(to be completed)


Introductory talk

When the archive talks to the ethnographer: Anthropology and History in Dialogue

Elisabeth Tauber

 Anthropological debate on the analytical converse with a variety of different sources such as travelogues, state archives, and oral histories has developed a range of methodological and theoretical considerations. Even if we agree with what Walter Benjamin has described as the ‘homogeneous and empty time’ of the construct of historical progress and the more with history as a ‘construct of the present’ looking at histories from different angles and perspectives such as that of marginalized or colonized people through a post-colonial, feminist and ethnographically informed perspective allows for a profound deconstruction of the nation-state, its economic and political power makes and by this its ‘empty history’.  I will look at ethnographies who dealt with historical memories of Romani people questioning ‘our’ interest in history. Furthermore, I am focusing on a methodological debate which concerns the analytical dealing with written and non-written sources and the conceptualization of the archive as an agent.


Historical Session

Moving Roma away from the borders. Scope, Failure and Effect of a European Conference to solve the “Gypsy question” in the 1900s.

Ilsen About

In 1909, the Federal government of Switzerland planned to organise an international and European conference dedicated to the final solution of the “Gypsy question”. A new investigation on this topic will be based on a various range of sources from several Western countries and will bring a global analysis developing successively the genealogy of the conference,in relation to the modern dawn of the “Gypsy question” in relation to the regulation of European borders, the study of the systemic project to solve the “Gypsy Question”proposed by the Swiss government, and an analytical overview of the reason that have led to the conference’s failure. In a last part, this paper will show how the dilution of the conference and the long-term effects of the failure will condemn, during the following decades, any international apprehension of the Roma population leading to the nationalisation of anti-Roma policies and to a ‘state of indecision’ that will have major consequences, notably on the developing of repressive measures against Roma before and during WWII.


Targeting Spanish Gypsies: a Study on “para-Penal” State from Demo-Liberal Legality to Dictatorship

Carolina García Sanz

The presumption of social dangerousness, with its dynamics of para-penal incrimination and de facto inequality before law, pervaded the Spanish juridical apparatus since 19th century. Legal and extra-legal procedures coexisted framing a “Criminal Law for the inner Enemy”. This paper deals with the attribution of dangerousness state (pre-crime; post-crime) to the Gypsy (enemy) in the first half of the xxth century. Firstly, it will approach to the impact of biological explanations for crime on the Spanish penal and disciplinary regime in line with the long-standing anti-gypsy prejudice (1902-1944); secondly, it will analyse the complementarity of new Vagrancy Laws (Ley de Vagos y Maleantes (1933-1937) and old target practices, also applying to immigration control; and finally, the paper will address issues related to the access to historical records of Spanish Department of Justice and National Police Corps (1933-1970).


Finding Roma in the state of exception:  archival stories of “Gypsy” families in Italy, 1800-1920

Jennifer Illuzzi

Often, the historical evidence we have of the existence of Romani populations is quite limited.  Police and public security records can offer some insight, as well as criminal and civil case files located in national and local archives.  While, naturally, these records carry with them the risk of misperceptions and the assumption of criminality, they can also be fruitful for attempting to fill out the relationship between the public and populations they viewed as “Gypsies.”  Thus, I think these records are most useful for analyzing the way that state officials and the public thought about, talked about, and imagined “the Gypsy” – while they might be less useful in attempting to draw conclusions about the realities of Romani life in late 19th and early 20th century Italy. In this paper, I seek to recover some of the stories of interactions between Gypsies and the Italian poor classes to add nuance to a story that is often portrayed as a case of unified persecution and marginalization against “Gypsy” populations. While state authorities did often pursue a single minded attitude of persecution against perceived “travelling” populations, interactions between those labelled as “Gypsies” with overwhelmingly poor local populations reveal a complex web of interactions, marked by both prejudice and cooperation.


Roma’s Mobility, Border Control and the Making of a Circulation Regime in Modern Romania

Petre Petcut

The circulation of Roma individuals and itinerant groups in modern Romania remains largely understudied. However, internal mobility from one province to another and cross border migrations appears to be some structural elements of Roma social life.

The diversity of circulation practices appears to be largely documented by public archives, sources produced by enforcement and legal authorities (Justice and Police) and by the municipalities. Based on a cross analysis of local and central archives, this paper will interrogate the relation between the circulation of Roma communities and the making of a modern circulation regime in Romania, involving domestic and cross border mobility.

