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Russians Face Flak in Goa

by Savitha C Muppala on  March 10, 2010 at 10:41 PM Lifestyle News   - G J E 4
Russians are facing a backlash in Goa with allegations of organised crime, illegal land deals and even claims that they are "corrupting the minds" of locals in India's popular resort state.
 Russians Face Flak in Goa
Russians Face Flak in Goa
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There have been a number of outspoken attacks against them since the start of the year, when a Russian businessman was blamed for killing a taxi driver in Morjim village, in north Goa, sparking public protests.

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Others have voiced concerns about a rise in crime, against a backdrop of long-standing fears that the Russian mafia is using the former Portuguese colony as a base for money-laundering, vice rings and arms and drug-running.

On the main approach road to Morjim -- dubbed "Little Russia" by locals because of the high number of Russians now living there -- it's not hard to see the extent to which the new arrivals have left their mark.

A giant advertising hoarding for holiday properties is written entirely in the Cyrillic alphabet.

A short scooter ride away down narrow lanes, Russian is a familiar sound on the sandy beaches and in the popular bars and restaurants, where menus are also in the language.

"For us, English is a major problem, as most Russians hardly speak it. It's really good to see a Russian around," said Morjim bar owner Andrei Medvedev.

But for native Raju Mandrekar, who runs a small shop in the village, it's a bind.

"They hardly speak English," he said. "So when they arrive in Goa they search for fellow Russians. All roads lead to our village."

Despite being increasingly reliant on Russian rubles, many locals complain that Russians can obtain licences to run beach-side bars much more easily than Indians and have called for their influence to be curbed.

"We will not allow the Russians to run beach shacks from next season onwards," said Ranakar Shetgaonkar, a sarpanch or village elder.

Lawmaker Shantaram Naik, from the ruling Congress party, backs that stance, saying many Russian businesses have flouted laws restricting the purchase of land and property by foreigners.

He has vowed to take up the matter personally with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to prevent Goans being deprived of their livelihoods.

Ralf de Souza, president of the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa, an umbrella group of tour operators, has revived claims about alleged underworld infiltration which could harm the state's "family destination" image.

"The Russian mafia has not affected the state's image yet but if it escalates than it will certainly affect the business," he said recently.

Naik even condemned Russian tourists for offending conservative sensibilities in Goan society, which despite its free-wheeling reputation among foreigners can still be strait-laced.

"Some Russians move totally naked," he said after speaking to villagers. "Besides corrupting minds of locals they leave a horrifying impression on schoolchildren."

Russian authorities in India have not been silent themselves, accusing the Goa state government and law enforcement agencies of not doing enough to protect their citizens after a string of high-profile attacks.

They include alleged rapes of a nine-year-old girl in January and a 25-year-old woman in December.

Goa-based lawyer Vikram Varma, who acts for the Russian consulate in Mumbai, dismissed claims Russians were sullying the tourist destination or involved in serious organised crime.

Only 15 Russians were implicated in allegations of illegal land and property deals in 2007 out of a total of 435 cases, while of all the Russians who visited Goa in 2008, only two were arrested for drugs possession, he said.

"The rest of the people who have been charged, maybe 10 to 15, have been facing charges for not wearing helmets, overspeeding or not reporting the loss of a passport," he said.

Instead, he added, the local economy was being enhanced by the increasing Russian presence.

"With 45,000 Russians coming in, they're making nearly 400 crores (four billion rupees, 88 million dollars) for the Goan economy in terms of the tourism sector," he said.

"This percolates down the line -- to the cab drivers, the bar tenders and hotel owners, the works. Forty percent of occupants at five-star hotels in Goa are Russian. They just come here to relax and go back."

Source: AFP
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