Writer Nicolay Bessonov. Romany History - a New Approach.

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Nicolay Bessonov
“Romany History - a New Approach”.

334 pages.
219 illustrations (27 colored).

The book “Romany History - a New Approach” was published under the guidance of Russian Academy of Sciences. During the work over this monograph I cooperated with Nadejda Demeter who is the Gypsywoman and works as ethnologist. She helped me to write some chapters. I myself made the further compilation of illustrations and design. For the very first time the complete description of Gypsy history, habits and culture was gathered in Russian. “Romany History” had been warmly greeted by Russian and foreign gypsologists; we have got kind reviews in special magazines.


The present treatise was conceived as a veracious account of the history and customs of the Romany people (commonly called “Gypsies”) - the first in the Russian language. In the course of their work the authors, however, came to fundamentally new conclusions differing basically from the stereotypes hitherto accepted in Romany studies. The general principles attained by our investigations are based both on actual data concerning the Romanies and on the fact that this people's history is here for the first time examined in the context of world history and culture as a whole. Our new conception elucidates practically all the “riddles” of Romany history, mentality, material culture, and ritual. Much new hitherto unpublished data is introduced into Romany studies. It is to be emphasized that these new facts, as well as those previously known, only corroborate the general theory here offered to the reader.

The first chapter “The Early History of the Romanies (10th to 15th Centuries)” briefly sets forth the universally recognized concepts of this people's origins and their migrations. The authors' novel approach lies in their more profound analysis of the Romany people's three century sojourn in Byzantium. Owing to the paucity of written sources this period is always very cursorily dealt with in scholarly works. In our opinion, it is just the absence of sources that indicates the successful integration of the Romanies in Byzantine society. In three centuries no discriminatory laws had been passed against them. Moreover the few documents available show that the Romanies, having mastered a number of handicrafts, had succeeded in finding a niche of their own in the Byzantine economic framework, that is to say they were a “harmless” ethnic minority.

For the first time in Romany studies the authors attempt a social and psychological analysis of the Romany groups that moved to Western Europe early in the 15th century (what we call “the Great Romany Exodus”). It had been heretofore always implied that these early migrants represented typical Romanies. The authors contend that only people of an adventurous or even criminal turn of mind were the first to leave, and these represented only a very small percentage of Byzantium's total Romany population. This concept is corroborated by the fact that, according to European chronicles, the newcomers to the West confined their activities to begging, stealing and fortune-telling, whereas in Byzantium Romany pursuits had comprised various handicrafts, performances with trained animals, and music. Not one of these occupations is mentioned in 15th century West European sources.

Thus the western branch of this nomadic people was formed as a result of the “Great Romany Exodus”. All further conclusions were reached by scholars primarily through observing this branch. The West European group started right out with swindling; hence arose the view of the whole Romany people as being innately criminal.

Besides the above, the first chapter expounds the authors' hypothesis on the origin of Tinkers. We believe that the first Romany groups appeared in the British Isles several centuries before the mass migrations of the 15th century. By the time of the new Romany wave the earlier migrants had been largely assimilated and hence differed considerably from the new arrivals.

The second chapter “The History of the West European Romanies (15th to 19th Centuries)” deals with the way the ever changing economic, political and religious factors affected the destinies of the western branch of the Romany people. Practically all European scholars interpret anti-Romany legislation as the West European society's reaction to the “nomads' criminality”. The concept passes from one treatise to another that on their first appearance in Europe the Romanies were cordially welcomed, that they then antagonized the people and their rulers by swindling, and it was this that provoked repressive measures. All this actually forms the quintessence of the western school of Romany studies. This approach we feel to be to be excessively simplified. The facts show the anti-Romany laws to have been merely a branch of the general policy pursued against people leading a vagrant way of life whatever their ethnic origin. Furthermore this policy inevitably ensued from the general economic crisis. The Romanies were indeed kindly welcomed upon their first arrival in Western Europe. Waverers were then enticed to follow them to Europe by this success. The “Second Wave” to the west comprised also camps of honest craftsmen and artists. There arose at that moment a chance for peaceful coexistence between West Europeans and the Romanies such as that in Byzantium. It was only owing to a fatal coincidence of several social and religious factors that this did not take place.

