Violence and persecution
The often complicated relationship between Kelderari Roma communities and local authorities could best be described as chaotic and largely depending on the good or bad will of those responsible. The reason, why local authorities are not effective, is the fact that they don’t have a special policy. At best, they are indifferent and treat Kelderari Roma as any other Russian citizens. Most often however, they discriminate against Kelderari Roma and sometimes it comes to an orchestrated persecution of a whole Kelderari Roma community. In the city Cheboksary on the Volga, many Kelderari Roma families sold their houses and fled after systematic actions by law enforcement bodies against them on the pretext of investigating a murder. The Kelderari Roma man who was suspected in that murder was eventually found innocent by a Cheboksarycourt. Evidently, this and likewise cases have contributed to a lack of trust among Kelderari Roma towards the authorities.
In August 2006 the Kelderari Roma settlement in Ust-Abakan (Khakassia) was raided by OMON special police forces, who arrived masked and armed. All the people were forced to leave their houses. Their houses were searched. Children and women were threatened with dogs and all the men were taken to police station, where their documents were checked. The responsible police officer, Mr. Takhtobin, explained that they had been sent this settlement to search it for drugs and that the problem of the legality of this act was not his but the public prosecutor’s responsibility. As he commented: “We have to obey our orders, when we are sent to check the Roma”.
Some Roma settlements were violently evicted by law enforcement forces. The most notorious case became the destruction of Roma homes in Kaliningrad in 2006, that was very well documented. Kelderari Roma also suffered from similar ill treatment. One of the first examples is an eviction of Burikony tribe, who moved from the Voronezh province to Krasnodar, where they rented the land and built their homes on it. However, the governor of Krasnodar, the notorious nationalist Alexander Tkachov, publicly declared his unwillingness to accept these Roma in his city and decided to evict them. On 12th of October 2001, police troops came to the Kelderari settlement and violently and abruptly evicted people out of their homes and then pushed them into specially prepared busses. The homes of the victims were destroyed in front of their eyes and people were taken by busses all the way to Voronezh province (500 km) escorted by police. Women, who protested were threatened with machine guns. A similar eviction took place in the year 2000 in Dzerzhinsk, where Kelderari Roma belonging to the Toshony tribe were thrown with their possessions onto lorries and were driven out of town. Most of them are still homeless and non-registered in any other place.
In 2004 in Omsk in a district called Nemetsky on Dunayevskaya street35 and 37, about 30 houses were destroyed. These evictions took place in March on the frost in the harsh Siberian climate. No alternative housing was offered. The community of 150 people is still homeless and people are officially registered in their destroyed homes. The living conditions of this community, which includes about a hundred children are unbearable. In an official letter on this question received from the Omsk authorities, were two arguments motivating the evictions, namely, that the houses had not been properly registered and secondly that the Russian neighbors had complained about the noisiness of the Roma community.
It’s not only in organized actions, like police raids on Kelderari Roma settlements, that law enforcement bodies violate the rights of Kelderari Roma. Cases of discriminatory, offensive and humiliating practices by regular police are numerous. In Ryzan the local police was reported to have cut the hair of arrested Kelderari Roma women, an act which can be only compared to rape, from the point of view of the humiliation felt by the women in question as well as the mutilating consequences for these women in their own community life, in which hair dress performs an indispensable symbolic function.
The women in these cases had been arrested for fortune telling, which is considered an offence in certain parts of Russia. However, when a group of women living in the settlement of Savvatyevo (Kalininsky Rayon, Tver province) were once brought by local police to the police prosecutor in the town of Bezhetsk and left there, the prosecutor had them liberated, as he could not establish the nature of the crime nor the measure of punishment. As there was no public transport between Savvatyevo and Bezhetsk the women were forced to take a taxi, which they had to pay with a golden wedding ring.
The authorities often complain about their inability to rule the situation. Some look for opportunities to improve the participation of the Kelderari Roma community, proposing to regulate the issues, that Kelderari Roma would like to normalize. The idea (as proposed by the Chudovo authorities to give the Kelderari Roma a legal form of self-government over the area that they are inhabiting and thus creating an administrative unit, that would be responsible for dealing with public works, but meanwhile lacking a budget is an example of a policy that lacks perspective.
An example of a policy area in which the local authorities in Russia almost completely fail is the protection of national minorities, including Kelderari Roma. Local criminal gangs succeeded in organizing pogroms against Kelderari Roma settlements in the vicinity of Kemerovo and burnt their houses down. After the Kelderari Roma had fled to Pashino, near Novosibirsk, the movement against illegal immigration, DPNI, a coalition of extremist nationalist groups, succeeded in organizing a campaign there, accusing the Kelderari Roma, without any evidence, of selling drugs. When part of the Kelderari Roma returned to the Kemerovo region, DPNI protests had to be stopped because of the personal efforts of the local governor. In the Novosibirsk area, there is no policy to protect local Kelderari Roma from violent groups. The settlement Krokhal’ near Novosibirskwas attacked on a number of occasions by veterans of the Afghanistan war, without any intervention from the side of the police.
A lot of Roma suffer from the race motivated violence of radical right-wing and neo-nazi groups. This phenomenon is especially dangerous around big cities like Moscow, St. Petersburg, Voronezh and Volgograd. In Voronezh people from the Bolosony tribe explained, that they avoid trouble and as they know when the days that neo-nazis have their celebrations, they simply don’t leave their homes. The most frequent victims of racist violence against Kelderari Roma are women. Women often have to travel by local trains from their settlements to big cities, both because they are earning a living by future telling and for practical reasons like doing shopping etc. There are many recorded cases of attacks against them in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Recently, new testimonies were gathered also in the Vladimir, Tver, Ryazan and Kaluga Provinces, indicating that the race motivated violence is spreading around Moscow. The most serious offences were recorded in the Usad station Kelderari settlement, where three women were attacked and beaten and one pregnant woman murdered in the end of 2005 in the summer of 2005, a group of violent fascists came with five cars to the settlement itself and attacked Kelderari in their homes. The Kelderari Roma started to fight back and in the end arrived the police to stop the fight. Three Roma ended up in hospital, one of them having a bullet-wound.