Russian History



The 1989 Soviet census indicated that Russia was home to about 153,000 Roma, commonly known as Gypsies. However, the actual size of the population is unknown because many Roma do not register their nationality; experts assume that the true number is much higher than the official estimate. Most of the Roma currently in Russia are descended from people who migrated from Europe in the eighteenth century; they now call themselves Russka Roma. Another group, called the Vlach Roma, arrived after 1850 from the Balkans. Other Roma travel seasonally to Moscow from Moldova and Romania and back. Members of this group are often seen begging on Moscow streets; this activity has figured largely in the negative stereotype of the Roma among ethnic Russians.

Most Roma have been unable or unwilling to gain employment in any but a few occupations. In the Soviet era, metalworking was a designated Roma trade, but street commerce--selling whatever goods become available--remains the most common occupation. Roma were much involved in the black-market trade of the last Soviet decades. Roma musical ensembles have prospered in Soviet and post-Soviet times, but few individuals have access to such a profession.

In general, post-Soviet Russian society has included the Roma with other easily identified non-Slavic groups, particularly those from the Caucasus, who are accused of exploiting or worsening the economic condition of the majority population. In the 1990s, violence has erupted between Russians and Roma on several occasions. The wide dispersion of the Russian Roma population--there are at least six distinct groups, with little contact among them--has limited their ability to organize. In the 1990s, some Russian Roma have participated in international movements to gain support abroad. The various groups have widely varying political views. The elite musical performers and intelligentsia, for example, supported the socialism of the Soviet Union, but the wealthy Lovari group, which the government persecuted in Soviet times, is strongly antisocialist.