Like little China and little Italy in the US, Goa too has a similar set-up, only its Russian and often called ‘little Russia’. Morjim a coastal town in North Goa is notorious for its Russian presence. There are many good things and bad things about it. It helps in tourism but many Russians have been known to operate businesses there. Besides, their alleged involvement in drug and human trafficking has earned them the title of ‘Russian mafia’.
High number of Russian tourist
Russian tourist make up the majority of foreign tourists visiting Goa. Due to the fall of Russian ruble or rouble, numbers had decreased but they recovered soon. Tourists in northern belt of Goa are mostly Russians. Many shacks and restaurants run by locals have become accustomed to it and have sign boards and menus in Russian. Due to their large presence, the town of Morjim is often called ‘little Russia.’
Local’s attitude towards Russian tourist
Locals and Russians tourists don’t always get along. There have been cases of conflict among the two. In fact, during a scuffle between a local taxi driver and a Russian, the local ended up dead as a result. The Russians are also considered rude in their attitude.
‘Speaking after the GS (Gram Sabha) which passed a resolution against Russians working in Morjim, Dhananjay Mahadev, Morjim’s deputy sarpanch, said, “Russians come and set up businesses and eat into the local livelihood. We won’t allow them to do this anymore. Earlier, we had more tourists of other nationalities, but now Russians are filling up Morjim. They come here and do dadagiri …”’ (Source: Hindustan Times, 2010)
Similarly, Russian tourists were attacked and badly beaten up in Mandrem (a village in Goa) after an incident at a temple. A report in a newspaper once said the conflicts and negative aspects in Goa’s tourism industry was due to unplanned operations of the industry.
Some Russians have often been accused of operating drugs and human trafficking trade. A Wikileaks cable revealed,
‘”Maria (Mumbai police officer) alleged that most trafficking of foreigners to Mumbai is connected to Russian and Israeli mafia operations in Goa, explaining why Mumbai police had not cracked the trafficking ring(s),” Folmsbee’s cable numbered 09MUMBAI305 back home to the US administration said.’ (Source: India Today, 2013)
However, these claims were denied by Former Goan chief minister Manohar Parrikar at the time. Many news reports contradicted the current Defence minister’s claim.
“They have taken over Morjim village, now they are spreading their tentacles to Arambol. Russians are engaging themselves in hotel business which we don’t mind but if they take away a small business like taxi operations from us, then we will have to starve and die,” said Praveen Vaigankar, a taxi operator from Arambol. (Source: ToI, 2012)
Many Russians are accused of running businesses in Goa affecting the local’s livelihood. However in their defence, Russians have cited that they often get fleeced by the local who over charge them for services. Taxi services are an important example of the situation.
Local taxi drivers are often accused of charging high prices for travelling short distances. To battle this a few Ukranian and Russian nationals began running their own taxi services, exclusively for only foreign nationals. Much to the dismay of many locals.
Future seems bright for ‘little Russia’
Although Russians aren’t the most coveted tourist demographic in Goa, they are large enough to matter. As it seems it is because of them that Goa still can boast of being an international tourist destination. Other visiting nationalities have witnessed decline in numbers.