FRANCE 24 met with the gypsies of Chudovo, a town situated around 100 kilometres south of Saint-Petersburg. The 2,000-strong community settled there in 1986, soon after the Chernobyl disaster, but without title deeds.
For 20 years, the local authorities did not mind their presence but with the downfall of the Soviet Union everything changed. Land now has to be registered and paid for. In the spring of 2007, policemen and soldiers moved in to demolish the gypsies’ homes. Today, they seem to be threatened again.
Since 2005, the administration has been tightening the laws on land occupation. For example, it ordered the demolition of one of the gypsies’ camps installed a few meters from an asphalt factory which had closed five years ago, citing health reasons. However, the Russian homes situated 50 metres further on are not threatened.
Next spring, the Gypsies will have to move out. In exchange for 4,000 rubles to register the land, they will be able to settle in a muddy pastureland sandwiched between the motorway and the railway, with no schools close by. Here, the welcome is rather hostile. “We knew very well what they got up to. They stole firewood, they caused trouble all over,” declares the doyenne of the village, who is about to send a petition to Moscow against the gypsies and says she will do all she can to stop them moving here.
The gypsy community is not treated any better by the local authorities. The rural administration refuses to register them. They then lose all access to free health care, all family aid and therefore all legal existence.
The town of Chudovo is not an isolated case. Since 2006, half a million Russian gypsies have been affected by forced expulsions. Despite condemnation by Human Rights groups and a warning from the UN, the Russian federation has so far done nothing to solve the problem.