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Russian authorities plan to socialise Gypsies

April 08, 2014, 16:02 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
Gypsies in ITAR-TASS press center

Gypsies in ITAR-TASS press center

© ITAR-TASS/Donat Sorokin

MOSCOW, April 08. /ITAR-TASS/. Russia, as does the whole world, marks International Day of Gypsies on Tuesday, April 8. In Moscow and other Russian cities, remembrance services for Gypsies who perished in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 are traditionally held on this day. Churches hold remembrance services and wreaths of fresh flowers are set loose on the sea or river waters.

This is a reason to recall once again the problems of ethnic groups with common Indian origin living all over the world, including Europe, Asia, North Africa, North and South America and Australia.

The global Gypsy population is about 18 million, between 10 and 12 million living in European Union states. About 220,000 reside in Russia, according to the 2010 national census. According to unofficial reports, there are many more. Notably, according to the Federal National Cultural Autonomy of Russian Gypsies, a million Gypsies live in Russia. A high birthrate and migration mobility lead to constant growth in their population.

As other countries, Russia is making an effort to assimilate Gypsies. However, the Gypsy issue is not so acute in this country as in the EU. It is just enough to recall attempts to deport Gypsy migrants from Romania and Hungary that French authorities had taken in 2010.

Gypsies had been actively socialised in Soviet times. In 1956, they were banned from roaming and begging. Gypsies were hired at Soviet collective farms and some measures were taken to register them in concrete settlements. However, in the first post-Soviet years this ethnic group was actually turned adrift in the world, resulting in segregation of Gypsy communities in Russian regions.

Russian Gypsies (the Ruska Roma as they call themselves) are mostly well-assimilated and wealthy, many of them integrated into the Russian-speaking environment. More active Gypsies often live quite wealthily lives; the problem lies in the sources of money that far from all earn in legal business. Representatives of different respected professions, including small-numbered intelligentsia, are among Russian Gypsies.

Gypsies live the best life in Moscow and St. Petersburg, board member of the Federal National Cultural Autonomy of Russian Gypsies Vadim Bariev said. Their situation is different in Russian regions: whole Gypsy settlements without electric power, water and gas supplies and where buses do not stop exist in Russia, he noted. These settlements also do not have a school - the nearest situated a couple of kilometres away. As a result, children study only at primary schools and are uncompetitive on the labour market in adult life.

Experts note that Gypsies roaming at railway stations represent only 20% of their overall population. The other 80% are not marginal elements at all.

Ruska Roma are gradually giving way to numerous “alien” ethnic groups of Romani people - from the Lyuli coming from the Central Asian countries of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to nomadic Magyars penetrating to Russia from western Ukraine. This is migration constituting the bulk of people begging and fortune-telling at railway stations and marketplaces that frequently have criminal records, according to law enforcement agencies.

In 2013, the Russian government adopted a comprehensive plan which envisages involvement of the Romani in cultural, educational and business projects. This is the only “complex ethnic development programme” in Russia, a source in the country’s government told Izvestia daily, adding that “There is no such programme for other ethnos. Gypsies are special people left to sink or swim and requiring care from state authorities.”

The document envisions making films and programmes on television to tell the history of Russian Gypsies and “the problem of their integration into modern society.”

The Ministry of Regional Development and chief executives of Russian constituent entities have been instructed to help Gypsies who would like to start a business. Potential business people will be educated and consulted. Meanwhile, Gypsy business people will be granted benefits to receive communications services and buy electronic office appliances. Free legal consultations will be given at special centres. Those who do not have identity cards will be provided with passports on easier rules.

The government programme has a special section devoted to the problem of homelessness and lack of education among Romani children. A special alphabet book will be developed for them to study Russian. Pupils will have textbooks to learn the Romani language. At places of community living, young Gypsies will be able to go to clubs to learn traditional crafts such as blacksmithing, horse-breeding, sewing, embroidery and weaving.

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