Land and Housing

The segregation in land and housing

Land and housing are a crucial part of modern Kelderari Roma traditions. After they had been forced to settle down in 1956 the Kelderari Roma soon developed their own way of finding places for their communities to live and making these places suitable for life and work. Communities are sometimes migrating in search of a better and happier life, but generally tend to remain and develop on the spot. Usually, the community concluded a user agreement with the local government for a certain parcel of territory or a certain amount of houses.

In Soviet times, the Kelderari Roma were often directed to the outskirts of towns, to places with hardly any facilities. Nowadays however, these suburbs have become popular with the “nouveaux riches” and, for the resulting financial and practical reasons, the location and expansion of Kelderari Roma communities has become a problematic issue. Though the land is for sale, it can be only obtained through buying it on a public auction, where it is sold to the highest bidder. The impact of this is clearly felt even by the Kelderari Roma communities, that are richer than others like the ones in Yekaterinenburg and Chudovo (Novgorod province). In some other cities, like Tyumen (Shopping zone) and Ivanovo (Airport), huge projects are planned on spots, where Kelderari Roma communities have been dwelling for decades. 

On the outskirts of the city of Ivanovo Roma built 37 houses on a piece of land that they rented and which is situated near the local airport, that had been defunct for many years. According to the inhabitants of the houses, Mr. Luzhkov, mayor of Moscow, showed sudden interest in the airport in order to resume the use of it. The rent of land was declared illegal and the houses were sentenced to be destroyed by May 2007. Women of the settlement complained, that they stopped receiving social benefits for children, although they were not informed about the end of their registration. In fact, that indicates, that the local administration cancelled their registration without informing them. 

 In the town of Tyumen, the local authorities developed an active approach towards the communities of local Kelderari Roma. An additional registration of the Kelderari Roma inhabitants of houses 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. These two big settlements happen to be in the central district of Tyumen city. Now this city rapidly develops, they are being surrounded by big hypermarkets and other modern development projects. All together 100 houses of Kelderari Roma are to be destroyed. During the last years, children born and growing up in these settlements are no longer being registered and those receiving passports get no official registration stamps in them. It is unclear whether the authorities are planning to give the communities alternative housing or not. 

These cities are not the only places, where Kelderari Roma have been facing eviction during the last years. In some places, like Barnaul, the user agreements were annulled and the territory sold, thus creating a squatter status for the local Kelderari Roma community. In Omsk, the sale of a factory led to the destruction of a Kelderari Roma settlement situated on the premises of that factory. 

In the village Vlasikha near the city of Barnaul (the Altay), about 30 houses are to be evicted from day to day. The local administration made a court case to prove their illegality and after having won it, sold the land, that the houses are situated on to some other people. The interview with the street administrator Zhanna Gdanova made the impression that the sale had not been done in accordance with the law and could still be challenged. 

In Yekaterinenburg, about 50 well constructed and maintained houses are illegal. The community has been living there since 1956. As the city is expanding these streets became part of the centre and the land is expensive. Community leaders were warned by the local administration, that their homes are to be relocated, but the Roma would prefer to legalize their houses and are ready to pay for that. The local authorities refuse even to discuss such an option, both with Roma as well as with Memorial. 

The most worrying situation takes place now in Chudovo (Novgorod Velikij province) where the Kelderari community has been settled since 1986, when they fled the polluted Chernobyl region. They have been living in Chudovo ever since according to a permission granted to them in 1986. During a round table in 2005 the local government and the Kelderari Roma community expressed mutual commitment to regulate issues like housing, education and access to resources. In 2006, the situation suddenly changed to the worse. Simultaneously, some community members were put under criminal investigation accused of violence, a complaint against the illegal construction of houses was filed by the local prosecutor, who got inspired by the local administration. A local TV program staged Mr. Prusak, the Governor of the Novgorod Velikij province, expressing his wish that the settlement should be demolished. Kelderari Roma, who attempted to legalize their houses got the answer that no decision will be made until the decision of the courts about illegal houses demolition. The court of first instance already decided that the houses have to be demolished and the appeal got the same decision.