24 Feb 2023
Roma People in Sukhum/i
To learn more about the life of the Roma in Sukhum/i, I met two young girls, Emma and Rosa, who work at the local market. They asked not to show their faces but agreed to talk and tell me about their lives, as well as attitudes towards them and their community.
Emma and Rosa told me that they are the fifth generation in their families living in Abkhazia and consider this land their homeland.
I don’t know exactly how we ended up here, but I know for sure that the fifth generation is already here. My great-grandfather lived here, so it turns out that these are our nephews, who are already the fifth generation.
Immediately after the war, many of them felt a rather difficult attitude towards themselves.
Before, the treatment was different, but now they treat us more or less better. Our parents were very young during the war, they all, ones who were pregnant or not pregnant, left and then came back. Because of this, the attitude towards us changed… As our Roma people did not fight, they were reproached for it. If the matter comes to war precisely, they still begin to reproach us for not having fought, and so on… In general, we are treated well, given that in other countries it is not so. We feel fine here, I’ll tell you.
Rosa and Emma said they understand this attitude to some extent and compared it to their struggle for a working spot at the market.
Well, we also understand them. We understand, they fought, shed blood and we understand, this is normal. I think, you know, everywhere there are Caucasians and where they shed blood like this, for their land, it’s like that everywhere. I think so. I even sometimes take an example – here I am standing in the market for some years, someone will come and say “give me this place, now I will stand here.” Am I not going to leave? I’ve been standing here for so many years. Likewise there.
Emma and Rosa said that all Romas are different, like all people, and the attitude towards them mainly depends on their behavior as people, on what they do and how they live, but what bothers them the most is when stereotypes shape attitudes towards them.
I’ll tell you straight away, not everyone (Roma) is treated well, it depends on how a person will show himself. For example, I communicate with you and you already have a different opinion about me, and if you talk to someone else, you will have a different opinion about the Roma people. The only negative thing is that, people like to generalize here, if one is to blame – everyone is to blame.
Roma people live by their own rules and customs, which are quite strict. Married women wear a headscarf, while unmarried women can go out without a headscarf.
We have very strict customs. Here is a woman [she points to Emma] you see, she is married, she is in a headscarf, and unmarried ones are without a headscarf. Even if an unmarried woman, if she dates someone and people know about it, no, they are very strict about this. But in our community, not everyone wears headscarves, we have small Roma community and everyone knows each other, even if I go out without a headscarf, everyone knows that I am married and with children, and if you are in Russia it’s generally impossible to leave the house without a headscarf. So it’s much easier here.
In the conversation, I remembered how parents scared us as children with stories that said if we behaved badly, the Romas would steal us from home. And back then, passing by the rows of socks, clothes, and fireworks they sell, it always seemed to me that they knew all about my misbehavior, and that they would kidnap me and take me away from my parents. Emma and Rosa said that this is another unpleasant stereotype that they have to live with.
We are used to everything already. Even here they pass with children and scare them about us: “Oh, the Romas will take you away, they say.” Rarely, but we hear this and we already relate to it normally. We are used to [it].
Representatives of their community generally differ little from the general public. Perhaps only by the fact that they are always noticeable on the market. They walk in crowds, talk very loudly, often quarrel among themselves, and can always be detected by loud exclamations selling in the market,
“Poison for mice, poison for mice, paint, socks, socks, fireworks!” Most often they sell such trifles and they also sell clothes to them in order to sell what is no longer going – such a peculiar kind of resale. “I can’t say that we are a different kind of people, same, just work-home”.
The girls talked about begging and stealing. For many, these words are synonymous with the word “Romas,” but in fact, such behavior is not accepted in the community. Parents who allow their children to beg are especially critiqued. In short, this community has its own hierarchy and division.
We have Roma people who, let’s say, are divided into castes. There are those who are average, they study at school – such a caste is in the middle, I will not say that it is the highest. We do not communicate with all Roma people. Not that I’m being proud or arrogant, but just you look at some and you don’t want to communicate. There are those who steal, beg, and the attitude towards them is different. Let’s say the Abkhazians also have such, the same for the Roma People, and the same for the Armenians.
Another detail that catches your eye when you see different groups of Roma people in the Sukhum/i market is that there are a lot of children of different ages together with women, often they are school age. Instead of going to school, many children are with their mothers in the market the whole day. Although, according to Emma and Rosa, there are now more families that consider education to be an important part of raising their children.
They used to say, “Why does a girl need a school? Learn to write and read and that’s enough. Now it’s not like that anymore. Now they go to university and study. Not all of them of course, there are those without education, and it’s a pity, but you can’t force a child to study if he doesn’t want to. And if you in a little elderly age desire to study, no one will forbid you.
One of the most charming and open women from this community that I managed to meet at the market was Natasha, who sells socks and shoes in the very center of the city market. She – the mother of nine children and, according to her, 60 grandchildren – even allowed me to film her; here is her short interview.
These are just small sketches from the life of one of the most boisterous and colorful communities of Sukhum/i. There are many stereotypes surrounding them and they are accused of many things – stealing and begging, and often illiteracy – but it is important to understand that, as Emma and Rosa said, they are all different, and they should be treated as different people; one should never generalize.