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New Soviet Gypsies

New Soviet Gypsies: Nationality, Performance, and Selfhood in the Early Soviet Union

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 344
  • Book Info
    New Soviet Gypsies
    Book Description:

    New Soviet Gypsiesprovides a unique history of Roma, an overwhelmingly understudied and misunderstood diasporic people, by focusing on their social and political lives in the early Soviet Union.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-6586-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. A Note on Terminology and Transliteration
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-2)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 3-26)

    ʺWe are completely unconscious people, completely illiterate,ʺ pleaded three Romani citizens of the Soviet Union in 1933 in a letter to the General Procuracy. Confronting a death sentence imposed upon them for their alleged theft of ten horses from a collective farm, the desperate threesome offered several justifications for what they hoped would be prosecutorsʹ clemency. In the first place, they claimed, it was not they who had stolen the horses at all. Rather, the real criminals were a different band of Gypsies with whom they had initially been arrested for the theft. Once thrown inside a jail cell together,...

  7. 1 Backward Gypsies, Soviet Citizens: The All-Russian Gypsy Union
    (pp. 27-65)

    In 1926, the Peopleʹs Commissariat of Enlightenment (Narkompros) conceded that Gypsies posed serious challenges to the Soviet Unionʹs all-encompassing modernization aims. In a memorandum detailing its recent successes in educating minority peoples, Narkompros singled out the empireʹs Gypsies as a people so peculiar, perplexing, and ʺbackwardʺ that they had thus far escaped the focused attention of political-enlightenment workers. ʺThis nationality,ʺ Narkompros officials explained, is:

    extremely scattered-it leads a nomadic way of life and for now has settled only in small part. It lacks … a written language and is almost universally illiterate; it is isolated from surrounding nationalities; as a...

  8. 2 A Political Education: Soviet Values and Practical Realities in Gypsy Schools
    (pp. 66-102)

    Reflecting on his participation in the Gypsy Unionʹs work, N.A. Pankov recalled his fellow activists as ʺvery gifted, yet very young.ʺ Though unable to recognize their own youthful lack of life experience, Pankov explained, he and his comrades had confidently committed themselves to leading a cultural revolution among their own people – a people ʺonly just beginning to come alive againʺ and one that could boast ʺneither culture nor experience in societal or economic affairs.ʺ In hindsight, the Unionʹs closure was understandable, but still regrettable. Despite its flaws and arguable failures, Pankov maintained, the Gypsy Union had positively impacted ʺthe...

  9. 3 Parasites, Pariahs, and Proletarians: Class Struggle and the Forging of a Gypsy Proletariat
    (pp. 103-144)

    In July 1931, the Nationalities Department of VTsIK hosted a conference of government officials engaged in efforts at sovietizing ʺbackward Gypsies.ʺ Six Roma in attendance – Bezliudskii, Germano, Lebedev, Pankov, Rom-Lebedev, and Taranov – brought with them their experience as former Gypsy Union leaders as well as new insights born of their recent work helping the Soviet bureaucracy to engineer a Gypsy cultural revolution. Though more than seven years had passed since Moscowʹs Romani activists had announced their plan to organize ʺthe backward proletarian Gypsy masses,ʺ attendees of the VTsIK conference were still left to wonder what a Gypsy proletariat...

  10. 4 Nomads into Farmers: Romani Activism and the Territorialization of (In)Difference
    (pp. 145-190)

    Violins weep as Gypsy women trudge through mud, leading their mournful children by hand. From the relative comfort of their coaches, self-satisfied kulaks smoke pipes and steer the wagons of their Gypsy caravan. Suddenly, the sky unleashes a torrential downpour of rain. As the ragged-clothed women and children rush to shelter themselves inside the caravanʹs crowded wagons, the only noise capable of overpowering the violinsʹ plaintive wails is the miserable sound of the Gypsy childrenʹs crying. Thus begins the 1935 Soviet film,The Last Camp(Poslednii tabor).

    Vania, a Russian activist dispatched from Moscow, attempts to convince the nomadic camp...

  11. 5 Pornography or Authenticity? Performing Gypsiness on the Soviet Stage
    (pp. 191-238)

    In early 1931, Romani activists and performers gathered in Moscow to celebrate the establishment of the Soviet Unionʹs State Gypsy Theatre Romen. For the presumed benefit of posterity, the group solemnly posed before a camera to document the theatreʹs founding. The surviving photo reveals clean-shaven men sharply outfitted in suit and tie; older women in felt boots, simple blouses, and monochrome shawls; and stylishly coiffed young women wearing lipstick and heeled Mary Jane shoes. A bust of Lenin sits prominently behind the group, whileagitpropposters decorate the walls. Absolutely nothing about the group recalls either the romantic or criminal...

  12. Epilogue and Conclusion: ʺAm I a Gypsy or Not a Gypsy?ʺ: Nationality and the Performance of Soviet Selfhood
    (pp. 239-254)

    ʺAm I a Gypsy or not a Gypsy?ʺ This is the question that Aleksandr Germano (1893–1955), the Soviet Unionʹs most celebrated Gypsy writer, posed in a 1952 autobiography composed in fulfilment of his duties as a member of the Union of Soviet Writers.¹ When taken at face value, the question is surprising and puzzling. When considered in light of the history of Romaʹs engagement of the early Soviet nationality regime, however, the question is instead seemingly banal. Yet the question remains. Was Germano a Gypsy? As I will show, an examination of a series of Germanoʹs autobiographic statements, written...

  13. Glossary of Terms and Abbreviations
    (pp. 255-256)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 257-302)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 303-318)
  16. Index
    (pp. 319-328)