News & Current Affairs

July 12, 2009

Russian Roma face image problem

Filed under: Latest, Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:03 am

Russian Roma face image problem

As part of a series on Roma Gypsies in Europe,we examines how their reputation has changed in modern-day Russia.

Burned Roma house

“Houses started to burn”: a Roma drug dealer’s house

Russians have traditionally tended to think of Roma (Gypsies) in two ways: as horse-dealers and rustlers, or as rolling stones, wandering around the world in colourful costumes and singing romantic songs.

But in the new Russia this old image has been replaced by a different one – one generated by media reports from villages where Roma drug dealers sell heroin.

And although pro-Roma organisations try to argue that this picture does not apply to all Roma, their voice is drowned out by the media.

“All of a sudden, their houses started to burn because of some electrical problems, and entire clans would leave,” remembers Yevgenii Malenkin from Russian non-governmental organisation City Without Drugs, pointing to a burned house not far from Yekaterinburg, in central Russia.

Mr Malenkin says that about seven years ago Roma people living in the house were openly selling heroin.

“Right here on the crossroads crowds gathered, waiting for drugs to arrive. Those who had received their dose were lying in the bushes nearby. And police cars would be there too, providing security for the Gypsies,” he says.

There are no Roma engineers, no Roma doctors, they are all drug dealers
Yevgenii Malenkin

City Without Drugs started fighting drug addiction and drug dealing in Yekaterinburg 10 years ago.

But it seems Mr Malenkin’s attitude towards Roma has been tainted by his experience.

“There are no Roma engineers, no Roma doctors, they are all drug dealers. There are five Roma villages in Yekaterinburg and all five trade drugs,” he says.

Misrepresented

Nikolai Bessonov, one of the best known Russian specialists on Roma, believes that they are misrepresented in Russia.

“The real number of drug-dealers among Roma is exaggerated. The news only shows the drug-dealers. We never hear about Roma who study in universities, work on a farm, we don’t see Roma engineers or Roma doctors,” says Mr Bessonov, whose daughter and son-in-law are actors in a famous Moscow Roma theatre, the Roman.

Mr Bessonov lives in a village near Moscow where, he says, there are many Roma of “respectable” professions: a lawyer, a jeweller and a number of legitimate traders.

But the media tends to ignore them and this leads to misunderstanding.

A recent poll by the independent Levada Centre found that 52% of Russians think negatively of Roma.

According to Russia’s 2002 census, there are 183,000 Roma in the country.

But Mr Bessonov estimates the number to be nearer 250,000.

Secret identity

Nikolai Bugai, foreign relations counsellor at the ministry of regional development, says that Roma are able to live in harmony with the rest of the community.

Traditional Roma

Can reviving traditions improve the image of the Roma?

He recently visited a village in the Krasnodar region in the south of Russia, where out of a population of 13,000, at least 5,000 were Roma.

“There is a farm there of 220 hectares, which is headed by a Roma and the workers are also Roma,” says Mr Bugai.

Nikolai Bessonov believes that Roma people themselves are partly responsible for their negative image, in that they prefer to keep their identities secret.

“When I try to write about Roma who work, I ask a Roma doctor if I can talk about him, but he refuses, saying that he doesn’t want his patients to find out who he really is because that might create work-related problems. I approach a teacher and she tells me the same thing,” he says.

It has been said that those Roma who have assimilated into society have therefore partly lost their Roma identity.

But Mr Bessonov disagrees.

“When Russians stopped wearing beards and woven bast shoes, stopped farming and went to work at a factory or became, for instance, engineers, no one said that they ‘assimilated’. So why when a Roma goes to work in a mine or study at a university, do people say that he has assimilated?” asks the historian.

Our women want to work, but they can’t find anything because they are illiterate
Elza Mihai

He says it is important that Roma continue to respect their traditions, no matter what they do in life.

Many Roma are afraid to assimilate and so they don’t send their children to school. And if they do, it’s only for a year or two, so that children learn to read and write.

But the lack of a complete education makes it difficult for these children to find a job later on in life.

“Our women want to work, but they can’t find anything because they are illiterate,” says Elza Mihai, a teacher from a Roma village in the Leningrad region.

