Roma in the USSR

Alternative names: Gypsies
Location: throughout USSR
Population: 209,000 (1979) (unofficial est. 500,000)
% of population: 0.1%
Religion: Muslim: 50%; Christian: 50%
Language: Romani, various Soviet languages

Roma in the USSR are part of the much wider Roma community, and like elsewhere in Eastern Europe and Western Europe, have faced official assimilation policies and prejudice. According to the 1979 census they numbered 209,000 while other (unofficial) estimates placed their true numbers at over half a million. In the past ethnic origin was frequently denied (for example the number of Roma registering their nationality declined by 33% between 1959 and 1969) but this seems now to be changing and the figure rose by 20% during the census taken in 1979. Almost half the Roma live within the RSFSR while large communities exist in the Ukraine and Moldavia. The Luli, who are related to the Roma of Europe, live in the Asian Republics.

Roma are officially recognized as a national minority of Indian origin. As in many states in Eastern Europe nomadism was made illegal in the postwar period and the vast majority of Roma are now settled. Some groups however manage to travel in the summer months and have found a valuable economic niche as seasonal workers on collective farms. In recent years they have experienced a revival in their national culture through the Moscow Romani theatre and music ensembles and there are publications in the Romani language. After many years during which it was not possible to form a national association or to participate in the international Romani movement, there have been recent initiatives to allow more cultural autonomy and international contacts.

(See also Roma in Western Europe and Scandinavia, Roma in Eastern Europe and in Middle East and North Africa)