For whom the pogrom tolls: Why Odessa officials supported the deportation of Roma
By Andriy Manchuk
The deportation of Roma people from a village in the Odessa area, supported by the regional authorities and unopposed by Kiev, is a dangerous precedent. The regime explains Ukrainian problems not only in terms of Russia, Putin and the fifth column, but now “ethnic crimes” of the Roma.
‘Evicted’ at 12:00 am
On the evening of August 27 in the village of Loshchynivka village, located in the Odessa region, near the town of Izmail, a pogrom occurred against the Romani population. A crowd of local residents smashed homes inhabited by Roma families, and the Roma themselves survived only because they managed to flee Loshchynivka in advance. Aggressive Loshchynivka residents searched from them to commit violence, and police rescued with difficulty three elderly Roma women who could not leave the village in time. Otherwise, representatives of the new police force watched the pogrom passively, as 5 to 7 Roma houses were destroyed – to the astonishment of journalists who arrived on the scene from Odessa and Izmail.
Local authorities also fully supported the actions of the wreckers. Mikhail Saakashvili, governor of the Odessa Region, without waiting for the investigation and trial, called Loshchynivka “a den where there is an active drug trade,” accusing the Roma community. A leader of the Izmail district state administration declared that the Roma would be expelled from the village in 24 hours. “They will be given the opportunity to peacefully collect their belongings and leave the village,” said Chairman of the Regional State Administration Valentin Stoykov, who does not seem to understand that this initiative violates several articles of the Constitution, the current laws of Ukraine, and international conventions ratified by Kiev.
“Among other things, forced eviction is a crime against humanity under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. I know that many people have a negative attitude towards the Roma, I do not love them. But I’m just stating a fact,” Odessa journalist Yuri Tkachev commented on the position of Izmail officials.
|Roma community members fleeing pogrom in Loshchynivka.|
What was the pretext for the Loshchynivka pogrom and the ethnic cleansing of a whole village in Odessa? On August 27, in a forest plantation near the village, the raped body of nine-year-old girl was discovered. The murder suspect is a young man — one of the Roma living in the village. The young man accused of murdering the girl was on good terms with her mother and stepfather, often helped on their farm, and enjoyed the full confidence of the family. Moreover, according to local residents, on the eve of the murder they were drinking beer together in a rural pub where the mother of the deceased girl worked, and the alleged killer went home with her stepfather in a drunken state — which may eventually have led to the tragedy.
Why blame the entire community of local Roma for this terrible crime? And is it true that the Roma were “coming in large numbers” to Loshchynivka village as drug lords, as local officials claim?
“Now they say that Gypsies came here three years ago,” said Ukraina.ru journalist Nikolai Popov, who visited Loshchynivka on August 28, after visiting a makeshift assembly organized by the villagers. “However, this is not true. Cairaclia, as locals call the town, is considered a Bulgarian village, but Gypsies have also lived in it for a long time. A few years ago some of the local Roma brought their families. The Roma mainly collected scrap metal and grazed goats. Some of them were associated with crime, but some, especially the farmers, were not. Moreover, in many respects, they were vulnerable, and when attacked, it was clear that they could not resist and had nowhere to hide here. The Roma did not have weapons, but the crowd, which included some veterans of the ATO [Ukraine’s “Anti-Terrorist Operation” against the Donbass republics], apparently had some rifles. At least some were seen waving them.”
“At the same time, we cannot say that the village has some special feud with the Roma,” continues Popov. “The guy who is most likely to have committed a crime was friends with the girl’s parents and worked for them. Some say they have long been involved with some illegal businesses. For example, the moonshine trade. But there is not relationship between heroin trade and brewing alcohol. No one is blameless here. In general, the Roma are not angels, there is a problem of drug trafficking by Roma in the area, but especially in Loshchynivka, drug trafficking is an international activity. The villagers themselves do not hide the fact that among their local “narkolyg” there are Bulgarians and Russians. And all are allegedly provide cover by the police. I asked them why, then, have the Roma people been attacked? And they shrugged their shoulders in response. I think it all happened based on emotion. The girl’s murder shocked people, someone threw out an accusation, and away we go, the demolishing of Roma home started. The people are angry — there is no work, nothing to live on, a lot of drinking. But officials decided to play along with this frenzy, not bothering to attempt to understand the causes of the situation.”
Odessa opposition politician Alexey Albu agrees with this assessment. In comments to Ukraina.ru, he likened the accusations against the Roma with “blood libel,” which once served as a pretext for anti-Jewish pogroms. “As a deputy of the regional council, I toured these areas of the Odessa region many times, where Saakashvili rarely peeks. The reality is that many different nationalities live side by side, in a small area. Therefore, any attempt to play the so-called ethnic crime card, any attempt to extend the responsibility for one person’s crime against his whole community, is potentially fraught with such excesses as pogroms. Unfortunately, the government is encouraging this behavior reminiscent the Middle Ages. The local police recently laid off a lot of competent professionals, and seem unable to maintain order and protect innocent civilians from violence. But drugs? Ask anyone in our area – everyone says that this business is mainly engaged in by those who are supposed to catch criminals. Perhaps this, then, is where the people should direct their anger?”
|A wrecked home in Loshchynivka after the pogrom.|
Find a new enemy
“Most of the Roman in Izmail work as drivers or engage in agriculture. And those who are involved in the drug trade (and Ukrainians, Russians, Gagauz, Moldovans, Bulgarians and Lipovans are involved in the same business), are under the protection of the police and Odessa officials, including people from the entourage of Mikhail Saakashvili, who called the Gypsy quarter a ‘drug den,’” wrote journalist Alexander Rybin.
