Endangered Archives

EAP285: Preservation of Gypsy/Roma historical and cultural heritage in Bulgaria - major project

Dr Veselin Popov, Minority Studies Society Studii Romani
2009 award - Major project
£14,200 for 12 months

Archival partner: Studii Romani Archive at the Ethnographical Institute and Museum (Bulgarian Academy of Sciences)

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Project Overview

In Bulgaria, many different materials dating from the beginning of the twentieth century can be found which reflect the life of nomadic and settled communities of Gypsies in the pre-industrial period in their first attempts for empowerment and their struggle for equality, and the state politics in the region towards them.

This project is a continuation of the previous pilot project. The aim is to complete the collection and digitisation of material located in Bulgaria and to train interested Roma students in the preservation of the material. Relevant material will be relocated and preserved in Studii Romani Archive at the Ethnographical Institute and Museum at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

It is anticipated that approximately 1,000-1,500 items will be digitised, among them manuscripts of family history or memoirs, Roma written artistic literature, around 300-400 photographs, 100-200 pages old description of customs, old songs, legends and oral histories, 10-20 posters, 10-20 political flyers, 5-10 booklets, 5-10 rare old publications, at least 100-200 pages of different kinds of administrative documents of central and local governments, towns and village chronicles, 50-100 recordings of old Roma songs and video recordings of family and community celebrations, 200-300 pages of documents connecting with early Romani movement, 200-300 pages of documents witnessing the efforts of Bulgarian Roma to establish links with Roma from other countries.

The majority of material will be collected from representatives of Gypsy communities and from various archives and collections. There is a serious threat of the total disappearance of all these materials. Members of the Gypsy communities and descendants of the old Gypsy activists do not always realise their importance and make no effort for their preservation, even in some cases destroying them. If urgent measures are not taken soon, these materials witnessing the transition of Gypsy/Roma to modern society will be lost.

From the academic point of view, this material is very important as it is under-researched. On the basis of the outcome from the pilot project there is reason to expect that the material will throw new light on the history and everyday life of Gypsy/Roma communities in pre-industrial period of time. The addition of new and unknown material in this field will widen significantly the source base and will reveal a new, significantly richer perspectives for its scientific development.

Project Outcome

The project succeed in discovering and safeguarding important archival documents and, what may be more important, succeeded in creating an understanding amongst the Gypsy community in Bulgaria about the importance of the endangered archival documents. The project gained sustainability and will continue to be developed thanks to the established network with Roma organisations and trained volunteers. The project continues to receive information about newly discovered materials, which the volunteers will continue to donate to the Studii Romani archive.

Invitations to visit Kyustendil were received from Gypsies in that town. Meetings with Roma activists and their heirs, and work on searching and copying their family archives was undertaken. Old photographs were collected, witnessing mainly the period of socialism and efforts of Roma themselves to improve their living conditions, celebration of the day of the Gypsy Guild of the Porters 1960’s, many wedding photographs and among them unique photographs documenting an until now unknown element of celebration, called Shaloporin, also illustrating a very specific decoration of the bride. In the town of Kyustendil four unique photographs were discovered from the Second World War, taken by a Nazi photographer who presented it to the Roma family. The physical conditions of archival materials varied with the majority being kept in very poor storage conditions.

During this time the research work also continued in other towns, cities and villages, and meetings with Gypsy communities continued. In the town of Vidin on the Danube river near Romanian borders, two issues of Romanian Roma newspaper were discovered, dating from 1939 and 1940. Documents were found connected with preparations for the forcible sedentarisation of Gypsy nomads. Unique video-documentation of a typical wedding of Muslim Gypsies from the town of Provadia was recovered.

Photographs were collected from the 1940s through to the 1980s reflecting the life of Roma in Sofia Roma quarters. The Members of Roma students organisation collected from different places photographs and documents - most interesting among them is a certificate of gratitude to a Roma, who died as a soldier in the war 1912-1913. The Members of Roma students organisation also introduced the project team to an old lady from the Gypsy quarter of Montana, who donated to the project her family’s unique collection of oral history of the community, which included a description of the creation and history of the Roma quarter in the town of Montana, everyday life, custom and holidays of Roma living there as well as some short folklore genres (proverbs and humorous narratives). Nikola Ivanov, a Roma from a group of nomadic Gypsies, donated to the project his collection of old Romani fairy-tales and ballads.

One of the achievements of the project was the digitisation of Dimitar Golemanov’s collection, which included letters, written songs and fairy tales. Dimiter Golemanov was a famous Rom activist and intellectual during the time of the communist regime from the town of Sliven and these materials reflected his poetical and musical work as well as his international contacts and participation in international networks on Roma intellectuals and activists. Documents were also found on the pioneering linguistical work of one of the most important for Bulgarian Roma Romani studies scholar, Donald Kenrick. Very interesting material was collected from old nomadic Gypsies from the Kardarasha group, who remembered the time of active nomadism.

Members of the Human Rights project and Roma women organisation Foundation Kham were also introduced to the project activities. The Human rights project collected documents mostly in the field of the desegragation of Roma schooling and analysis of Gypsy vulnerable position. They donated to the project previously unknown documents about the history of establishing segregation in Gypsy schools.

For the purposes of project sustainability a short 3 day training course was held, aimed primarily at Roma students who were interested to support on a voluntary basis the project work and who would also be used in the future as volunteers.

The endangered original material and/or digital copies are 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 deposited with the British Library.

The records copied by this project have been catalogued as:

  • EAP285/1 Ekhipe collection [1945]
  • EAP285/2 Zhelyov Family collection [20th century]
  • EAP285/3 Romanian gypsy newsletter entitled 'Glasul Romilor' [1939-1940]
  • EAP285/4 Documents collection, part 2 [1957-1958]
  • EAP285/5 Videotape of a Roma wedding in Provadia [7 Oct 1990]
  • EAP285/6 Lilyana Kovacheva collection [1970s]
  • EAP285/7 Dimitar Gheorghiev collection [1940s-1980s]
  • EAP285/8 Roma students collection [1912-1980s]
  • EAP285/9 Ata Becheva collection on the creation and history of the Roma quarter in the town of Montana, Bulgaria [1970s-1980s]
  • EAP285/10 Nikola Ivanov collection of old Roma songs and fairy tales [1980s]
  • EAP285/11 Dimitar Golemanov collection [1969-1978]
  • EAP285/12 Vlax collection [Late 20th century]
  • EAP285/13 Gospodin Kolev Collection II [20th century]
  • EAP285/14 Human Rights Project collection [20th century]
  • EAP285/15 Kham-Sun Foundation collection [20th century]

The catalogue is available here.