Russians seek to make peace with Goa

Russians seek to make peace with Goa

After accusing the Goa government of virtually abdicating responsibility and the police of ignoring crimes against foreigners, Russians in Goa have now offered an olive branch of peace.

A jam session Thursday with Indo-Russian artists at a popular Russian hangout in the beach village of Calangute and distributing peace ribbons are the first peace offerings made by the Russian Information Centre (RIC), which has been vocal about selective targeting of their nationals in Goa.

"Recent developments in the tourism sector have shown that this atmosphere requires careful treatment. It is fragile and easily broken," says Ekaterina Belyakova, who heads the RIC.

She said the "so-called" war between taxi drivers and Russian tour operators and cancellation of an Indo-Russian rock music festival recently had created fissures between locals and Russian tourists, nearly two lakh of whom holidayed in Goa this year.

Sporadic conflict between Russian tourists and locals over the last couple of years and a string of events over the last few weeks have created a sense of hostility between the locals and the visiting tourists.

But the bitterness plumbed to a never before depth after a clash between rogue taxi drivers and tour bus operators ferrying Russian tourists led to a law and order crisis.

A day after the clash, the Goa tourism ministry controversially denied permission to a Indo-Russian musical concert, which forced a junior Russian diplomat to warn that the decision could precipitate a diplomatic crisis of sorts between New Delhi and Moscow.

Belyakova claims that despite these incidents, there had been formal assurance from the Goa government vis a vis either safety of the tourists or resolving the deadlock between tour operators and taxi drivers, a notorious and political connected lobby in Goa.

"The Goa government is not giving any official statement on the issue. Russians are feeling very unprotected and uncomfortable here," she told IANS.

Police too, she said, were extremely non-coperative when it came to registering or entertaining complaints filed by Russian nationals, narrating two separate instances involving physical assault by a local and theft to beef up her point.

She said the Russian tourism ministry has already started the process of blacklisting hotels and resorts in Goa which were ill-treating Russians.

But Vikram Varma, legal representative of the Russian Consulate in Mumbai, said it was too early to call for adverse travel advisory against Goa.

"It is too early to discuss about a travel advisory right now, but the feedback which is going back is negative," he said.

Russian tourists top the list of foreign arrivals to Goa and account for a bulk of the half a million foreigners who land here as tourists annually. Over three million tourists visit Goa every year.

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