Publication Spotlight: Roma Voices in History

Blog written by Professor Elena Marushiakova. Prof Marushiakova is a Research Professor in Modern History. Her new book Roma Voices in History, co-authored with Professor Veselin Popov, is now available with Brill.

Over the past two decades, the Roma issue has become one of the most current topics in the European public space and has become especially relevant in academia. Despite this, there are still numerous research topics that remain uncharted. One of these is the history of the Roma (formerly referred to as ‘Gypsies’ in local languages) in the period between WWI and WWII and the appearance and development of social and political projects proposed by Roma themselves. Together with my co-author and husband Veselin Popov, we have worked for over 40 years in the field of Romani Studies, during which time we developed an ambitious goal to fill in this gap. This became possible thanks to the ERC advanced grant for a research project entitled ‘RomaInterbellum. Roma civic emancipation between the two World Wars’.

Our previous research convinced us that one of the biggest mistakes made in the research of Roma has been to view them as a ‘people apart’, or a people without history and fatherland. And yet, Roma do not live isolated on an uninhabited island—they exist in two dimensions, both as separate ethnic communities and as a part of the society in which they live within their respective nation-states. The chosen historical period (the interwar) is the time when Roma, together with the majorities in the countries in which they lived, experienced breakdowns of old Empires and the establishment of national states. On the vast territories which would become the Soviet Union they were included in the building of a new political system. In this time span, Roma started to be politically institutionalised and subjected to a variety of controversial policy practices.

Prof Elena Marushiakova

We look at Roma not only as passive recipients of policy measures but also as active architects of their lives, so the aim has been, alongside studying pieces of evidence reflecting state policies regarding Roma, to collect written heritage of Roma visionaries whose published and unpublished texts reflect the main stages in the development of the Roma movement and represent its different aspirations. The overall project looks at Roma as an inseparable part of mainstream history and Roma socio-political visions as part of the history of modern political thought in Europe. In this respect, the first outcome of this project, Roma Voices in History, reflects and implements this perspective.

Apart from academic curiosity and our conviction in the importance of the topic, the reason for writing this book was a reaction to existing prejudices about the inequality of Roma with other European nations, alongside which they have lived for centuries. We repeatedly hear statements about the lack of written sources concerning the history of the Roma. We also repeatedly hear about the lack of archival material concerning the history of the Roma, material which when it does exist takes the form of police reports wherein Roma are presented merely as violators of law. Through this, Roma are most often viewed as passive objects of different state policies rather than as active creators of their own history. Because scholars do not often seek to discover sources written by Roma, the Roma point of view has de facto been absent, while the reaction of the Roma themselves (or lack thereof) to the policies implemented towards them, as well as their visions about the future of their communities, has been almost totally neglected.

Prof Veselin Popov

Our research, however, has proven that the opposite is true. It appears that source materials are, in fact, extremely numerous, and many of them represent the voice of the Roma themselves while also presenting the visions and the specific goals pursued by the Roma civic emancipation movement.  It is precisely this which is revealed in the book Roma Voices in History.

Together with a team of colleagues, we have discovered an extensive collection of primary historical sources in various languages representing original Roma voices from across the vast region of Central, Eastern and South-eastern Europe. This is the region in which numerous Roma communities have settled for centuries and which represents an inseparable part of the societies they inhabit. Much like any other nation in the region, the Roma experienced processes of nation-building during the Interwar period, a time when their national elite came into being and the establishment of national literature and press can be noted. All these shifts are clearly presented in our book by highlighting the most important source materials to reflect the broader process of Roma civic emancipation. These materials are published in the book both in their original language and their English translation, accompanied by explanatory notes and summarising comments. The notes and comments, alongside the original sources themselves, aim to discuss the specific historical realities and their interrelation to the Romani emancipatory movement in Central, Eastern and South-eastern Europe, thus presenting a comprehensive picture of the historical processes that shaped it.  

About standrewshistory
With over forty fulltime members of staff researching and teaching on European, American and Asian history from the dawn of the Middle Ages to the present day, the School of History at the University of St Andrews has one of the finest faculty and diverse teaching programmes of any School of History in the English speaking world. The School boasts expertise in Mediaeval and Modern History, from Scotland to Byzantium and the Americas to South Asia. Thematic interests include religious history, urban history, transnationalism, historiography and nationalism. The School of History prides itself on small group teaching, allowing for in-depth study and supervision tailored to secure the best from each student. Cutting edge research combined with teaching excellence offer a dynamic and intellectually stimulating environment for the study of History.

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