One major hypothesis will be to suppose a close connection between the political interest, by the Romanian state institutions, regarding the position of Roma populations and the controlling of the supposedly ‘nomadic’ groups and their circulation into the country and in border regions. The prefecture’s notification to the Minister of Interior appears to directly impact the production of texts of regulations such as bills and circulars. Also the integration of Roma communities into the regulation system imposed to foreigners or vagrants, as it is also the case in other European countries, will be considered as a central element in the making of a dedicated ‘Roma policy’ in the country. A comparison with the political and regulatory rejection of Jewish population will also be considered as evidential of a new ethno-political distribution of the national population in modern Romania.


Lost in transit. A Norwegian Roma Family and the European borders 1915-1956.

Maria Rosvoll and Carl Emil Vogt

The paper is going to discuss the case of Norwegian Gypsy Policy between 1915 and 1956. The paper takes a view from below through a study of the individuals of one single family – the Josef family. Through the individuals we hope to illuminate a variety of aspects of the policies and oppressive measures they met all over Western Europe from the Roma point of view.

The Josefs were deprived of their Norwegian citizenships and prohibited from entering the country after the introduction of a clause in the Aliens act of 1927 stating that “gypsies” were not allowed into the Kingdom of Norway. In the 1930s the Josefs mostly lived in Belgium, any attempt of going back to Norway was fruitless. In 1940 they went to France and were arrested and out into the so-called Camps for Nomads”. In 1943 they were “liberated” from the largest of those camps, Montreuil-Bellay, and settled in a village nearby. The Josefs escaped from this house arrest in 1944, just before the D-day. Most of the family members survived the war, but one of the daughters was deported to Auschwitz and was killed there together with 61 other Norwegian Roma. A son just managed to flee the deportation from Belgium in January 1943. After the War it was not until 1956 that they could return to Norway and have their official citizenships.


A ‘solution of the Gypsy-question’ in Austria-Hungary? Surveillance, internment camps and military draft of so-called ‘Gypsies’ in the Habsburg Empire during World War I.

Marius Weigel


At the end of the war, the Austrian interior ministry stated that the ‘Gypsy-question’ was solved. However, it remains unclear to what the bureaucrats implicitly referring. A strong policy against civilians was applied by the Austro-Hungarian Army during the conflict and atrocities against civilians were committed behind the frontlines. Furthermore, the deportation of civilians (mostly Austrian and Hungarian citizens) was regularly used to clear the front, but also to detain the so called ‘suspect’ individuals in a series of camps created for ‘public security’ reasons. Lack of hygiene and food in the camps located in the hinterland provoked high death rates and multiple suffering: why, where and how were individuals labelled as ‘Gypsies’ in the Habsburg empire or in the occupied territories? And in which way have they been impacted by the internment facilities.

The civilians considered as ‘politicaly unreliable’ and/or as ‘threat to public health’ have been in fact designated according an ethno-political distribution of the population and related to racial definitions. The impact of such selection is exemplified by the fact that no (Austro-) Germans have been detained in camps unlike East European Jews, Ruthenians (Ukrainians), Poles, ‘South Slavs’, Italians and ‘Gypsies’. Furthermore, the categorization of population, following the ethnical and national census of 1910, seems to have play a major role in the decisions made­. But local decisions by gendarmerie and police forces to ‘fight vagrancy’ during the war was another key factor. Emblematic cases will be presented regarding two internment camps notably for ‘Gypsies’ (Hainburg a.d. Donau and Weyerburg) situated in Lower Austria. An analysis of the structural functioning of those camps will also demonstrate their role in a project of social engineering, revealing the close connections between, on one side, deprivation of civil rights and internment constraints and, on the other side, military drill and educational obligations.

Ethnographic Session

“They were Gypsies by profession”: Researching the Nazi genocide of Roma in Lithuanian and Belarusian archives

Volha Bartash

After several years of doing ethnographic research among Roma in the Belarusian-Lithuanian border region, I came to the local archives. So far, I have worked with several major collections of the war and post-war documentation in Belarus and Lithuania – materials of the Extraordinary State Commission to Investigate German‐Fascist Crimes Committed on Soviet Territory; files of the Soviet post-war trials (Lithuanian Special Archives); and the so-called trophy documents of the Nazi occupational authorities (National Archive of the Republic of Belarus).

