Endangered Archives

EAP067: Preservation of Gypsy/Roma historical and cultural heritage in Bulgaria

Dr Veselin Popov, Minority Studies Society Studii Romani
2007 award - Pilot project
£9,990 for 12 months

Archival partner: Ethnographical Institute and Museum of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences

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Project Overview

At present in Bulgaria, diverse materials from the 1940s and 1950s relating to the Gypsy/Roma culture are kept in small private collections. These include various written texts such as amateur genealogies, personal memoirs, artistic literature on the Gypsy theme, posters of musical performances, hand-outs of community events of the Gypsy organizations and political flyers, photographs and old records of Gypsy music. Since the 1960s with the assimilation of the Gypsy/Roma culture into mainstream society, these materials have become outdated and could become dangerous for their owners. A lot of this material has already been destroyed or lost, but nevertheless nowadays quite a few are preserved in private collections, mainly the descendants of the old activists of the Gypsy movement of the 1940s and 1950s.

There is a serious risk of the absolute disappearance of all these materials. The descendants of the old Gypsy activists do not always realise their importance and may either neglect or physically destroy them. If measures are not taken soon, these materials witnessing the transition of Gypsy/Roma to modern society will be lost.

The main aim of the proposed pilot project is to discover the existing collections of this material, connected with the community and cultural activity of the Gypsies in Bulgaria in the end of the 1940s and the beginning of 1950s and earlier, which will be digitised and also relocated where possible to the Studii Romani Archive at the Ethnographical Institute and Museum of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

In addition, during the 1920s Roma newsletters and booklets were printed, some of them connected to evangelical missions, other to community life. Most of the copies of these newspapers and booklets have disappeared but some issues are preserved in private collections. During the communist era, copies of some of these newspapers were kept in the archives of public libraries. After 1989 some material from the archives was opened to the public, other materials were destroyed, some of them with a high historical or cultural value, and among them were some of the Roma newsletters and booklets. This project will discover the surviving copies of the newsletters and booklets and relocate them, or their copies, to the safe environment of the Studii Romani Archive.

Project Outcome

900 items connected with the community and cultural activity of the Gypsies in Bulgaria in the end of the 1940s and the beginning of 1950s have been digitised and relocated to the Studii Romani Archive at the Ethnographical Institute and Museum of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. This includes:

  • Pashov family collection (60 old photographs) reflecting the social and political activities and family life of Shakir Pashov (1898-1981), who was a well-known Gypsy activist and public figure;
  • Zhivkov family collection (37 photos) reflecting life of one Gypsy group of professional musicians in period from c1930-1960;
  • Sh. Pashov documents collection, that includes documents from his personal archive - theatre posters, signed short autobiography, statement from local government with biographical data for issuing him the so-called Personal Peoples Pension, ID of holder of title “Active fighter against capitalism and fascism”, death certificate, obituary notice;
  • Folklore collection, that includes songs created during the 1940s, expressing the expectation for better life and faith of Gypsies in “the bright future of communism” in which they believed and ritual songs of nomads;
  • Manuscript of a book with the title: “History of Gypsies in Bulgaria and in Europe. Roma”, written by Sh. Pashov in 1957;
  • Two stage plays written by Gypsies for the Theater Roma;
  • Manuscript with a collection of folklore songs, collected from all over Bulgaria; Newspaper “Svetilnik” - one of the first evangelical newspaper in the world (from 1927) devoted to the Gypsies;
  • Newspaper “Romano Esi” (‘Gypsy voice’), issued by a cultural and educational organisation for Gypsy minority in Bulgaria in 1946-1948;
  • Gospodin Kolev collection, reflecting the social and political activities and family life of the first and only Gypsy from Bulgaria who succeeded in reaching the highest social position (was a member of Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party);
  • ‘Fakultet’ collection 102 old photos, which reflect the life of one Gypsy quarter in Bulgaria from the beginning of the 20th century;
  • Text of decree from 1958 that banned the nomadic way of life of Gypsies that was probably taken from the fire in the Party Archive.
    • The Gypsy community in Bulgaria was informed about the project and extremely supportive. The team was informed of many more items which needed to be preserved, but the project time was not enough to visit all the places and digitise the materials which members of various Gypsy communites and organisation presented or expressed wish to present to the archive. Through means of the so-called 'Gypsy telegraf' (oral or witten information distributed quickly among Gypsy communties) the project became well known also in neigbouring countries and the team was contacted in order to ask about possibility to have also their heritage stored in archive 'Studii Romani'.

      The original material is now housed in the Studii Romani Archive at the Ethnographical Institute and Museum of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Str. Moskovska 6-a, Sofia 1000, Bulgaria. Digital copies are also held here and in the British Library.

      Read online the open access article: The first Gypsy/Roma organisations, churches and newspapers, published in the EAP Anniversary publication From Dust to Digital. The article can also be downloaded as a PDF (623KB).

      The records copied by this project have been catalogued as:

        EAP067/1 Pashov Family Collection [c 1940-c 1980]
        EAP067/2 Zhivkov Family Collection [c 1930-1960]
        EAP067/3 Emilia Ormandzhieva and Zlatko Mladenov Collection of Gypsy Folklore Material
        EAP067/4 Petko Romanov Collection of Stage Plays [1953-1959]
        EAP067/5 Rasim Zabunov Collection of Manush Romanov Songs [1975]
        EAP067/6 Petko Asenov Collection of Svetilnik Newspapers [1927]
        EAP067/7 Zhelyo Kovachev Collection of Romano Esi Newspapers [1946-1948]
        EAP067/8 Gospodin Kolev Collection of Photographs [c 1940-1982]
        EAP067/9 Romani Bah Collection of material from the ‘Fakultet’ Gypsy Quarter [20th Century]
        EAP067/10 Miscellania from the Studii Romani Library and Archive Collection

        The catalogue is available here.