Myths and prejudices

Ms Mihai hopes that with such difficulty in finding employment, Roma people will eventually be convinced to send their children to school for longer than just a couple of years.

But better education alone will not improve the negative image of Roma in Russia.

After all, there are many myths and prejudices about other, well educated peoples.

Nikolai Bessonov hopes that revival of Roma folklore will help improve the image of Roma in Russia.

Together with his daughter and Roma son-in-law, Mr Bessonov has created a folklore group “Svenko”, where artists in typical colourful Roma costumes dance and sing Roma romances.

September 16, 2008

Roma poverty a major issue for EU

Roma poverty a major issue for EU

The European Union’s freedom of movement laws mean Eastern Europe’s large population of Roma (Gypsies) is now spreading west.

Roma family in Hungary

Roma make up around 10% of the population in Eastern Europe

The effect of this influx on national economies, as well as the deep poverty of the EU’s Roma, are high on the agenda as the first summit on Roma integration within the EU begins in Brussels.

Italy and Spain have received the most Roma, mainly from Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia, where they make up more than 10% of the population.

Italy has witnessed the most serious effects – murders blamed on Roma, and revenge attacks by vigilante groups, followed by controversial government attempts to fingerprint Roma immigrants.

In Hungary, there is tension between Roma and non-Roma, after the lynching of a teacher by a Roma mob in one village, and attacks on a lorry driver and his family in another – both after road traffic accidents involving Roma children.

The creation of a “Hungarian Guard”, by far-right groups who arrive in villages after such incidents, is fueling fears of an explosion.

Integration key

“I don’t really know how the EU could help,” said Andras Ujlaky, head of the Chance for Children Foundation in Hungary.

“But perhaps they could start by pressurizing national governments to implement their own declared policies in housing, employment and education.”

Hungarian customs trainee Jozsef Nagy
There weren’t many opportunities… This was the chance for me!
Jozsef Nagy
Trainee customs officer

In Hungary, an earlier policy to give money to schools for the mentally disabled, to which a disproportionate number of Roma were sent, was abandoned when it was realized that it encouraged segregation.

Now funds are focused on mainstream schools which accept more Roma – though they impose limits of 25% Roma in a class.

There has been a wave of school closures in recent years in Hungary, as population figures fall.

That cuts both ways for the Roma. When Roma ghetto schools close, and the children are redistributed among schools with an ethnic Hungarian majority, it helps integration efforts.

The town of Hodmezovasarhely in south-eastern Hungary has been a pioneer, with five out of 11 primary schools closed last year alone.

But in far-flung villages with a majority Roma population, Roma and non-Roma parents alike are upset when local schools close and children are bussed off each day to towns.

The links between the parents and the schools are broken.

An alternative policy, supported by opposition parties, would be to improve the facilities and standard of teaching in existing schools.

Police drive

In eastern Hungary poverty is so endemic – with the Roma blamed for widespread petty theft – that the head of the Hungarian Poultry Board recently complained that people are no longer raising hens in several counties.

One new initiative for Roma integration in Budapest is being run by Gyorgy Makula, a policeman of Roma origin.

Hungarian police officer Gyorgy Makula (left) and some Roma boys

Officer Gyorgy Makula (left) hopes to help Roma boys out of the ghetto

Giant placards will be placed at strategic points around Budapest, to try to encourage more Roma to consider a police career.

Data protection laws make it impossible to measure how many Roma police there are in Hungary, but Gyorgy Makula estimates no more than 200, in a police force of 38,000.

“We should show to the Hungarian people, to the majority, among them the police staff, that there are really excellent people in this community who have been working for the police, who are not criminals of course.

“So we would like to change the mind of the people,” said Capt Makula.

At the Police High School, on Szecsenyi Hill overlooking Budapest, Jozsef Nagy, a third-year trainee customs officer, says he always wanted to join one of the law enforcement agencies.

“There weren’t many opportunities in our village to get somewhere in life. This was the chance for me!” he said.

Bending rules

One obstacle to increasing Roma numbers in the police is the fact that fewer than 10% of Roma students complete secondary school in Hungary.

A new idea is to bend the rules – to let them begin police training, and take their school-leaving exams inside the police academy.

