Andrew Roth, Guardian, June 19, 2019
Hundreds of Roma people have been forcibly evicted from a village in western Russia, the head of the village council has admitted, after one ethnic Russian was killed and another left in a coma.
The regional government quickly tried to backtrack on the comments by Sergey Fadeev, who told the newspaper Novaya Gazeta: “Buses were brought and all the [Roma] who lived here were taken to Volgograd, where the local diaspora had agreed to accept them. It was done forcibly. Now we are studying the legality of their living in our village.”
Tensions between Roma people and Russian villagers in the region of Penza boiled over last week, leading to a deadly brawl, arson attacks, forced evictions and even accusations of a hidden US hand in the violence.
Videos posted from the village of Chemodanovka in the Penza region showed houses owned by Roma families on fire after an ethnic Russian man was stabbed to death during a mass brawl along racial lines. Four more were admitted to hospital after the street fighting, which was said to have been caused by complaints from Russian villagers against the Roma over sexual harassment.
Then, suddenly, the Roma were gone, leaving behind 90 empty houses.
After Fadeev said hundreds of Roma had been forcibly evicted to Volgograd, the regional government said the families left peacefully. Neither Fadeev nor members of the families could be reached immediately for comment, and the village council told the Guardian it was not allowed to speak to reporters.
The governor’s office said it believed 650 Roma people had left the village of Chemodanovka, as well as the neighbouring village of Lopatka, but not by force.
The incident is a particularly troubling example of the ethnic tensions that can emerge in small Russian towns and Roma communities, which gain little support from the government.
After the first clash on Thursday, an estimated 1,500 villagers gathered to demand protection from the regional government, temporarily blocking the federal M5 “Ural” highway in protest.
When the region’s governor, Ivan Belozertsev, arrived to try to relieve tensions, he took the unusual tack of blaming the US.
“America, the west, has poured enormous amounts of money into preparing people here … they’re in every region, including ours, and they don’t want to solve problems, they want to destabilise the situation. They bring fake information here,” he told a crowd of residents on Sunday.
He claimed malign influencers were trying to increase tensions in Russia by “using this tragedy to rock the situation and play the ethnic card”.
To try to calm tensions, the government banned the sale of alcohol in the area.
Shortly after the fight on Thursday, the regional representative for the Roma people made a public address to try to avoid further violence.
“We have had a great tragedy,” Andrei Ogly said. “The Roma diaspora sends its condolences to the relatives of the man who died and we pray for the injured man to get better … We don’t want to have a conflict with those in the city … This conflict must be settled.”