At the time the mass Romany migration to Europe commenced, in the fifteenth century, an economic crisis was already arising in Europe. In the preceding period new lands were being ploughed up, cities were growing rapidly. This material basis permitted society to maintain its paupers and protect pilgrims, and the first encampments took advantage of this. This favourable spirit began to deteriorate: potentialities for extensive development were exhausted while the population continued to grow; more and more frequently this resulted in famine. The discovery of America had the unexpected effect of the so-called “price revolution”. Intense inflation undermined the monetary system and social stability. At this time of crisis large parts of the population began to view Catholicism as an excessively expensive religion. Protestantism arose and the resulting religious wars made the situation still worse. The number of fugitives and beggars grew apace; warfare was not the only cause of this: land “enclosure” was proceeding in England; ruined peasants lost their land in other countries as well. Society could no longer afford to feed the enormous number of paupers. Extremely severe laws were passed against vagrancy, especially in Protestant countries. In this new spiritual atmosphere the Romanies were struck by the blow aimed at “vagrants” in general. For them all this became a real catastrophe. It was even more difficult for them to get jobs than it was for the native residents. They were easy to identify as “vagrants” by their characteristic appearance. This was also just the period at which national states were being finally formed. It is needless to say that the rise of national consciousness dealt a particularly severe blow to the Romanies who were not even a European people. Thus they found themselves in a desperate situation. Selling handicraft articles became next to impossible owing to the crisis; to subsist at all seemed a hopeless task. Sheer hunger drove them to lawless acts, and this in its turn gave rise to countermeasures and to a new circuit of coercion by the authorities. There exists factual evidence showing the attempts made by some of these people to find a social niche of their own - such as service in the army (Sweden, Germany). Most Romanies, however, were not engaged in productive labour until the repeal of anti-Romany laws made this possible. It is interesting to note that this repeal coincided in time with the industrial revolution and with Europe's recovery from the economic crisis. This was immediately followed by the nomads' integration into society - namely by their gradual conversion to a sedentary way of life and to acquiring useful occupations.

The period of oppression was fraught with extremely important consequences for the Romany group of Western Europe: it impelled them to retain their nomadic way of life and led to their ethnic consolidation as objects of persecution.

We believe the myth of the Romany people's natural bent for crime to be by now totally exploded. Only one branch of this people - the West European one - was inclined to habitual law-breaking. But the adventurous spirit of the early fugitives from Byzantium would never have turned into criminality but for a whole complex of factors over which they had no control.

The third chapter “The Romanies and Persecution for Sorcery“ deals with a narrow but little studied problem. In works devoted to Romany studies this people is traditionally referred to as a favourite victim of the Inquisition. Although this stereotype has been questioned by some scholars it has never been definitively discredited. A thorough study of the literature on sorcery trials has led us to the incontrovertible conclusion: only in a few isolated cases have “Gypsies” been convicted of sorcery in Western Europe. This fact we believe to be due to the following causes:

  1. The Romanies were too poor; the expense of a trial would not be covered by the valuables confiscated.
  2. None of them ever belonged to any heretical sect.
  3. There existed laws relieving fortune-tellers from criminal prosecution.
  4. It was much simpler to deal with the "Gypsies" summarily by means of anti-Romany laws which did not require complicated judicial proceedings.

The fourth chapter “The History of the East European Romanies (15th to 19th Centuries)” deals with the fortunes of that part of this nomadic people which had remained in falling Byzantium and thus found themselves within the sphere of influence of the Ottoman Empire. The authors show this eastern branch of the Romany people as being engaged in various handicrafts and other respectable pursuits as they had been in the Byzantine period. They formed a useful element of society, paid taxes and were not persecuted. The princedoms of Moldavia and Walachia - vassals of the Ottoman Empire - formed an exception: their ruling classes carried on the pernicious policy of turning the Romanies into serfs. On the whole the process of assimilation and transition to a sedentary way of life which had originated in Byzantium continued in Eastern Europe throughout the 15th to 19th centuries.

