Roma Archive Digital Collection
One of the main themes of the collection is the fate of the Roma minority under communism, during which it was subjected to frequent assimilation campaigns and when expressions of Roma culture was severely restricted. The collection aims to contribute to the democratization of historical knowledge, raising the profile of Bulgaria’s Roma community as well as increasing awareness within the community of the value of historical documents. At the same time, the ongoing process of building the collection itself contributes to overcoming ethnocentricity in Bulgaria’s education system. It strengthens intercultural dialogue and aids in the educational potential of Roma community members. The Roma Archive help makes the Roma more visible in Bulgarian society, education, and academia.
Blagoevgrad, South-West University, Bulgaria
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Name of collection
- Roma Archive
Provenance and cultural activities
The Roma Archive digital collection is the first in Bulgaria dedicated to a minority which has often been considered to be “invisible” and “without its own history”. Many of the materials in the collection pertain to the communist period. They describe the contradictory policies of the communist party towards the Roma community and offer glimpses of the community’s responses to different political interventions. Copies of archival documents and interviews highlight, for example, practices of evading censors or undertaking clandestine cultural activities resulting from the clash between traditional Roma cultural values and the interventionist policies of the dictatorial state.
In Bulgarian Romani historiography, historically the term "Tsigani" was applied by members of the community. After the political transition of 1989, the designation "Roma" was enforced at the government level, by various (EU) projects and numerous NGOs. But leading Romani studies scholars continue to question whether the EU's politically correct term "Roma" is scientifically correct, arguing that "Roma" as an umbrella term does not recognize the many internal groupings among the greater community. In Bulgarian academic literature, "Roma" and "Tsigani" are used in parallel as general terms and are considered to be value neutral.
Communist policies towards the Roma were highly ambivalence. The new government after World War Second pursued progressive and tolerant minority policies. It stressed the right to education in one’s mother tongue, to free cultural expression, and to freedom of religion. The 1947 Constitution (so-called Dimitrov constitution) proclaimed equality for citizens of all ethnic backgrounds. Roma, as with other minorities, began to establish their own cultural and educational organizations. An early attempt at unification was the establishment of the General League for Fighting against Fascism and Racism and for the Cultural Promotion of the Tsigani Minority in Bulgaria, also called Unified General Cultural and Educational Organization of Tsigani Minorities Ekipe (Unity), in 1945. In the next few years, many new organizations were set up under the roof of the national Roma organization. The Roma newspaper Romano Esi (Roma Voice) was launched in 1946. The official policy to promote an overarching Roma identity led to the establishment of special schools, community centers, literacy classes for adults, music ensembles, and theaters (Marushiakova, Popov 2001; Марушиакова, Попов 2007; Pashova 2009; Миленкова 2011; Демирева 2017).
The position of the communist government changed drastically in the mid-1950s. Among the main reasons for this change was the fact that many Roma publicly declared themselves as ethnically Turkish and desired to leave for Turkey, which at the time allowed by the People’s Republic of Bulgaria and Turkey on the basis of emigration agreements Bulgarian Turks to migrate. At this time, the Roma became subject to special surveillance by State Security. The state also decided to dissolve or silence Roma organizations institutions. The Roma Gypsy Central Theatre, for example, was declared unprofessional and was shut down. The Roma newspaper (Romano Esi) was first renamed Neve Roma (New Roma) and then, in 1959, On the New Road, and was published only in Bulgarian (Марушиакова, Попов 2007; Pashova 2009; Миленкова 2011; Демирева 2017; Стоянова 2017). This pressure was part of the general policy of the government to push minorities to assimilate into the "Bulgarian socialist nation" and to erase Turkish identification among non-Turkish Muslim minorities.
A major change for the Roma took place with the issuing of Decree No. 258 of the Council of Ministers in October 1958. It stipulated the forceful sedentarization of "the Gypsy population in Bulgaria". Itinerancy and begging were forbidden; all citizens were obliged to engage in “socially useful labor and to work according to their strengths and possibilities." The law also called for the "regulation, development and sanitization of Gypsy neighborhoods" – a thinly disguised plan of assimilation (Darzhavna sigurnost i maltsinstvata 2015: 262).
