- Цыгане ред Н.Г. Деметер & А. В. Чeрных
As part of an ambitious scholarly book series Народы и культуры (Nations and Cultures) dedicated to the ethnographic study of peoples in Russia, the book Чeрных is published at a time when there is a growing political and academic interest in Roma, coupled with poor awareness about Roma in Russia. Media representation is still largely polarized between either exoticizing Russian Roma or portraying them as victims of discriminatory abuses. What this essentialized representation is missing is the rich culture, diverse languages and traditions, as well as the acknowledgment of the integral part Roma played in shaping Russian history and culture.
The book Чeрных gives a comprehensive overview of not only the history and contemporary situation of Russian Roma, but also a broad summary of academic research published on this topic. The two renowned editors of the book – Nadezhda Demeter, a senior Roma official, professor, ethnographer, and researcher, and Aleksander Chernykh, a historian and academic – gathered the most accomplished researchers, represented by young emerging scholars and senior experts alike, to contribute to this extensive volume on Russian Roma. The list of authors includes K.A. Kozhanov, G.N. Tsvetkov, M.V. Smirnova-Seslavinskaya, O.A. Abramenko, N.F. Bugay, V.V. Shapoval, I.Yu. Makhotina, E. Marushiakova, and V. Popov, the two editors, and others.
Most authors employ ethnographic methodology of research from a variety of perspectives – linguistics, historical, philological, and alike. It is beyond the scope of this book review to summarize each chapter in full detail; instead, I try to focus on the contribution this book makes to the field of Romani Studies.
Following the advice of the book to “start any work concerning Roma with defining terminology” (p. 507), I begin by clarifying my use of terms. [End Page 115] Throughout the book review I use the word Roma, with a caveat that it is not a commonly used group name in Russia. In fact, in the Russian context few would understand who “Roma” denotes. In fact, as the “Council of Europe Descriptive Glossary of terms relating to Roma issues” rightly notes, “in some countries, the term ‘Gypsies’ or its national equivalent has no negative connotations, is accepted by the people concerned and may occasionally be more appropriate. This is true … in Russia and the former Soviet republics (Tsygane).”1 When used as adjectives, I use “Romani,” and when referring to the discipline concerning Roma, I use Romani Studies.
Each chapter in the book Tsygane invites the readers to explore certain issues about Roma in Russia through complex analysis, descriptive methodology, diverse materials, and visual portrayals. Topics range from the history of Romani Studies, to demographic changes, language, and dialects, social structure, culture, traditions, and religion of Roma. Although every chapter focuses on Roma experience in Russia, nevertheless the book aptly contextualizes Russian-language literature in the burgeoning research published in English. The discipline of Romani Studies – still arguably undeveloped in Russia – has been revitalized in the last two decades (p. 6). One cannot but wonder what inspired this academic interest, unless we accept the seemingly modest explanation of the book – growing number of fieldworks generated more knowledge and access to the closed communities of Roma in Russia.
The collection starts by presenting the history and state of Romani Studies research in Russia, beginning with the eighteenth century (Chapter 1). Research conducted only in Russia is merged with international literature, integrating the complementing sets of literature separated by a language barrier. Research produced about Roma is further contextualized in Soviet/Russian politics, highlighting that academic inquiry (and research) has been at times stimulated or neglected depending on political ideologies. After regime change, or the “period of new opportunities” (p. 22), the Russian scientific field of Romani Studies experienced a revival, especially after the year 2000, and the rich literature review enumerated in the book is a testament to this revitalization.
Chapter 2 enquires about the main stages of ethnographic history of Roma, a continuation of recounting the major academic works and various sources (written and visual) in Romani Studies with...