The reforms inaugurated by the Empress Maria Theresia, traditionally highly prized in Romany studies, are shown not to have been by any means a turning point in the Romany people's destiny. Austria's military victories over the Turks in the 17th and 18th centuries brought under her control new areas inhabited by large numbers of Romanies. The Austrian rulers first followed the cruel western stereotype and extended anti-Romany legislation to their new domains. Maria Theresia's reforms were in essence merely a return to the milder Moslem approach; they were utopian in form, and the forcible assimilation they proclaimed as their object was a new crime against the Romany people. If the 18th century reforms turned out at all beneficial it was only because the authorities did not succeed in carrying them out as conceived.

In the fifth chapter “The Origins of the Romany Woman Myth” two interrelated subjects are discussed. It was the great Russian poet Pushkin, that the widespread myth of “the free Romany woman” was derived from; this myth exerted a certain influence over Russian culture and affected people's attitude towards the Romanies. The authors examine the facts concerning Pushkin's brief sojourn in a Romany camp in his youth as they are expounded in literary research works. It is customary among Pushkin scholars to regard the poet as having given “a wonderfully profound presentation of Romany mentality”. This is far from the truth. Owing to the language barrier and a number of other factors the poet has created a beautiful myth having, however, little in common with reality. In this chapter we examine its historical background: the Romany group with whom Pushkin was associated were serfs. Woman's situation in Romany family and marital relations is also analyzed in detail. The actual Romany woman is far different from the image of Zemphira; yet it was under the influence of this literary image that Prosper Merimee created his “Carmen”. Then we trace the free Romany woman myth in world literature and the cinema. We wish to stress that despite the ethnologically incorrect image of Zemphira Pushkin's poem has exerted an exceedingly beneficial influence over Russian society. Pushkin elevated the Romany people to a pedestal. The noble feelings which permeate these romantic verses can still be felt in our own times.

The sixth chapter “The Structure of the Romany Camp“ shows the reader the traditional Romany social institutions: the encampment, the kumpania, the vortechia, the kris. The structure of the families composing the camp is also analyzed. Finally the myth of an all-powerful camp leader is refuted and the leader's genuine role in the Romany social structure is elucidated. The term Romany “king” which sometimes occurs in literature is also explained. In discussing the Romany court of justice (the kris) the authors conclude this to be an ancient institution (most probably originating in India). Written sources show how persistently the Romanies pressed for the privilege of independent jurisprudence in various parts of Europe.

The seventh chapter “Romany Ethnic Groups” is a voluminous one. It is devoted to theoretical problems. The authors incline to Sinclair's opinion on the etymology of the word Roma by which the European Romanies designate themselves as a people. We support the view that this ethnonym is derived from the name Rhomaion by which the Byzantine Empire was generally called while it was in existence.

To comprehend how Romany ethnic groups came into being it is necessary first to understand the nature of nomadism. Nomadism is unfortunately frequently represented as random wandering from one place to another, from country to country. Actually the Romanies are exceedingly conservative in their choice of territory. The area covered by a group's migration is usually quite small - 300-500 square kilometres. Within such an area a group roams for hundreds of years; only some very exceptional circumstances may induce them to leave their accustomed locality. Indeed it was in this way that the various ethnic groups came into being. Elements of language and culture were borrowed from each country's local population. And the Romany language thus broke up into separate dialects. At present no less than fifty ethnic groups are in existence in the world; they differ widely from one another in dialect, occupation and other local ethnocultural characteristics.

An original summary table showing the stages by which Romany ethnic groups had been formed, has been compiled by the authors and is here appended. This table not only presents existing groups but demonstrates their historical evolution during a thousand-year period. The authors criticize former approaches to classifying the Romany people, as lacking system and as being based on secondary characteristics.

Our investigations have been carried on from the highest level down to the minor subdivisions of the Romany people into subethnic groups and clans. Following in the steps of R. S. Demeter who had described the structural composition of the Kelderaria the authors assume that this structure is typical of all Romany ethnic groups. Seven tables illustrating this structure are included in the treatise; use is made of data collected by the authors in their field work among groups having their abode in Russia: Russka Roma, Lotfi, Servi, Kishiniovtsi, Vlakhi, Krimi, Kelderaria. All the data show that fission occurs in the following order: ethnic group - subethnic group - clan. We have ascertained the principle according to which such assemblages are named. Our conclusions are set forth in another table.

