Accepted paper:

How to use the state to be yourself: peserving Roma identity in Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia


Małgorzata Głowacka-Grajper (University of Warsaw)

Paper short abstract:

In Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia Roma are also the most distanced “Others” in their own societies but this stateless group is very good at using a state to protect its identity. Anthropologists can ask: is effective use of the state institutions really leaves the traditional way of thinking unchanged?

Paper long abstract:

Roma people are stateless group living in all European countries. But being stateless is not equal to being out of state organization. In the contemporary world it is the state which formulates the great deal of the rules of living for individuals and groups. And it also shapes the way of thinking of contemporary Europeans. But Roma can think the state over in their traditional way which states are unable to control. In countries where I have conducted my research - Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia - they are also the most distanced "Others" in their own societies. As centuries ago the Roma leaders are trying to protect consistency of their group and at the same time protect for Roma people the safe place in structures of dominant society. Often they start to think that realizing that aim demands the modern way of acting corresponding with the way of contemporary non-Roma thinking. However, the Roma tradition and the elders are essential and have a decisive influence on 'modern' Roma leaders. Paradoxically, the analysis of their activities reveals that the adoption of modern rhetoric (e.g. referring to the phenomenon of discrimination, minority rights and national ideology) and taking the example of other European minority groups are consistent with the traditional Roma adaptive strategy. They use the state (and even the transnational institutions of EU) to protect their internal divisions, traditions and rules. The question is: is it only a strategy or has it changed their traditional ways and has "infected" the Roma with "state thinking"?

panel W057
"The Other" and the de-fetishization of the state