Staunton, June 16 – Local, regional and federal siloviki dispersed Russians who had been blocking a highway in Penza oblast after clashes between Russians and members of the Roma community there resulted in injuries and at least one death. The authorities have arrested 174 people, all of whom are Roma (theins.ru/news/161698 and znak.com/2019-06-14/v_penzenskoy_oblasti_omon_ochistil_federalnuyu_trassu_ot_protestuyuchih).
Federal officials have portrayed themselves as evenhanded and have even pledged to bring to justice local Russian officials if the investigation shows that they bore responsibility for the clashes (nakanune.ru/news/2019/6/16/22544080/). But the way in which the authorities have behaved will be read by some as meaning that it is open season on the Roma.
Indeed, some ethnic Russians in Penza Oblast may have already drawn that conclusion: Last night there was a large and as yet unexplained fire in the Roman encampment near Chemodanovka. No one was injured but a great deal of property was damaged (znak.com/2019-06-16/pod_penzoy_proizoshel_krupnyy_pozhar_v_cyganskom_poselke).
For the Russian authorities to tilt so far in the direction of one ethnic group and against another is extraordinarily short-sighted and dangerous, commentator Anatoly Nesmiyan who blogs under the name “El Murid” says in a new post that has been picked up by others (https://el-murid.livejournal.com/4163246.html; e.g., publizist.ru/blogs/112502/31608/-).
“The current conflict with the Roma in the village of Chemodanovka in Penza Oblast,” he says, “a conflict which ended with shooting, is not national and even not ethnic. It is strictly a clash of two ways of living, which are incompatible with one another,” the commentator continues.
According to him, the guilty parties in this case are “exclusively the local powers that be, from police on the beat to the governor who needed to include the Roma factor in their calculations and have a clearly designed conception of relations with this unique social category.”
That the authorities “in general did not do so, Nesmiyan says, “led to the conflict, the murder and the involvement of the population which in essence was fulfilling the work of the authorities but in an extreme manner.” Now, what is certain to happen, he says, is that “unacceptable conditions” will be created for the Roma and they will be forced to move on.
“Our authorities, unfortunately, are not able to quickly and effective act in the case of group conflicts be they communal or ethnic.” And what is still worse is that the Russian law enforcement bodies find it easier to accuse one side rather than find out and punish “the real criminals.”
“All this,” Nesmiyan says, “is the result of the incompetence of officials and officers of law enforcement organs, itself a reflection of a negative cadres selection. Those who get prompted are not those who honestly and professionally do their jobs but those who are loyal to the bosses and powers that be as a whole.”
Although the Russian blogger does not mention it, there is one even more disturbing aspect of this situation: few governments including the Russian ever get in much trouble if they attack the Roma given that all too many regimes have chosen to do so in violation of their own laws and human rights norms.