All the above general conclusions may, we hope, be of use to world students of Romany history in their investigation of particular ethnic groups.

The system of Romany personal names is then examined, their inner ethnonymy, their internal hierarchy. Then follows a description of individual groups. Those residing within the former Soviet Union are most exhaustively dealt with. The Servi ethnic group is for the first time traced to its origin. The Kishiniovtsi and the Russian Vlakhi are also described for the first time.

In conclusion the problem of an ethnic group's longevity is examined. In our view, since the Romany people possess no state of their own and dwell amidst numerically predominant peoples, every one of their ethnic groups is bound to become gradually assimilated. The rate at which this process goes on depends upon two factors: on the group's way of life - whether it is nomadic or sedentary, and on the frequency of changes in its ethnocultural contacts.

Consolidation processes noted among the present-day Romanies are also examined.

The eighth chapter “Romany National Self-Awareness and the People's Main Occupations” also bears largely a theoretical character. First, however, the introduction acquaints the reader with the main peculiar features of Romany mentality. These are: the predominance of family values, lack of interest in forming a national state of their own, thrift and prudence in everyday life combined with a thoughtless attitude towards the future. Some other of their typical traits should also be taken into account: they set an extremely high store on privacy in everyday life, while being unreserved and open in their art; also their faculty for rapidly mastering alien cultures and their aptitude for interpreting them. One section of this chapter is devoted to religious problems. The opinion prevails in literature that the Romanies are easily ready to change their faith; contrary to this the authors show by a number of examples how involved and dramatic this process actually is. It is significant that in the USSR, where atheism was artificially propagated, the Romanies remained practically the only people free from atheistic influence. This disproves the idea of the Romanies' spiritual compliance. We have found no evidence of any survivals of Indian religious cults. among the Romanies within the period available for study.

The theoretical part of the chapter demonstrates the connection of the practically unchanged spheres of activity and of the caste system with the survival of the Romany as a people. Scholars of all countries have long wondered how the Romanies have succeeded in retaining their ethnic integrity for such a lengthy period of time while possessing no statehood.

Language, material culture, the nomadic way of life, or their supposedly innate characteristics (such as “love of freedom”) have been at various times proposed as the principal factors promoting the Romanies' consolidation. All these are doubtlessly important. Still, as it is demonstrated by the authors, the love of freedom did not prevent the Romanies in the Danube princedoms from patiently bearing the burden of slavery for four centuries. At the same time the loss of their native language (as, for instance, by the Kale in Spain, the Romungrami in Hungary, and the Luli in Central Asia) has not prevented these groups, from remaining Romany. As for nomadism, compact Romany settlements have existed in Europe for a number of centuries; so it is not necessary to lead a nomadic life in order to remain a Romany.

Having, by the process of elimination, rejected all the above characteristics as being system-forming factors, the authors express their idea that the stable basis of Romany life was formed by the structure of their work activities. This people had been engaged in practically the same occupations during all their thousand-year history. One or another pursuit might be temporarily omitted under favourable or unfavourable circumstances, but it is out of the following list that camp members chose the way to earn their livelihood. Romany occupations comprise: handicrafts, trade, music, performances with trained animals, fortune-telling, begging, and petty larceny. All these pursuits can be traced back to Byzantine written sources.

If the Hebrew ethnos is bound together by a common religion, this role is performed for the Romanies by the scope of their caste occupations. In Western Europe the Romanies were deprived of opportunities for productive labour by persecutions. The loss of handicrafts did not, however, induce them to turn to burglary and murder as it happened in the case of declasse elements of West European society. It was only such admissible (according to Romany standards) ways of making a living as begging, fortune-telling and petty larceny, that expanded widely in the new circumstances; actually it was these three pursuits that replaced those of which the Romanies had been deprived. This fact is in itself evidence of the durability of the system described above; no less important is this people's return to trade and music following the repeal of repressive legislation.

The authors then describe Romany industry in detail (with the exception of music: this is dealt with in the next chapter). As for handicrafts, up to the 1970ies, when the victorious industrial civilization finally ousted artisans from the market, they remained the mainstay of life for most Romany ethnic groups.

