Saturday, June 12, 2021

Moscow Uncertain What to Do about the Roma

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 10 – Over the last ten days, there have been three major clashes between members of Russia’s Roma community and other nationalities and also within the Roma nation itself. Moscow officials so far are at a loss of what to do, and Roma leaders say the authorities should not overreact as the fights are not as serious as they imagine.

            But because this violence undercuts the Kremlin narrative that Russia is now peaceful without significant interethnic hostility, a variety of institutions from the Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs to the Duma have begun debating what should be done about a community that seldom gets much attention from Moscow.

            The Roma of Russia, most often referred to as Tsigane and more denigratingly as “gypsies,” have generally functioned best when they have been ignored, so many Roma leaders there are worried what this new official focus will lead to (

            Vladimir Zorin, a member of the presidium of the Presidential Council on International Relations and a specialist on the Roma, says that there are already in place programs to assist the Roma but not all regions are making use of these, often because they lack both money to carry them out and any sense that the issue is important.

            Zorin himself says that he doesn’t think the Roma problem is nearly as important as many others; but others in Moscow disagree. Ildar Gilmutdinov, a member of the Duma nationalities committee, says the Roman “question” is “extremely important” and that Moscow must take steps now to force the regions to address it more seriousl.

            Valery Rashkin, a KPRF deputy also on that committee, says that the problems the Roma face are similar to the problems other nations face and that “the nationality question is sharpening now as a result of the decline in the incomes of the population.” The Roma issue is also related to immigration, and he proposes treating the Roma as migrants even though they’ve been in Russia for centuries.

            Moscow needs to put more money into such issues if it is to make any progress, Rashkin says.

            Roma leaders come at this issue in another way. Nadezhda Demeter, a senior official of the Federal National-Cultural Autonomy of Russian Roma, says that the problems her community faces are no different from those of others. She says most programs are working well, although she has complained about educational problems and the collapse of Roma organizations earlier (

            Artur Gorbatov, head of the interregional Roma Association, disagrees. He says that foreign groups have provided the Roma of Russia with significant aid but that Moscow has not. As a result, most programs that Moscow likes to talk about remain only on paper or at least do not reach those they are supposed to help.


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