In Csorog, a village less than an hour’s drive north of Budapest, with a large Roma population, the idea of more Roma policemen goes down well.

“I can foresee some problems,” said Zoltan Lakatos, a dustman, “if a policeman was forced to arrest one of his own relatives. But on the whole it’s a good idea. I think it would help.”

But his son, Zoli, 15, cannot imagine himself in uniform, planning a career steeped in Roma tradition.

“I’ve already decided,” he said. “I’m going to be a dancer. I’m going to teach Gypsy dance.”

September 3, 2008

Grappling with a Roma identity

Grappling with a Roma identity

It was just a passing remark, the first time I heard Arpad Bogdan talk about the Roma father who had left him in an orphanage, and wonder if he should try to find him.

Arpad Bogdan

Arpad Bogdan spent his childhood in a state orphanage

We were drinking late at night in a semi-derelict house in a Budapest side street. We had skipped over bicycles and rubbish to make our way inside. I should say this was not a doss house but a trendy Urban Minimalism club.”He doesn’t have to tell you this you know,” whispered our mutual friend, director Antonia Meszaros. And it was then that I realised how conflicted Arpad is – how much of a dilemma his Roma inheritance has created.

Arpad is a much-garlanded young film director, whose feature film Happy New Life has won many awards. It is about a young Roma man’s unbearable childhood in an orphanage. In the end, he can’t hack it – unlike Arpad who emerged from his own orphanage into the University of Pecs and a promising film career.

“My film,” Arpad says, “is about the dilemmas of someone who realises that in order to face the future, he must come to terms with his past – and that’s something that I still have to do in my own life.”

Arpad was one of thousands of Roma – or gypsy – children who were taken into orphanages during Hungary’s Communist years. The truth is cloudy here, but it seems that in some cases their parents wanted this, in many they didn’t.

Sense of identity

“In the orphanage, being Roma had no positive implications for us,” Arpad recalls. “But some of the kids were visited by their parents and they brought smells and flavours that were strange to me and even a little bit frightening.

Hungary's Roma at an Easter celebration

The Roma people are Hungary’s largest minority

“There was also something exotic and exciting about them. The smell of an open fire, the smell of freedom.”Like many of his peers, and like many people in a globalised world, Arpad is now unsure where he belongs. He certainly seems to have a stake in the metro-savvy, globalized world of Budapest’s cafes, salons and grunge clubs.

But does he also belong – at some level – in the world of Gypsy Harlem, Budapest’s District Eight? Or in the villages where he reckoned his parents must still live?

Soon after our meeting, using powers under new Hungarian laws, Arpad sets off – in our own film – to find his parents. He had a rough idea where they lived, and had set off on a voyage of discovery before, only to lose his nerve.

What he finds is extraordinary. Newly released records show his parents “liked a drink, [and] discipline their children by beating them”.

He meets a brother, Laszlo, he had never met. He learns their mother is dead. And finally, he meets his ragged, handsome dad. A new young wife hangs back, in the shadows of the garden. Some 40 dogs bark and make our film crew nervous.

‘Forgiving’

And then his dad smiles, and extends a hand, and says, “Which one are you?” He’s so charming, it is impossible to take it the wrong way.

Whether I’ll see my father again, well maybe I will, but definitely not on my own
Arpad Bogdan

He’s called Laszlo too. He was in prison for 12 years.”I had a mean punch,” he says. “I always say better be accompanied by a prison guard than a priest on your way to the cemetery. Isn’t that right?”

The elder Laszlo doesn’t see much of any of his nine children anymore. “At least you came to find me,” he says.

“As for the past, let’s pull a veil over it, we should look to the future from now on.”

Back in Budapest, Arpad must think about his own future. First he must decide what his next film is about. He’s not really in a dilemma about whether to carve a career as a “gypsy director”. He doesn’t want to be typecast.

But he is uncertain about whether to stay in touch with his dad.

“I looked at my father, into his eyes, and I suddenly felt myself forgiving him. I let him go, along with all the bad things I used to blame him for,” he says.

“After that, I could see him for what he is, I could listen to him. Whether I’ll see my father again, well maybe I will, but definitely not on my own. I will have to take someone with me, someone from my own life.”