With regard to trade the authors pay particular attention to horse trading; they also touch upon the insufficiently explored subject of the part played by Brazilian Romanies in the slave trade. At present trade forms the principal means of livelihood for the Romanies of many countries, but in recent decades it is most highly developed in Russia.

In displaying trained animals the Romanies have passed on from snake-charming to performances with bears and monkeys.

An age-old Romany calling is fortune-telling, but views differ as to its provenance. Most scholars incline to the opinion that this art was acquired by the Romanies in Byzantium - the home many occult groups. We claim that the art of fortune-telling was brought by this nomadic people from India. This is corroborated by the practice of fortune-telling by Central Asian Romany groups who had never been in Byzantium.

With regard to begging, the authors emphasise the point that this pursuit is not in essence unlawful, and is practised among most peoples of the world. The intolerant attitude of the Protestants to this pursuit is mentioned and stress is laid on the mildness with which it has traditionally been regarded by the Orthodox Church. Consequently begging as a professional occupation was widespread in Russia, and that of the Romanies formed only its small part. Russian Romany women have at present abandoned begging, as a means of gaining their livelihood. It is Hungarian-speaking migrants from Trans-Carpathian regions as well as the Luli from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan that beg for alms in Russian cities.

Stealing as a Romany activity is particularly dwelt upon. It is shown that among the Romanies crime has always borne a non-violent character and presented less social danger than that prevalent among the indigenous peoples. Unfortunately, all Romany activities are traditionally reduced in public opinion and in the media to fortune-telling and theft. Whereas in reality crime only flourishes among the Romanies in times of persecution. Hence the only effective way of combating Romany crime is (as evidenced by history) to afford them equal justice. At present the percentage of law infringements is no higher among the Romanies than it is among other peoples of Russia; this is doubtlessly due to 300 years of formal equality with other nationalities. The authors also dwell upon such mythical crimes attributed to the Romanies as cannibalism and kidnapping; these tales are unfortunately still being spread by the media.

Critical examination of the works by A.P.Barannikov is a new departure in Russian Romany studies. Until recently it is on his writings that conclusions as to the criminality innate in Romany mentality have been based. Thorough examination of Barannikov's argumentation has shown us that it is indisputably falsified. Thus his assertion that Russian criminal cant arose on the basis of Romany cannot stand up to criticism. The scholar distorts both Romany words themselves and their meaning; he also ignores the proven fact that there were not enough Romanies in places of detention for durable linguistic borrowing to have taken place. In attempting to substantiate the idea of Romany criminality Barannikov writes about this people's folklore: “Theft and its ensuing consequences form the most abundant and favourite subjects of Romany songs”. In order to examine this problem objectively we have carried out a statistical analysis of Romany songs. Even we ourselves were surprised at the result. Only ten songs out of a total of 302 mention crime, and those in most cases only touch upon this subject in passing. We can thus reach an incontrovertible conclusion: Romany folklore is no more crime-oriented than that of any other people.

The ninth chapter “The Origins of Romany Musical Folklore“ presents a perfectly new view on Romany folklore.

It is always emphasized in scholarly works that the Romanies are musically gifted by nature and that public performances have been one of their traditional ways of making a living. But the idea has nowhere been properly made clear that an independent Romany music system has only arisen in those countries where professional musical bodies were in existence. There are at for example three such systems:

  1. Flamenco music and dancing in Spain.
  2. Instrumental music in Hungary.
  3. Romany chorus singing and dancing in Russia.

Romanies excel at interpreting local folklore. However, merely to render alien songs in the inimitable Romany manner is not the same as having a particular system of their own. In order to create their own folklore the Romanies have first to master the language and culture of the surrounding people; only after this can their art rise to a higher level. In most cases this does not occur owing to manifold obstacles. Two of these are: persecution by the state and the minor importance of music among the particular group's pursuits. Finally, a world- conquering professional musical system can only be created if felicitous basic material is available. These various favourable conditions came together in Spain, Hungary, and Russia, and the Romany music of these countries became on outstanding feature in the culture of the world.

