Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Penza Police Threaten but Don’t Break Up Russian Crowd Calling for Expulsion of Roma

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 23 – On Friday, 100 Russians assembled in Chemodanovka to demand that the Roma be permanently expelled from their homes. The authorities did not give permission for the meeting and warned participants that if they did not disperse, they would be detained. But in the face of popular anger, the police backed down and the meeting continued.

            Some speakers at the meeting said that the Roma had been dealing in drugs and corrupting children and therefore must be expelled permanently from their places of residence to protect ordinary law-abiding Russians. But when officials asked them to file official declarations about this, they demurred (mbk-news.appspot.com/suzhet/cygan-vyselyat-nikto-ne/).

            The local authorities put out a message on the Internet telling people not to come to the meeting lest they face administrative punishments; but recognizing that not all of them have access to the Internet, the authorities them went around to those assembling and warned them of the risks. Despite that, few left -- and instead, the police withdrew.

            After the police departed, Vyacheslav Demichev, the head of the local district, arrived to try to calm the situation, although as MBK’s Mikhail Shevelyov reports, the official “immediately declared that he would not answer questions about the Roma” and instead made a series of promises about how he was going to improve roads and city services.

            As soon as he finished his remarks, Demichev was peppered with questions like “Why don’t the Roma serve in the army?” and “Why don’t they pay taxes?” And some repeated their earlier demands that the Roma “must be expelled” from their homes. (Most of them already had left forcibly or not depending on reports and have even left their farm animals behind.)

            Demichev’s visit was followed by one from the head of the district police and the head of the MVD of Penza oblast “in the company of several police officers in civilian dress.”  The officials said that there was no reason for people to be upset because troublemakers among the Roma had been arrested already. 

            One Russian participant said that he was prepared to “defend [his] land with arms in his hands,” but it is unclear how much this was bravado or how much it reflects the level of anger among Russians in this district or elsewhere.  The police clearly were trying to calm the situation rather than making it worse.

            The Penza MVD chief said that he wasn’t about to make any promises he couldn’t keep and that consequently he wouldn’t promise to expel the Roma. “No one is going to expel them because they are Russian citizens just like you are; and they have the right to own their own homes.”

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