We’ll have to wait and see what he does.

So far, he doesn’t know himself.


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August 24, 2008

Shevchenko heads back to AC Milan

Shevchenko heads back to AC Milan

Andriy Shevchenko

Shevchenko has long been linked with a move back to Milan

Chelsea striker Andriy Shevchenko is to re-join Italian side AC Milan after completing a medical on Monday.

The 31-year-old Ukrainian cost the Blues £30m in 2006 but has failed to make an impact in the Premier League.

Shevchenko is AC Milan’s second-most prolific goalscorer of all-time with 127 goals from 208 games.

“Chelsea have agreed terms for Andriy Shevchenko to return to AC Milan,” said Chelsea’s website. “Details of the agreement will remain confidential.”

Shevchenko failed to earn a regular spot in the first team at Chelsea following his move to Stamford Bridge, scoring just nine goals in 47 appearances.

606: DEBATE
BWI

His first season ended prematurely when he had hernia surgery, forcing the striker to miss the Champions League semi-final against Liverpool and the FA Cup final.

New Chelsea coach Luiz Felipe Scolari did not pick him for their first Premier League match of the campaign last weekend, prompting Milan to launch the latest in a string of attempts to bring the Ukraine international back to Italy.

AS Roma and Sampdoria also expressed an interest but returning to Milan was always his preferred choice.

“For me it’s like winning the Champions League,” Shevchenko told Italy’s ANSA news agency. “There were complications but now everything is resolved I’m really happy.”

Milan chief executive Adriano Galliani was overjoyed to re-sign Shevchenko.

“After a series of frenetic phone calls during the whole day, we reached an agreement with Chelsea,” said Galliani.

“Tomorrow he will be in Milan, Monday he will undergo a medical and then sign a contract.

“We have managed to bring home a player who has scored the most goals in our shirt in the last 50 years.”

Galliani had said earlier this week that talks over Shevchenko had stalled with Milan wanting a loan deal but Chelsea only interested in a permanent transfer.

The details of their eventual agreement remain confidential.

Andriy made a mistake in leaving and I think after two years he has understood that this is his home
Milan chief Adriano Galliani

After buying Ronaldinho from Barcelona at the start of the close season, Milan had said they would not bring in any more players.

However, an injury to Marco Borriello, Alexandre Pato’s stuttering form for Brazil at the Olympics and Filippo Inzaghi turning 35 have made the signing of another striker necessary.

“I have heard from Andriy about 48 times in the last three hours. Andriy made a mistake in leaving and I think after two years he has understood that this is his home,” Galliani added.

“Now he has made economic sacrifices but at this point what counts is that he has come back to us.”

Shevchenko began his career at Dynamo Kiev, winning five league titles and two national cups with the team between 1994-99.

He spent seven successful years at Milan, helping the Rossoneri clinch the 2002/03 Champions League 2003/04 Serie A title.

He was also named European Footballer of the Year in 2004.

However, he missed the penalty that gave Liverpool victory in the 2004/05 Champions League final.

The Serie A season kicks of 31 August with Milan due to host Bologna in their opening game.

August 5, 2008

Premier League ins and outs

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Premier League ins and outs

Courtesy BBC

ARSENAL

Arsenal

Ins: Aaron Ramsey (Cardiff, £5m), Samir Nasri (Marseille, undisclosed), Amaury Bischoff (Werder Bremen, undisclosed).

Outs: Gilberto Silva (Panathinaikos, £1m), Alexander Hleb (Barcelona, £11.8m), Jens Lehmann (Stuttgart, free), Mathieu Flamini (AC Milan, free), Kerrea Gilbert (Leicester, loan).

ASTON VILLA

Aston Villa

Ins: Steve Sidwell (Chelsea, £5m), Curtis Davies (West Brom, undisclosed), Brad Friedel (Blackburn, £2m).

Outs: Thomas Sorensen (released), Patrik Berger (Sparta Prague, free), Luke Moore (West Brom, £3m).

BLACKBURN ROVERS

Blackburn Rovers

Ins: Robbie Fowler (Cardiff, free), Paul Robinson (Tottenham, £3.5m), Carlos Villanueva (Audax Italiano, loan), Danny Simpson (Manchester United, loan).