Following a brief description of Hungary's Romany music and of Flamenco, the authors turn to elucidating the origins of Romany musical culture as exemplified by the Russian groups. First a detailed historical and historiographical exposition is presented tracing the development of Russian-Romany musical culture. The conclusion is reached that Russian-Romany camp songs only came into being at the close of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century stemming from Romany choral singing, and spreading among nomadic Romanies through personal contacts. This concept seems paradoxical, since a directly opposite view prevails in Romany studies. It is the generally accepted opinion that Romany camp songs in their own language had enjoyed an age-long existence, and had begun die away by the end of the 19th century; the absence of any written record of camp folklore was explained by there being no one willing and able to record it. Nevertheless our assertions are not unfounded: they are based upon a multiplicity of direct and indirect evidence.

Our point of view is as follows:

  1. The Romanies who entered Russia in the time of Peter I required several decades for gaining a primary familiarity with the Russian language and culture.
  2. Up to late in the 19th century neither the choral nor the camp Romanies had in their repertory the songs and dances that we at present know as camp folklore.
  3. The folklore of the Russka Roma ethnic group is based upon Russian culture. Having mastered this the Romanies moved on from mere performing to creative art.
  4. Romany folklore arose chiefly in choruses, and owing to close family and business contacts was then reproduced in camps (and not the other way round).
  5. The Romany transformation of Russian culture took place by the following stages:
    1. a characteristic manner of singing purely Russian songs;
    2. exchanging a number of Romany words for Russian ones;
    3. composing Romany texts for Russian melodies;
    4. composing original melodies with Romany texts.
  6. At the same time similar processes went on in dancing, in musical accompaniment, in dress.
All these propositions find their documentary corroboration in the second part of the chapter.

The tenth chapter “The History of Russia's Romanies (Late 17th to 20th Centuries)” comprises both an analysis of previously published facts and much new material. The Romanies of Russia are here for the first time considered not as a homogeneous group, but as an aggregate of the various ethnic groups that have at different moments of time appeared in this country.

To begin with, the authors refute the mistaken concept held by a number of authors, both home and foreign, who set the date of the Romanies' first appearance in Russia at 1501. It was only in the time of Peter I that the first Romany camps appeared on Russian soil, and this may be regarded as being conclusively proven. It should be particularly noted that in our country the Romanies were received with goodwill; no anti-Romany laws modelled upon these of Western Europe were ever passed here. This is due to a number of causes, mainly psychological ones; they are given detailed examination in our treatise.

Following this the emergence of the various Romany groups is examined in their chronological sequence. A certain regularity has become manifest: in the course of its territorial expansion the Empire absorbed ever new Romany ethnic groups; at the same time it adopted some of the local traditions (not always praiseworthy ones) as to the way they were treated.

The tolerant policy of the Russian Tsars resulted in the transition of some Romanies to a sedentary way of life, in the rise from amongst them of a class of merchants and of petty bourgeois. The first young shoots of Romany intelligentsia emerged in the 19th century.

The authors stress the difficulty of working with written sources arising from the attitude of extreme bias taken by an overwhelming majority of those writing on this subject. Such sources can only be used by means of analyzing them in great detail and by rejecting flagrantly false argumentation. The authors demonstrate that this tendency survives in our own days. If future scholars base their research exclusively upon present-day writings their ideas of the life and customs of the USSR Romanies will be distorted beyond recognition. That is why most of this chapter (as well as of the treatise as a whole) is based on field material collected by the methods of interrogation and of inside observation.

Publications devoted to the Soviet period of Romany history are not only insufficient, but have shown themselves to be extremely biased; in particular, high rating is given to the measures for altering the traditional Romany way of life resorted to by the state authorities. We are here making the first attempt at an objective view of the situation, and moreover at showing it in its evolution. The social changes that followed the Revolution ran counter to Romany mentality and undermined the main sources of their livelihood. Restaurants were shut down and well-to-do classes exterminated; this led to the ruin of Romany choruses. Horse-trading - the economic base of Romany prosperity (particularly that of the Russka Roma and the Servs) became practically extinct when keeping horses in private farms was forbidden by law. The camp way of life that had for centuries been based on trade, handicrafts and fortune-telling, was being squeezed out from every side under the new circumstances. The fall in effective demand compelled some of the Romanies to participate in unaccustomed economic activities made available by the new regime. Political persecutions should also be borne in mind; they too had not been escaped by the Romanies. These nomads, traditionally indifferent to politics, began to be arrested and deported on such charges as counterrevolutionary activity, sabotage, espionage. Some cases of this repressive policy are adduced.

