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February 25, 2010


From Russia with love? Well, not really

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/goa/From-Russia-with-love-Well-not-really/articleshow/5613219.cms

25 February 2010

Panaji:

Goa tourism's honeymoon with Russia seems to have taken a bitter turn. The gloom around is that when you have people coming in droves on 'tourist visas' and indulging in crime, it spells doom for a tourist destination. The fact that tourists have now started attacking locals, has stunned and shaken up the tourism industry and, of course, locals.


"These are dangerous developments which we cannot shove under the carpet. If the government and the tourism industry think all is well, they are behaving akin to an ostrich burying its head in the sand and denying what is happening," said Serafino Cotta, convenor of the 200-member Federation of Small, Medium Hotels and Guest Houses (FOSAM).

The reasons that count for the rising tensions between Goans and Russians are both social and economic.

"The Russians are among the first foreigners who have come here as tourists and eaten into the locals' livelihoods," explained Jeorge Fernandes, president, Federation of Association of Tourist Taxis in Goa.

"We have never had problems before with the Brits, Germans, Scandinavians or even the hippies since the 70s. Most of us tourist taxi drivers on the coastal belt were formerly fishermen, bakers, toddy tappers or farmers. Tourism gave us an attractive alternative livelihood. When we have this livelihood snatched away from us, do you think we will stand by and watch as mute spectators?" Fernandes asked.

"There are so many cases where we see the same Russians hiring private vehicles and picking up their fellow countrymen from the airport week after week in the garb of picking up friends. Are their friends coming here every week? We have also seen Russian touts who hire mini-buses and taxis and take their own people around Goa for sightseeing. Where are Goans benefitting from such kind of tourism? Is money earned from tourism staying within our economy? We have complained to the government. However, the state administration is not listening," he added.

"We would not like to generalise here, but by nature, the Russians are hostile. One cannot expect us to be soft people when we are attacked or threatened. Such incidents will continue in future and the locals are almost always blamed by the media and the people, never the tourists. The Russians are not the best thing to happen to Goa," Fernandes said.

"I agree that the people of Morjim have benefitted by tourism due to Russians, but what we have also got is far worse," says Mandrem legislator Laxmikant Parsekar.

Parsekar, who is also the state BJP president, has said that Russians now creeping into the economic strata of Goan society and acquiring real estate and land are causes for panic. "Let tourists remain as tourists. Let them be our guests, but don't eat into our livelihoods. There are all kinds of illegalities going on here, but the government is not bothered," he said.
"What we have noticed is that all other nationalities are keeping away from Morjim. We don't get Brits, Germans or Scandinavians here. They keep away," he added.

While the high level of tension witnessed recently in Morjim has not been seen in other coastal areas of the state where there is a Russian presence, Parsekar pointed out, "The Russians at Morjim are those who are financially unsound and are from the lower classes in Russia. Such a huge presence is also providing a safe haven for criminal elements to live among them."

Cotta put a fair share of the blame on the people of Morjim. "It is the people who have to be blamed. The Russians have taken over Morjim for a price tag. The state is also losing out on taxes as these illegal businesses don't pay any," he said.

Tourism director Swapnil Naik observed, "The people of Morjim and Mandrem had not benefitted from tourism all these years, although they have beaches. Tourism arrived in that stretch once the Russians arrived. The locals were happy when they experienced earnings from tourism-related business. However, they were not vigilant enough."

Tourism minister Francisco "Mickky" Pacheco, who visited Russia to draw tourists, says the respective government departments have to be blamed for not monitoring the illegalities committed by tourists. "If there is illegal business being run, or there is a law-and-order situation due to these tourists, the department concerned should be questioned," he said.

However, state chief secretary Sanjay Srivastava, who is also home secretary, said, "We have a mechanism in place to check for illegal businesses run by foreign tourists. If the people complain, we will definitely act on the same."

Illegal businesses indulged in by some Russians include real estate, prostitution and drugs, said Parsekar. Others point out that this has, unfortunately, caused a perception to develop among locals that anything to do with Russians has to be related to the mafia.

On Tuesday, a local was reportedly attacked by a group of Russians over an issue of right-of-way on a village road at Chapora. "Currently, we are seeing foreign tourists experiencing incidents posing a threat to their safety and claims are being made that Goa is unsafe for tourists. But are Goans safe from tourism?" Asked Cotta, adding, "Will the proposed tourist security force also look after locals who are being attacked by tourists?"

Ernest Dias, vice president of the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa, whose firm Sita Travels handles the largest number of Russian tourists coming to the state, throws light into the Russian psyche: "Let us not generalise, but Russians are not docile people by nature. History tells us that through circumstances in their country, they have come up the hard way and have even had to fight for food. When they feel that they have been offended, they fight back."

"Russians are loud by nature which is opposite to the behaviour shown by Europeans. That is why the two don't mix. Let me give you an example: Why do some foreigners avoid Indian tourists? It's because if you step into a hotel with foreign tourists, you will find peace and quiet. Everybody keeps to themselves. Conversely, it looks like there is a mela (fair) in progress at the hotel when it is full of Indian tourists," Dias explained.

"All nationalities have their own peculiar qualities. A few years ago we had a problem with Israeli tourists who turned Vagator into Tel Aviv and no locals could step there. However, I must admit that those tourists who are getting into scraps with the locals are from the lower classes in Russia," Dias said.