Outs: Stephane Henchoz (released), Bruno Berner (released), Peter Enckelman (Cardiff, free), Brad Friedel (Aston Villa, £2m), David Bentley (Tottenham, £15m).

BOLTON WANDERERS

Bolton Wanderers

Ins: Johan Elmander (Toulouse, £10m), Fabrice Muamba (Birmingham, £5m), Mustapha Riga (Levante, undisclosed).

Outs: Daniel Braaten (Toulouse, undisclosed), Andranik Teymourian (Fulham, free), Stelios Giannakopoulos (released), Ivan Campo (released), El Hadji Diouf (Sunderland, £2.5m).

CHELSEA

Chelsea

Ins: Jose Bosingwa (FC Porto, £16.2m), Deco (Barcelona, £8m).

Outs: Steve Sidwell (Aston Villa, £5m), Ben Sahar (Portsmouth, loan), Ryan Bertrand (Norwich, loan), Slobodan Rajkovic (FC Twente, loan), Claude Makelele (Paris St Germain, free), Khalid Boulahrouz (Stuttgart, £4m), Tal Ben Haim (Manchester City, undisclosed), Shaun Cummings (MK Dons, loan).

EVERTON

Everton

Ins: None.

Outs: Lee Carsley (Birmingham City, free), Stefan Wessels (VfL Osnabruck, free).

FULHAM

Fulham

Ins: John Pantsil and Bobby Zamora (West Ham, £6.3m), Tony Kallio (Young Boys Bern, undisclosed), Andranik Teymourian (Bolton, free), Zoltan Gera (West Brom, free), David Stockdale (Darlington, undisclosed), Mark Schwarzer (Middlesbrough, free), Fredrik Stoor (Rosenborg, undisclosed).

Outs: Dejan Stefanovic (Norwich, undisclosed), Nathan Ashton (Wycombe, nominal fee), Elliot Omozusi (Norwich, loan), Ricardo Batista (Sporting, undisclosed), Tony Warner (Hull City, free), Carlos Bocanegra (Stade Rennais, free), Brian McBride (Toronto, free), Philippe Christanval, Jari Litmanen, Simon Elliott, Kasey Keller (all released).

HULL CITY

Hull City

Ins: Peter Halmosi (Plymouth, £2m), George Boateng (Middlesbrough, £1m), Tony Warner (Fulham, free), Bernard Mendy (Paris St Germain, free), Geovanni (Manchester City, free), Craig Fagan (Derby, £750,000), Anthony Gardner (Tottenham, loan).

Outs: Michael Bridges (Carlisle, loan), Henrik Pedersen (Silkeborg IF, free), David Livermore (Brighton, free).

LIVERPOOL

Liverpool

Ins: David Ngog (Paris St Germain, undisclosed), Emmanuel Mendy (Murcia Deportivo, free), Diego Cavalieri (Palmeiras, undisclosed), Andrea Dossena (Udinese, undisclosed), Philipp Degen (Borussia Dortmund, free), Robbie Keane (Tottenham, £20.3m).

Outs: Jack Hobbs (Leicester, loan), Godwin Antwi (Tranmere, loan), Adam Hammill (Blackpool, loan), Scott Carson (West Brom, £3.25m), Peter Crouch (Portsmouth, £11m), Harry Kewell (Galatasaray, free), Paul Anderson (Nottingham Forest, loan), Anthony le Tallec (Le Mans, undisclosed), John Arne Riise (Roma, £4m), Besian Idrizaj (Wacker Tirol, free), Danny Guthrie (Newcastle, undisclosed), Robbie Threlfall (Hereford, loan).

MANCHESTER CITY

Manchester City

Ins: Jo (CSKA Moscow, £18m), Tal Ben Haim (Chelsea, undisclosed).

Outs: Georgios Samaras (Celtic, undisclosed), Andreas Isaksson (PSV Eindhoven, undisclosed), Geovanni (Hull, free), Emile Mpenza and Paul Dickov (both released), Sun Jihai (Sheffield United, free), Matthew Mills (Doncaster, £300,000).

MANCHESTER UNITED

Manchester United

Ins: None.