A significant page in Romany history is formed by a complex of pre-war measures taken by Soviet authorities. These comprise:

  1. A number of legislative acts.
  2. Organization of Romany collective farms.
  3. The establishment of a Romany social organization.
  4. Cultural and educational measures.
  5. Establishment of Romany collective handicraft associations.
All these lines of activity are examined in detail by the authors; the conclusion is reached that all these measures had been conceived and carried out without due preparation and consideration, and had naturally ended in complete failure. Even such an excellent undertaking as Romany language publications led only to a great output of political propaganda; this undermined any interest the Romany had taken in reading. In the same way the inauguration of a Romany club was clouded by the reigning spirit of suspicion. In 1932 a Communist Party paper wrote: “Owing to the absence of a stout group of active Party members, a Romany kulak element has succeeded in penetrating the club; these people carry on anti-Soviet propaganda which is not always met with a rebuff by Romany activists”. Of all the Soviet undertakings only the “Romen” theatre, still in existence, has stood the test of time.

In the post-war years the authorities finally realized the failure of their policy. Romany collective farms and their government-controlled co-operative associations had broken down. Thus a whole people was refusing to submit to Party Congress decisions, this called for administrative measures. On October 20th 1956 the RSFSR Council of Ministers issued decision N 685 entitled “On Enlisting to Work Romanies Engaged in Vagrancy”. The decision stipulated punitive sanctions against members of nomadic camps. As a result of this edict practically all Romanies turned to a sedentary way of life.

After the death of Stalin there gradually arose a unique situation: in the course of a historically brief period the USSR Romanies passed from abject poverty to the social group which is in the West called the “middle class”. As soon as the regime slackened trade became a highly profitable business . Under socialism there is always a shortage, and this creates favourable conditions for resaling goods at a profit. Two qualities were needed for availing oneself of this opportunity for earning a living: commercial daring and versatility; the Romanies possessed both.

It should be noted that the socialist construction years were not exclusively characterized by negative phenomena. A sedentary way of life had been achieved; more and more children had obtained systematic schooling. On the one hand this merely continued the evolution that had been already going on in pre-Revolutionary years; on the other hand it was part of a worldwide process. It must be unfailingly borne in mind that the Romanies owe any improvements in their everyday life primarily to the 20th century with its technical achievements and the general increase in welfare.

The eleventh chapter “The Period of Nazi Terror” comprises information, practically unknown to the Russian reader, on the extermination of the Romanies by the Nazis during the Second World War. The preparations made for this genocide and the means by which it was practically carried out, are analyzed. New facts are presented showing the part played by Russian Romanies in the struggle against Fascism.

In the twelfth chapter “The Romanies of Eastern Europe (Late 20th Century). Their Problems and Ways of Solving Them” the complex of problems is examined with which the Romanies of East European countries have had to contend after the downfall of Socialism: discrimination in its various forms, increasing with rising nationalism and economic difficulties. At the same time certain favourable trends are noted: many Romany organizations have come into being, magazines are being published, government grants are set up for the purpose of aiding the Romanies to solve their cultural problems. The part taken by international organizations under the altered circumstances is elucidated.

The thirteenth chapter “What are Russian Romanies to Expect?” expounds the present-day situation of Romanies in Russia; a forecast of their future is attempted. With the cessation of the all-round shortage attained in the years of capitalist reforms, the period of the Romanies' relative welfare drew to its close. The people who had during the last decades mainly acted as commercial middlemen, have encountered serious difficulties. Competition with representatives of other nationalities arose, while at the same time the market has become saturated. Those Romanies who had traditionally earned their livelihood by artistic pursuits are also being squeezed out of their variety performances by other genres, and only find refuge in restaurants. Competition in fortune-telling is also on the increase. An enormous number of soothsayers, magicians, and faith healers have emerged in Russia. All this results in the Russian Romanies who had become used to a well-to-do position being ousted from the middle class to the dregs of society. The problem is discussed as to what measures should be taken by society, as well as by the Romanies themselves, for finding an adequate niche in the altered society for this ethnic minority. The idea is advanced of a certain contradiction between traditional Romany moral values and the importance of acquiring an education which would enable them to compete more successfully in the labour market. In the authors' view the only way for the Romanies to escape both destitution and assimilation is the intensive development of their own ethnic culture. It is stressed that in modern society culture has become the major factor in national-ethnic consolidation.