According to the journalist, the Ukrainian government encourages the pogrom mood, seeking to distract angry people from urgent social problems – so that they will believe their enemies are not corrupt officials or lawless police, but Romani living nearby.
“Ukrainian officials, politicians and nationalists need a convenient enemy. The currently declared enemies — Donbass separatists and the Russian army – they have so far failed to defeat, and victory is very necessary for the right-wing to raise its prestige in their own eyes, and in order to demonstrate to the Ukrainian public that the nationalists can protect them from evil invaders and occupiers. The Roma have no ‘Grads’ and tanks, and they are ideal for massacre. Their homes can be shot up with Kalashvikovs by those wearing brand new NATO uniforms, and the ‘aggressors’ defeated — disperse them, burn their houses and smash their cars. But in order to make it all fit into the mainstream of “protecting the people of Ukraine,” it is necessary to promote the fictional Gypsy threat to society. And for the greater good, links will have to be invented between the Roma, especially drug dealers, and the special services of Russia-Donbass. “The agents of the FSB and SVR among the Roma population,” “separatist strongholds, lurking in the camps,” “drugs coming directly from the territory of occupied Crimea.” It is very likely that such cliches may begin circulating in right-wing propaganda,” said the journalist, commenting on the anti-Roma rhetoric of Saakashvili.
And indeed, immediately after the pogrom, representatives of the Azov volunteer brigade, banned in Russia, the “Right Sector,” and other right-wing organizations publicly supported the violent eviction of Ukrainian citizens who happen to be Roma. And the scandalous politician Oleg Soskin publicly accused the Roma of ritual murder and called for the deportation of this nationality from Ukraine.
“Gypsies killed, and possibly raped, a 9-year-old girl. And it happened at the Dormition (Theotokos) Fast. We can say that the Roma have made some kind of ritual murder. This is what condoning foreigners leads to. They’re so brazen that they kill our future on our land. National-Conservatives advocate that the Gypsies should be removed from Ukraine as soon as possible,” he wrote on Facebook.
|Mikhail Saakashvili: former president of Georgia, current governor
of Odessa, full-time stooge of Washington.
A dangerous precedent
All this hysteria convincingly shows what a dangerous precedent the Loshchynivka pogrom may be. Demands for ethnic cleansing and deportations in a country where there is a war, and where a lot of unregistered weapons have accumulated in the hands of impoverished, embittered people, can lead to outbreaks of mass violence and numerous victims.
Suffice it to recall the events that took place in 2009 in Marhanets — where a drunken brawl in a cafe, which ended with the killing of a Ukrainian man, almost led to a massive pogrom against Armenians, which, according to rumors, Sergey Nigoyan* almost fell victim to. Recent unrest in the village of Crooked Lake, where residents attempted vigilante justice after police shot a local resident, shows that Ukrainian society is electrified, and any occasion can provoke a riot directed against various enemies.
Be that as it may, it is clear that the main responsibility for the outbreak of this violent pogrom lies with the Odessa authorities. Officials did not control the situation in the area, the police are headed by a henchman of Saakashvili, accused of corruption and promotion of the drug trade, and in general the regime is not engaged in solving the problems that eventually lead to rampant crime and inter-ethnic confrontation of different communities.
“The eviction of Roma from Loshchynivka is not an option. After this tragedy, which is on the lips of the whole area, where can they go, leave the country? This is no better than the deportation of the Crimean Tatars. Of course, with criminal ties and the closed Roma communities, they are very difficult to integrate into society. But have the local authorities tried to do it at all? The expulsion of the Roma is a surrender of authority in matters of socialization to the intolerant section of the population. If you do not know how, reconsider. Another issue is that the authorities do not want to solve these problems. And this only add points in favor of unrestrained nationalism in Ukraine,” says Odessa politician Vyacheslav Azarov.
The fact that Odessa is now actively fighting for the right to host the “Eurovision” song contest, which brought the Ukrainian contestant Jamala fame with her song about the deportation of Crimean Tatars, only adds piquancy to the situation. And in this connection, the statement of the governor of Odessa on the Romani community, already criticized by Ukrainian and international human rights organizations, looks especially hypocritical and cynical. If the pogroms continue, this could be the last straw that buries the political future of the former Georgian president.
*Translator’s note: Sergey Nigoyan was a well-known Euromaidan activist who was killed in street-fighting in Kiev in January 2014, weeks before the far-right coup that brought the current regime to power.
Translated by Greg Butterfield