Publication Spotlight: Elena Marushiakova
December 23, 2015 Leave a comment
The stay of Professor Elena Marushiakova, this year’s Visiting Leverhulme Professor, has nearly come to an end. For many years, she has worked on the Roma (formerly known as ‘Gypsy’) and their culture together with her husband, resulting in many publications. These works range from handbooks for students to books, articles and databases, as well as assessment studies and folklore collections. Naturally, her interest in the Romani was also prominent during her Visiting Professorship as she worked on her project, called “In search of Utopia: Roma visionaries (1865-1971)”. For this year, Professor Marushiakova analysed works and activities of Roma activists and writers, with special regard to their proposals about social and political projects in modern Central/Southeastern/Eastern Europe. Although her year at St Andrews might be nearly over, the project will continue to fuel her research for many years to come.
Aside from undertaking her own research, which she immensely enjoyed in the friendly and warm St Andrews atmosphere, Professor Marushiakova interacted with many members of the community. Not only did she host a number of lectures on Roma history and culture with the different departments in the School of History, she also reached out to other disciplines such as Film Studies, Anthropology, and Modern Languages in her quest to make the study of the Roma more accessible. Whether it was consulting colleagues or speaking to students, she made certain to bring her own field of study to a larger audience. In addition, numerous books were purchased by the library and an extensive annotated bibliography on the Roma was donated to facilitate more research.
In the project “In search of Utopia: Roma visionaries (1865-1971)”, the decline of the Ottoman Empire is fundamental in understanding the development of Roma political ideology. In the empire, the Roma were not outcasts, but part of the larger society. This interaction and integration made a key difference in enabling them to develop their ideas. Poverty or riches did not matter, but once the Roma could settle, integrate and participate in intellectual culture, they were able to develop. The ensuing weakness of the empire also made it easier for stronger communities to form, and the Roma could play this weakness to their advantage to potentially form their own nation. While the first visionaries started out as advocates for the right to have their own religion in their own language, ideas about their own nation soon followed. It is only an accident of history that the Roma did not establish their own nation-state where so many other former Ottoman Empire provinces and peoples did.
The ideas highlighted by the Roma visionaries are still key to understanding the community today. Lacking a state of their own, the groups are scattered over countries and over language divisions. The British Isles alone know Irish Travellers, Scottish Travellers, and Romanichals but also Roma refugees from Europe: all of these groups are distinct communities, rather than one homogenised group. The differences between these communities are prevalent. An example is the historical origin of Roma from the Indian subcontinent, which is integral to Roma identity. Other communities, such as Irish Travellers and Scottish Travellers who do not share this origin, may view it as exoticism and consider their way of life the most important marker of identity. The overarching Roma community and the variations within this large group of people have not been adequately addressed by research as the connections are often overlooked. As a result of these movements, scholars of the Roma must be walking encyclopaedias as well, mastering the languages and long history of the people that are the subject of their studies.
Although Professor Elena Marushiakova may leave St Andrews soon, her research will certainly inspire scholars for many years to come. Hopefully, she will return to this university one day to lay more foundations for the study of the Roma.