Initially, I intended to find an archival proof for the oral histories of Nazi genocide which I had recorded from Lithuanian and Belarusian Roma. However, I have soon realized that I came across a new methodological dilemma. While oral histories told the story of Romani survival, suffering and mourning; the state archives represented official policies towards Roma, without giving them a voice. In case of the Nazi occupational authorities, this is a history of persecution. The Soviet post-war documentation reflects mostly a bystander’s perspective, as Roma were seldom invited to local courts to testify against Nazi and their local collaborators. Since the eyewitnesses were seldom aware of the victims’ names and had a little knowledge of the Romani lifestyle and cultural traditions, these materials have multiple omissions. In addition to this, the Soviet documentation well reflects the official politics of memory, according to which all Soviet nations equally suffered from WWII. Therefore, the nationality of victims is often omitted in the reports of the Extraordinary Commission.

In my presentation, I will draw on some of the essential differences between the two groups of sources and discuss the probability of using them in tandem. In doing so, I will also address the ethical issue of using the bystanders’ and perpetrators’ accounts for writing the history of Nazi genocide of Roma.


Pieptanari (Comb-makers) Roma from SE Romania during 20th-21st c: territorial dispersal and re-arrangement of families under different state regimes

Petre Matei, Catalina Tesar

The ex-nomadic population of Pieptanari (comb makers) live presently scattered across few towns in SE Romania and several places in Western Europe. Based on ethnography, life histories and archival research, our presentation inquiries into the territorial dispersal and re-arrangement of Pieptanari families under different state regimes during 20th -21st c., focusing on the following periods: 1)pre-2nd WW, 2) during the 2ndWW, 3)during the communism and 4) during post-socialism. It argues that economic activities, social organisation and geographical mobility and immobility respectively of the population are an active response to the political measures of the Romanian state which purposefully or less purposefully targeted the Gypsies during different historical periods. The semi-nomadism practiced before the 2ndWW, the deportations during the 2ndWW, the sedentarization and formal employment either in factories or on collective farms during communism followed by transnational migration during post-socialism are main features of the social history of Pieptanari population. Pieptanari families’ dispersals and reunions are the outcome of internal feuds which at times are related to local representations of Gypsies as dangerous and subsequent repressive measures against Gypsies of which some try to escape.


Austrian Sinti in the Italian archives: an historical ethnography of multiple border crossing

Paola Trevisan

Doing research in archives as an ethnographer means, first of all, looking for answers to questions originating from fieldwork, dealing with a broader time frame and crossing different levels of analysis. It is not about only using historical sources – archives – but reading documents on the basis of knowledge and sensitivity acquired in the field through the ethnographic encounter. Following the methodology proposed by Stoler (2002), archives can become the place of ethnographic investigation into the state, into the categories/taxonomies of which it makes use, and the foundations of its authority and exercising of its implicit power. The archival documents with which I chose to work concern Sinti families belonging to the Austrian Empire, stopped by the Italian authorities between 1908 and 1915. It is during this period that the Ministry of Interior decided to adopt a rigid policy of control concerning ‘foreign Gypsies’, whose presence in the Italian kingdom was to be strongly opposed. Starting with what John and Jean Comaroff (1992) describe as anthropology and/or historical ethnography, I intend to investigate the repeated attempts to cross the borders by the Sinti families who had chosen Süd Tirol and Austrian Trentino as their area of focus, one which passed to the Kingdom of Italy at the end of World War I under the name of Venezia Tridentina. The border becomes the space where the sovereignty of the state becomes explicit, representing a discontinuity between different state entities, where categories of ‘citizen’ and ‘foreigner’ become explicit through the daily controls on those who attempt to cross. The crossing of borders thus becomes the observation point for the rhetorical and practical policies used by institutions concerning the ‘Gypsies’ and the strategies adopted by the Sinti in order to inhabit and/or cross these borders.


Silencing and Dominance on Social Memory. Neglecting the Gypsies in the Archives and Memory

Gül Özateşler Ülkücan

Public opinion and social memory are significant subject areas to trace power relations in societies; whose ideas and values are recognized, whose way of telling the story is accepted, whose voice is heard and whose is silenced, what should be conveyed to written sources and archived. In my presentation, I aim to posit Gypsies in the wider discussion on power relations on social memory; dominance and silencing. I will demonstrate how certain ideas, people and places are left in silence while some alternative stories are told, and dominate how past is remembered in the current context of our societies through focusing on the constitution of Gypsiness in Turkey. Choices of approval and remembering pretty much lay on social hierarchies in our societies through social categories and spaces.