladimir province) the local authorities do not issue any documents at all, including birth certificates for new born babies.
The disadvantages resulting from not being registered are twofold. Firstly, it means an ongoing problem with law enforcement bodies, who repress those without registration, and secondly it leads to exclusion from social benefits. As many Kelderari Roma happen to be registered in some other municipalities, than where they actually live, they are unable to apply for social benefits out of practical reasons. It is not unusual, that all inhabitants of a compact settlement are registered in one or two houses of the settlement, that are legally fit for that, which gives authorities the right to restrict certain social benefits.
In Sviyazhsk (Tatarstan), where all people are registered in one house and their they are not allowed to register their children. The local authorities explain their refusal to register more people in the same house by there is a lack of square meters pro person. As a result of absence of registration - propiska –those families receive neither children money nor social money (for handicapped, elderly people etc).
Lack of documents and migration
After the Soviet Union fell apart, it took quite some time to install a functioning system of border control along the newly formed borders and to regulate new national demonstrations. In practice many people did not feel the change until the new borders were equipped with checkpoints and new national passports were introduced to change the old Soviet passports. In Russia, it took more than 10 years before Russian passports were introduced and Soviet passports became invalid. Many Roma and especially Kelderari Roma failed to obtain Russian passports, which had far stretching consequences for them, as they had become de facto undocumented.
For example near the Atomic Power Station in Voronezh province in Nikol’skoye village nobody can be registered anymore in the house of Nikolay Mihaj, who failed to get ownership rights registered. His daughter in law has never had any documents proving who she is and now she has two children who are refused documentation.
In Voronezh province there is a village called Podgornoye and there live about 300 people for twelve years already. Most of them have no passports, registration etc. because they moved there from Ukraine in the post-Soviet era, as a result people have not only problems with obtaining social aid but even with police and some of them like Valery Boloso that we interviewed are often stopped, beaten and forced to pay bribes and once they even came to his house at 6 AM and took him, his wife and children to police station, where he was kept the whole day for the sole reason that he doesn’t have any documents. He and his wife Angela have two sons, 16 and 17 years old, both married and fathers themselves and all three generations are undocumented, and although they have their-own house in which they live for more than 10 years, the local police calls them three generations of homeless.
In Saratov Province in a village called Storozhovka are Kelderari Roma who originate from Odessa (Ukraine). They are living in self-made shelters, without electricity and water for more than three years already. Their twenty children do not attend school as a result of the absence of Russian documents and registration. The local administration refuses to provide them with these papers. They would like to move back to Ukraine, but they are afraid of problems on the border. In the Janvarsky district of the city of Perm live a group of Kelderari Roma, who are also from Odessa (Ukraine) and have similar problems.
There was a community in Dzerzhinsk, that was evicted in the year 2000 cruelly. They were all loaded into trucks and brought to another place. These people however have their registration in Dzerzhinsk not annulled, that creates problems too – that makes it impossible for them to get any other registration. People from the former Dzerzhinsk community like the Family of Elizaveta Khristova and her sons Alexei, Laszlo and Stepan, they are also fathers, their children have no birth certificates and no chance to solve that. Their meager literacy and understanding of legal matters prevent them from solving their problem.
The eviction of Kelderary Roma from Arkhangelsk – case study
A very well documented case is the legal fight and the eviction of a Kelderary Roma settlement in Archangelsk. It can be used to illustrate the fundamental problems between the compact settlements of Roma and the local authorities, who take an incomprehensive position towards them, are interwoven and based upon a lack of understanding on a policy maker level. Moreover, the local authorities have simply ruled out the possibility to have a Roma settlement, that could fit into their city development plans. This attitude forces the Roma to choose for making tricky deals with the responsible officials in this or that sphere, followed by their own initiatives.
In the Northern city of Archangelsk, Roma were officially accused of building illegal dwellings. Quick legal decisions were made to declare Roma housing illegal and to force Roma to leave their homes. However, as analysis clearly shows: the claim of criminality had a deciding impact on the public opinion and not the courts’ decisions on illegal construction.
The group of Kelderary Roma families involved in the dispute arrived from Volgograd in 2004, following their leader, Khulupi Bakalaevich Goman. Having lived in Archangelsk several decades before, the community decided to return there once more after selling their homes and possessions in Volgograd. Before all the families made the move, however, Mr. Gomon began arranging the necessary permits and arrangements for them to do so, and by September of that same year the families obtained legal permission to rent their current parcels of land, which are located in the Novy Posyolok region. The permit was signed by Arkhangelsk's mayor at the time, Nilov, and other local authorities.
The dispute over “allowing” the Roma to remain in Archangelsk began when mayor Nilov’s political opponent, Donskoy, accused the former with charges of corruption for permitting the Roma to settle there, and accused the Roma themselves of illegally building homes on their land parcels. The permit given to the families allowed for them to occupy the land, but did not yet grant them permission to build houses, although the necessary legal provisions for them to do so were already being considered at the time. Regardless of the contract, it was in any case indispensable for the Roma to begin construction on proper homesteads in order to provide shelter for their large families during the coming winter months (within their time in Archangelsk alone a total of 9 children were born, adding to this necessity). In November 2004, however, former mayor Nilov began the legal dispute over the Roma's right to live at all on the lands which he granted them himself, due to the accusations of corruption he was charged with by the far-rightist Donskoy.
In his campaign speeches Donskoy charged that the only possible way the Gypsies could have been permitted to settle in Archangelsk was through corruption in Nilov’s administration. At the same time he explicitly promised that he would do all that was necessary in order to rid Archangelsk of its Roma community—not because of the legality of their homes, but because according to him, all Gypsies are “beggars, swindlers, and thieves [and] are incapable of doing anything else”. When Donskoy won the election for mayor later that year, he kept true to his promises and began demanding that the courts not only demolish the Roma's homes, but expel them from their lands completely. Had his discriminatory stance towards the Roma been unclear before, he further upheld it during a round-table meeting on the subject, in which he openly stated in front of journalists that his “position has not changed”, and that such criminals cannot be allowed to remain in Archangelsk because no citizen “would want Roma for neighbors”. Thus, the suits being brought against the Roma are clearly not matters of legality, but of straightforward and simple discriminatory politics.
Regardless of the temporary nature of these houses, it is not disputed that they were illegally constructed. Nonetheless, the Russian legal system clearly stipulates that it is possible to legalize homes with such a status in order to protect their residents. The mayor's team first insisted that Roma had to be evicted because they were illegally constructing houses on the territory and later these authorities proceeded to declare that the contract which granted lands to the Roma in the first place was not valid because it did not properly adhere to the legal procedures necessary in such an action. Furthermore, they claimed that although the administration itself was to blame for this mistake, it was still necessary for the Roma to abandon their land, since it was not obtained by means of a proper contract.
The Roma principally agreed, that they would leave, if they had a place to go to and if they would receive financial compensation, for their work carried out to make the marshy parcels of land that they had received fit for the construction of homesteads as well as reimbursement of their travel expenses. Mayor Donskoy reacted by creating a special fund and campaigned to fundraise the required sum of money, but only managed to raise money for train tickets.
Finally, on the 20th of July 2006, the Kelderary Roma community were evicted, rounded up and brought to the Archangelsk train station. There they were put on the train to Moscow in two wagons, that had been especially reserved for them and were guarded throughout the journey. Once arrived in Moscow, they were left to themselves. The ombudsman of Archangelsk Ms. Akhramenko labeled this event “a deportation” in her letter of protest to mayor Donskoy.