Outs: Adam Eckersley (AC Horsens, free), Gerard Pique (Barcelona, £5m), Tom Heaton (Cardiff City, loan), Chris Eagles (Burnley, £1m), Danny Simpson (Blackburn, loan)

MIDDLESBROUGH

Middlesbrough

Ins: Didier Digard (Paris St Germain, £4m), Marvin Emnes (Sparta Rotterdam, £3.2m).

Outs: George Boateng (Hull City, £1m), Fabio Rochemback (Sporting, free), Lee Dong-Gook (released), Mark Schwarzer (Fulham, free), Steve Thompson (Port Vale, free), Lee Cattermole (Wigan, £3.5m).

NEWCASTLE UNITED

Newcastle United

Ins: Danny Guthrie (Liverpool, undisclosed), Jonas Gutierrez (Real Mallorca, undisclosed).

Outs: Emre (Fenerbahce, undisclosed), David Rozehnal (Lazio, £2.9m), Peter Ramage (QPR, free).

PORTSMOUTH

Portsmouth

Ins: Peter Crouch (Liverpool, £11m), Ben Sahar (Chelsea, loan), Glen Little (Reading, free), Omar Alieu Koroma (Banjul Hawks, undisclosed).

Outs: Sulley Muntari (Inter Milan, £12.7m), Omar Alieu Koroma (Norwich, loan).

STOKE CITY

Stoke City

Ins: Seyi George Olofinjana (Wolves, £3m), Dave Kitson (Reading, £5.5m).

Outs: Marlon Broomes (Blackpool, free).

SUNDERLAND

Sunderland

Ins: Pascal Chimbonda (Tottenham, undisclosed), David Meyler (Cork City, undisclosed), Nick Colgan (Ipswich, free), Teemu Tainio (Tottenham, undisclosed), El Hadji Diouf (Bolton, £2.5m), Steed Malbranque (Tottenham, undisclosed).

Outs: Andrew Cole (Nottingham Forest, free), Greg Halford (Sheffield United, loan), Ian Harte and Stephen Wright (both released), Ross Wallace (Preston, loan).

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

Tottenham Hotspur

Ins: John Bostock (Crystal Palace, £700,000), Heurelho Gomes (PSV Eindhoven, undisclosed), Luka Modric (£15.8m), Giovani dos Santos (Barcelona, £4.7m), David Bentley (Blackburn, £15m).

Outs: Pascal Chimbonda (Sunderland, undisclosed), Paul Robinson (Blackburn, £3.5m), Teemu Tainio (Sunderland, undisclosed), Joe Martin (Blackpool, undisclosed), Robbie Keane (Liverpool, £20.3m). Anthony Gardner (Hull City, loan), Steed Malbranque (Sunderland, undisclosed), Jake Livermore (Crewe, loan).

WEST BROM

West Brom

Ins: Scott Carson (Liverpool, £3.25m), Marek Cech (FC Porto, £1.4m), Gianni Zuiverloon (Heerenveen, £3.2m), Luke Moore (Aston Villa, £3m).

Outs: Kevin Phillips (Birmingham, free), Curtis Davies (Aston Villa, undisclosed), Martin Albrechtsen (Derby County, free), Zoltan Gera (Fulham, free), Luke Daniels (Shrewsbury, loan).

WEST HAM UNITED

West Ham United

Ins: Valon Behrami (Lazio, £5m), Balint Bajner (Liberty Salonta, undisclosed), Jan Lastuvka (Shakhtar Donetsk, loan).

Outs: John Pantsil and Bobby Zamora (Fulham, £6.3m), Richard Wright (Ipswich, undisclosed).

WIGAN ATHLETIC

Wigan Athletic

Ins: Amr Zaki (Zamalek, loan), Olivier Kapo (Birmingham, £3.5m), Daniel de Ridder (Birmingham, free), Lee Cattermole (Middlesbrough, £3.5m).

Outs: Andreas Granqvist (Groningen, £600,000), Julius Aghahowa (Kayserispor, undisclosed), Salomon Olembe (Kayserispor, free), Josip Skoko (Hajduk Split, free), David Cotterill (Sheffield United, undisclosed).

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