The decree affected in particular those Roma who had no permanent residence (around 14000 persons were registered as such). In accordance with the decree, local municipal and business leaders were obliged to provide jobs for the Roma in agriculture, forestry, and craft cooperatives. Another important element of the state’s plan to assimilate the Roma was putting pressure on them to change their names, which were often of Arabic-Turkish descent, into Bulgarian ones. In the mid-1960s, this policy switched from “voluntary” to forced name changes (in the 1970s and 1980s, respectively, the same policy was enforced on the Pomak and Turkish minorities). Muslim Roma also suffered from the general attacks by the government on Islamic rituals and customs, such as male circumcision and the wearing of veils by women. A 1962 decision by the Politburo encouraged members of the Bulgarian Communist Party, the Fatherland Front, and state officials to undertake “systematic and hard work to increase the political awareness and labor activity [among the Muslim Gypsies, Pomaks, and Tatars], to raise their culture and to gradually overcome their tendency to Turkify" (that is, to demonstrate a Turkish ethnic identity). Guidelines were given for the "systematic ideological-political struggle against religious Turkish chauvinistic propaganda and its pan-Turkic aspirations and goals”.
However, Roma activists did not cave in to state pressure. Motivated by a growing international Roma rights activist movement (e.g., the creation of the Comité International Tsiganes in France in 1967 and of International Romani Union in London in 1971), Roma organizations reemerged in Bulgaria as well. However, the state forced their leaders to relocate, and the organizations withered. Nevertheless, although Roma cultural and educational organizations were forbidden, some of them, such as the organization Roma in Shumen, continued to be active in various forms in the 1970s and 1980s. Roma activist tried to find forms of public activities which would not provoke the state, such as amateur musical dance groups (at the time, official propaganda hailed the importance of amateur artistic pursuits). Other groups collected materials on the origins and history of Roma and created dictionaries using Roma alphabets. State Security regularly accused such activists of "Tsigani nationalism" and took a variety of measures to obstruct the development of Roma folklore and music (Марушиакова, Попов 1993; Pashova 2011; Демирева 2017). Culture, thus, provided an important outlet for the expression of Roma opposition against forced assimilation.
A second massive action to change Roma names followed in 1980-1984, after a similar campaign had been carried out among the Bulgarian Muslims (Pomaks) in the early 1970s. Under the official campaign objective to "actively attract the Tsigani population to building a developed socialist society”, measures were taken to involve Roma in “socially useful” work, to improve their education and provide qualifications, and to inculcate a communist consciousness in them (Marushiakova, Popov, 2007; Pashova 2009; Milenkova 2011). At that time, the observation of Roma communities by the state was also intensified. Special attention was paid by the state to anyone who raised Roma issues, including their rights, language, music, or culture. A number of people were sentenced to prison for carrying out circumcision, for spreading “rumors” about an exodus, and for filing complaints to Turkish diplomatic delegations in Bulgaria (Стоянова 2017). In the second half of the 1980s, when the large Turkish minority was also subjected to forceful assimilation (the so-called Revival Process), Roma ceased to officially exist as a minority in Bulgaria (Pashova 2009, Milenkova, 2011, Stoyanova 2017). When the Bulgarian leadership decided in 1989 to open the borders for the members of the Turkish minority who resisted assimilation (which most did), many Roma also took the opportunity to leave for Turkey. This was also a sign that many Muslim Roma identified as (ethnic) Turks; according to confidential internal reports of the Bulgarian authorities, "more than half of Tsigani declare [themselves] to be Turks (turcheyat)" (Milenkova 2011). A secret census conducted for the needs of the assimilation put the Roma population at 6.45% of Bulgaria’s total.
In Bulgaria, the collapse of the communist regime resulted in deeply contradictory consequences for the Romani population of Bulgaria. On the one hand, most Roma experienced a massive decline of economic conditions, leading to poverty. Unemployment reached staggering levels, educational levels fell, and Roma were faced with widespread discrimination and resentment. For a long time, the state largely ignored their social needs. On the other hand, forced assimilation measures were quickly abandoned and Roma could again freely organize and express their culture. The Democratic Union of Roma in Bulgaria was founded as early as by the end of 1989. In 1990, the Roma Democratic Union was established, which vowed to represent Roma interests in politics. In the following years, a myriad of projects was devoted to researching Roma issues and to address their social problems. The number of Roma NGOs also increased strongly. Over time, a new Roma intelligentsia as well as Roma businessmen emerged, some of which also helped support their struggling communities. In mass media, however, the image of Roma remained distorted – they were, for example, often associated with crime and anti-social behavior. Social stigmatization and racist resentment of Roma continues to present major obstacles to their advancement, despite pledges from the government.