The last part of the chapter deals with the prospects of the Romany language. Many Romany groups have completely lost the use of their mother tongue. The dialects still spoken are unfortunately limited to an everyday vocabulary; it would be difficult to make use of them in expressing scientific, philosophical, or political ideas.

Three courses are open to us in developing the Romany language:

  1. To base the literary norm on one of the most widespread dialects.
  2. To construct a certain symbiosis of several different dialects.
  3. To develop each Romany dialect separately.
The first two courses we feel to be lacking in prospect. Suppose for instance we take the Kelderaria dialect as the basic one (as belonging to the most numerous ethnic group); in such a case no other Romanies would use it in speaking, reading, or writing. And in fact the better an ethnic group has retained its dialect (the Krimi, the Lovaria, the Kishiniovtsi) the smaller is the chance of their becoming accustomed to expressing themselves in the Kelderaria dialect.

The second course - that of creating a “standard Romany” language - is practically equivalent to developing a “Romany Esperanto”. Such an attempt would quite certainly have the same result as the elaboration of Esperanto itself: again it would only be used by a small group of intellectuals.

It would be much better to turn our efforts and bestow financial aid to the support of existing Romany dialects. If there exist a Bulgarian, an Ukrainian, a Belorussian literature, why should not the Crimean, the Russian, the Finnish Romanies each have a literature of their own? The Sinti, the Kelderaria, the Lovaria, the Servi could each use their dialect as a literary language. This would be the only correct course; above all it is the only course based upon firm ground.

There maybe exists no more urgent problem, than the one under discussion in this chapter. The Romanies' economic difficulties will gradually be more or less overcome in the course of economic progress in their countries of residence. But whether they survive as a distinct people or become assimilated - the answer to this question depends decisively upon the solution of their ethnic-cultural problems.

The second part of our treatise deals with the ethnographical aspects of Romany material and cultural life.

In the thirteenth chapter “Romany Dress as It Reflects Their History and as a Historical Source” this most important element of material culture is dealt with. The authors assert that no single detail of Romany Dress is directly connected with India. Only an indirect influence of their ancestral homeland may be felt in the way this nomadic people regard jewelry, in their non-European attitude to nudity, and in the Romany women's custom of carrying children on their back and of walking barefoot. Both written and pictorial sources are drawn upon by the authors in their study of the history of Romany dress more abundantly than had ever been done previously. The changes in the people's dress are, also for the first time, shown by historical periods. It is shown how their dress has been influenced by the various peoples among whom the Romanies have resided for the last 600 years. this process of change can be broken down into four stages:

  1. The Byzantine period.
  2. The period of the first adaptation.
  3. The emergence of the Kelderaria dress and others derived from it.
  4. The period of the second adaptation.
For the first time the Kelderaria dress is traced to its origins (in all the world it is regarded simply as being “genuinely Romany”), the time and the sequence in which its component parts came into being are determined.

In the fourteenth chapter “The Romany Dwelling” the influence of the natural environment of different countries over the type of the Romany tent is discussed. The occupations followed by each particular ethnic group form an additional factor. Thus migratory smiths and bear leaders have tents that are easy to assemble and disassemble, while wooden wash-tub makers and brick makers set up a dwelling intended to last for a protracted period of time: it has to be constructed again each time from materials available at hand.

The fifteenth chapter “Methods of Migration” shows how various factors affect the means of travelling from place to place. Thus a country's road network - its state and its very existence - determines whether a group moves on foot, on horseback, or on wheels. The type of vehicle is influenced by the means of transportation prevalent among the local population. The question of the Romany prearranged road signs is examined by the authors; they incline to the opinion that these are just an invention of European scholars. This chapter also shows how repressive legislation leads to the possession of arms by Romany camps.

The last chapter “Romany Customs and Rituals” traces the influence of European folk customs over various Romany ethnic groups. Family cycle rituals and calendar festivities are described; Romany groups residing in former USSR countries are examined with particular thoroughness.

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