The materials (interviews, life stories, pictures) of the collection document these histories and the response by the Roma minority. The collection is an ongoing project which involves students from different ethnic groups, including Roma, at South-West University in Blagoevgrad. It is, thus, also an exercise in civic engagement and citizen science. Students from different master’s programs (Museums and Archives, Archive Sciences and Information Security, Sociology, Primary and Preschool Pedagogy, Social Pedagogy) participate in research work for the collection. This work helps them acquire new competencies and also greater cultural and ethnic sensitivity. The digitization of the archive materials and their presentation on the internet provides easy access, not only to students and university lecturers, but also to teachers, members of the media, members of Roma and other civic associations, and the general public. The materials are already being used for developing new learning courses on Roma history and culture and for projects addressing the media’s presentation of the Roma. The collection is a living body including, for example, students’ theses, which are often created using materials from the collection. Further, the digital archive is open to any members of the public who would like to provide supplementary materials.The archive recently reached a milestone of over 44000 likes on Facebook (17.01.2018), a strong indicator of the collection’s popularity.
Description of content
The Roma Archive online collection contains a variety of texts and visual materials. The Archival Documents section includes transcripts of archival documents whose originals are stored in various Bulgarian archives. These titles are arranged thematically: Demographic Processes, Working Conditions, Employment and Law, Political and Social Organizations, Cultural Institutions, Educational Institutions, Health Policy, and Religious Life and 'Revival Process / Forced Bulgarization'. Another important and highly interesting segment of the digital archive is the Life Stories section, which contains transcripts of interviews with members of the Roma minority, collected and transcribed by the team of university lecturers and students from Blagoevgrad. These life stories are divided by age cohort, starting with those born in the 1910s. The youngest cohort covered includes those born in the 2000s. The third section, titled Visual Documents, includes pictures grouped in the following themes: family, children and youth, school, labor, leisure, family holidays, religious holidays, and neighborhoods and houses. The Library section hosts publications (numbering 10 as of end 2017) related to the general theme of the archives and at least partially based on materials from the collection. Most of these publications are authored by Anastasia Pashova and are open access articles or books.
- grey literature (regular archival documents such as brochures, bulletins, leaflets, reports, intelligence files, records, working papers, meeting minutes): 100-499
- photos: 100-499
- publications (books, newspapers, articles, press clippings): 10-99
- voice recordings (including oral history recordings): 10-99
Date of founding
Place of founding
Blagoevgrad, South-West University, Bulgaria
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Creator(s) of content
Important events in the history of the collection
- completely open to the public
- Roma Archive. Democratic Public Through the Right to History. Blagoevgrad: University Publishing House "Neofit Rolski", 2017. [Bulgarian original: Romski arhiv. Demokratichna publichnost chrez pravo na istorija. Blagoevgrad 2017]
Author(s) of this page
- Kasabova, Anelia Dr.
Стоянова, Пламена 2017. Циганите и изследванията на "българските турци" (1948-1989). В: Българска етнология, кн. 2 [Stoyanova, Plamena 2017. The Bulgarian Gypsies and the Emigration of the Bulgarian Ethnic Turks (1948-1989). In: Bulgarian Ethnology, vol. 2].
Марушиакова, Елена & Веселин Попов 1993. Циганите в България. София: Клуб’90 [Marushiakova, Elena & Veselin Popov 1993. The Gypsies in Bulgaria. Sofia: Klub’90]
Груев, Михаил 2003. Между петолъчката и полумесеца. Българите мюсюлмани и политическият режим (1944-1959). София: Кота [Gruev, Mihail 2003. Between the Pentacle and the Crescent. Bulgarian Muslims and the Political Regime 91944-1959). Sofia: Kota].
Демирова, Димитринка 2017. По труния път: Цигански организации в Шумен (1944-1990). В: Българска етнология, кн. 1, 45-67 [Demirova, Dimitrinka 2017. The Hard Way: Roma Organizations in Shumen (1944-1990). In: Bulgarian Ethnology, vol. 1, 45-67].
Груев, Михаил & Алексей Кальонски. 2008. Възродителният процес. Мюсюлманските общности и комунистическият режим. София: Сиела [Gruev, Michail & Alexei Kalyonski. 2008. The Revival Process. Muslim Communities and the Communist Regime. Sofia: Siela].
Държавна сигурност – Смяната на имената – Възродителният процес (1986-1990). 2014. Документален сборник. = Из архивите на ДС, Т. 12-2, София: КРДОПБГДСРСБНА. [State Security - Change of Names - The Revival Process (1986-1990). 2014. Documentary Collection. = From the Archives of the State Security. Vol. 12-2. Sofia: CDDAABCSSISBNA
Миленкова, Валентина 2011. Политики към ромите. В: Тилкиджиев, Николай, съст. и ред., Валентина Миленкова, Таня Неделчева, Светлана Д. Христова, Камелия Петкова и Наташа Милева. 2011. Успелите роми. София: Изд. „Изток-Запад” [Milenkova, Valentina 2011. Politics toward Roma. In: Tilkidjiev, Nikolai (comp. and ed.), Valentina Milenkova, Tanya Nedelcheva, Svetlana D. Hristova, Kamelia Рetkova and Natasha Mileva. 2011. Successful Roma. Sofia: Еast-West Publishing House.] (access 18.11.2017)
Büchsenschütz, Ulrich 2004. Minderheitenpolitik in Bulgarien. Die Politik der Bulgarischen Kommunistischen Partei (BKP) gegenüber den Juden, Roma, Pomaken und Türken 1944-1989. Digitale Osteuropa-Bibliothek: Geschichte 8. ISSN 1613-1061 - https://epub.ub.uni-muenchen.de/554/1/buechsenschuetz-minderheiten.pdf (access 18.11.2017)
Държавна сигурност – Смяната на имената – Възродителният процес (1945-1985). 2013. Документален сборник. = Из архивите на ДС, Т. 12-1. София: КРДОПБГДСРСБНА. [State Security - Change of Names - The Revival Process (1945-1985). 2013. Documentary Collection. = From the Archives of the State Security. Vol. 12-1. Sofia: CDDAABCSSISBNA
Kenrick, Donald and Grattan Puxon 1972: The Destiny of Europe’s Gypsies. London: Chatto-Heinemann-Sussex, University Press.
Марушиакова, Елена & Веселин Попов. 2007. Студии Романи. Том VII. Избрано. София: Парадигма [Marushiakova, Elena & Veselin Popov 2007. Studii Romani. Vol. VII. Sofia: Paradigma].
Калинова, Евгения & Искра Баева. 2010. Етнически и религиозни общности в следвоенна България. В: Изследвания по история на социализма в България (1944 - 1989), том II. Cофия: Център за исторически и политологически изследвания, 517-559. [Kalinova, Evgenia & Iskra Baeva. 2010. Ethnic and Religious Communities in Post-war Bulgaria. In: Studies on the History of Socialism in Bulgaria (1944 - 1989), Vol. 2. Sofia: Center for Historical and Political Studies, 517-559].
Pashova, Anastasya 2009. The Muslim Roma - an "Inconvenient" for the Communist Regime Minority. In: Kristina Popova, Marijana Piskova, Margareth Lanzinger, Nikola Langreiter, Petar Vodenicharov (Eds.) Women and Minorities: Ways of Archiving. Vienna-Sofia: Semarsh, 94-113.
Еролова, Йелис 2017. Между писмената и устната история: преселването на турците от България към Турция през 1950-1951 г. В: Българска етнология, кн. 2 (под печат). [Erolova, Yelis 2017. Between Written and Oral History: The Resettlement of the Turks from Bulgaria to Turkey in 1950-1951 In: Bulgarian Ethnology, vol. 2 (forthcoming).]
Marushiakova, E., Popov, V. 2001. "Historical and Ethnographic Backgraund. Gypsies, Roma, Sinti." In: Guy, W. (Ed.) Between Past and Future: The Roma of Central and Eastern Europe. Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press, 2001, 33-53. http://mail.geobiz.net/sr-www/files/Virtual%20library/Gypsies...pdf (access 18.11.2017)
Държавна сигурност и малцинствата. Документален сборник. 2015. = Из архивите на ДС, т. 32. София: КРДОПБГДСРСБНА. [State Security and the Minorities. Documentary Collection. = From the Archives of the State Security. Vol. 32. Sofia: CDDAABCSSISBNA].
Марушиакова, Елена & Веселин Попов. 2012. Цигани в Източна Европа. Курс лекции. София: Парадигма [Marushiakova, Elena & Veselin Popov 2012. Gypsies in East Europe. Sofia: Paradigma].
Пашова, Анастасия 2010. Детство и жизнени светове на роми в Западна България, София: Семарш [Pashova, Anastasia 2010. Childhood and Living Worlds of Roma in West Bulgaria. Sofia: Semarsh]. http://www.roma.swu.bg/kniga.pdf
Пашова, Анастасия & Йосиф Нунев 2009. История, всекидневие и ценности на ромската култура. Благоевград: ЮЗУ Неофит Рилски [Pashova, Anastasia & Yosif Nunev 2009. History, Everyday Life and Values of Roma Culture. Blagoevgrad: Neofit Rilski South-West University].
Pashova, Anastasia Nikolaeva, interview by Kasabova, Anelia Dr., . COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection