The Roma Behind Walls

Self-Colonization

Leading Editors:
Emilia Kledzik, Agata Araszkiewicz
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The Roma Behind Walls

Emilia Kledzik

Self-Colonization

Agata Araszkiewicz

Table of content/ articles for purchase or download:

Section: The Roma Behind Walls

Abstract:

What is it about the word “wall” that makes it so fiendishly compelling and reflection on the theme so important to work on contemporary life in the humanities? The freighted and multivalent term crosses disciplines freely, joining currents emerging from various scholarly fields as well as some from the considerations of non-academic thinkers. “Walls” appear in all areas of the humanities. That fact in itself may be viewed as reason enough to reflect on its universality. It is a kind of “tool” that can be used for a variety of purposes, because after all, the raising of walls makes life easier for certain social groups while complicating other groups’ lives. The building of walls has its roots in the human being’s psychological and biological inheritance. Along the path of evolution, we learned that in order to be safe, we must fence ourselves off from threats, and in order to be able to do that, we must learn how to construct walls—indeed, even building oneself a home entails setting up at least four walls.

Dział: The Roma Behind Walls

Abstrakt:

Encampments built by Roma immigrants of Romanian extraction began to arise in Poland in the 1990s. The Roma settled far from public spaces, on the outskirts of towns, where they built encampments under bridges from boards and old furniture they had found. Sometimes they moved into vacant, abandoned buildings. Ruined buildings had to be at some remove from the city center. Concealment ensured the community a minimal level of security and was their solution to the recurring problem the community had faced of physical attacks. The invisibility of the Roma meant that the city residents had no concept of their living conditions, the causes for their extreme poverty or the status of the community. During the 1990s, when Wrocław’s Tarnogaj encampment and the one located in Warsaw under the Grota-Rowecki Bridge were the subjects of public debates, those were initiated rather from the desire to effectively get rid of the Roma than from any intention of guaranteeing immigrants opportunities to exercise their basic rights: access to the labor market, education system, lodging and the health service. The majority community’s only response to the presence of the Roma was forced resettlement and mass deportations, conducted brutally and without warning. Early in the morning, government officials, escorted by the police, arrived at the encampment areas and forced people to leave their homes. Buses were brought to take them next to Romania. Statements by witnesses to those events, documented and preserved in the archives of Gazeta Wyborcza, bear witness to the ruthlessness of the institutional solutions. In 1996, Jerzy Ficowski wrote: “On the Vistula, by the Grota-Rowecki Bridge, martial law has been declared at the local level. There was no transportation for the Gypsies’ property, which was then burned. They were allowed to take only their hand luggage. I associate this with something bad.”

Dział: The Roma Behind Walls

Abstrakt:

Empty window frames, trash heaps, demolition, lack of access to water, electricity, or gas. The Lunik IX borough in Košice, Slovakia has been notorious for years. The buildings are being systematically wrecked, however, and many Roma are leaving for the West. Yet tents are also appearing, housing those whose apartment blocks were wrecked– whether on the grounds of the same housing development or in another of the dozen-odd Roma slums in the vicinity. And there is nothing to suggest that anything is going to change.

When the Austrian writer and reporter Karl-Markus Gauss published his moving book Die Hundeesser von Svinia (The Dog-eaters of Svinia) in 2004, he estimated that from four to six thousand Roma inhabitants were living in the Lunik IX borough on the outskirts of Košice– the second largest city in Slovakia, located in the eastern part of the country. Nearly a decade later, estimates are closer to between six and eight, or even ten thousand Roma in that housing development. Lunik IX was built in the 1970s for two and a half thousand people, located southwest of the center of this then heavily industrialized city. For years, Lunik IX has held an inglorious place at the top of the list of the largest urban Roma ghettoes in Europe– with dramatically poor living conditions, almost 100 % unemployment, and deepening isolation from the majority society. And all of this in what was the European Capital of Cultural just three years ago. Although in recent years, according to certain members of the community, the population has decreased, due to economic migration, to the level it was at when Gauss visited, it remains difficult to depose Lunik IX as a model example of ghettoization, separation and marginalization of a minority. But it wasn’t always that bad.

Dział: The Roma Behind Walls

Abstrakt:

Miskolc is the fourth-largest city in Hungary, spread out enchantingly at the foot of the eastern part of the Bükk Highlands and separated from Budapest by a distance of less than 190 km. Famous for the Barlangfürdö thermal bath– the only aquapark of its type in Europe, created in a natural karstic cave, located in the health resort of (Miskolc-)Tapolca. Notwithstanding the fact that tourism plays an ever greater role in the life of the city, Miskolc until recently remained an important Hungarian industrial center. The first factories and steelworks were built in the eighteenth century, and dynamic development of industry took place in the mid-nineteenth. At that time, the Miskolc Town Hall was built, the county headquarters, theater, and several schools and churches. The city was not destroyed in the First World War, and its infrastructure was preserved intact. Hungarian government policy of the 1930s was favourable to further industrial investment, mainly geared toward promoting heavy industry and arms manufacturing. Only towards the end of World War II did Miskolc become a city on the frontline and suffer intensive damage.

Dział: The Roma Behind Walls

Abstrakt:

The hot Slovak August of 2015. Taking the Dragov express train, packed tightly with passengers, on the Bratislava-Košice line, I arrive, late in the afternoon, in Poprad. 28 year-old Alex, who looks more like a film star than a teacher, is waiting for me at the station; he is the winner of the 2014 Golden Amos, awarded in Slovakia to the best teacher, chosen from a group of contenders nominated by their own students. Alexander Jakubčo was one of 14 people (out of 220 applicants, aged 21-311) who successfully completed the long, intense process of recruitment for the inaugural year of the program Teach for Slovakia and who, since September 2014, have been able to work as teachers in one of the elementary schools for Roma (“gypsy”) children. TfS became operational in Slovakia in 2014, but is part of a larger organization founded in the US in 2007, the non-profit Teach For All. The purpose of TfS is to provide visible, active education for Roma children and financial support for schools (buying books, notebooks, and sets of school supplies) while modernizing existing elementary schools and building new ones, but its highest priority is the creation of cadres of young teachers who are both responsible and aware of the difficulties they will face; as the organization’s recruitment film underscores, these people must be “positively crazy,”2 because such individuals are sorely lacking in the Slovakian education system. They do not have to pass all the prerequisites in terms of pedagogical training, but are required to go through a complex “introductory training prorgam,” after graduating from which they work as full-time educators in partner elementary or junior high schools, both “purely” Roma schools and mixed ones. TfS has support from many important people, including Slovak president Andrej Kiska and the Škoda Auto company, made some dozen automobiles available for teachers to drive to work; the organization also provides young people with various other opportunities encompassing a wider range of personal or career development choices– they may continue to work as teachers, or may leave the education system and work in organizations that deliver aid to Roma populations and other minorities. Plavecký Štvrtok, Huncovce, Stráne pod Tatrami, Dobšiná, Nálepkovo, Levocza, Poprad are just a few of the villages and towns to which such organizations bring help. Anna Maarová, who was in charge of the initial training, remarked that the schools were chosen according to criteria that included: whether the children attending them are socially marginalized, and whether principals and teachers there were eager to support the project. Remuneration for teachers comes out of the budget for schools and the proect itself covers all the costs of accommodation, commuting to work, further pedagogical development (courses, intensive training sessions, group integration trips, etc.), as well as the purchase of all items needed for school and textbooks for the children.

Dział: The Roma Behind Walls

Abstrakt:

Ochotnica, the longest village in the Podhale region, located between the Lubań and Gorce ranges, stretches 27 kilometers wide. In fact it divides into two villages, Ochotnica Dolna and Ochotnica Górna, which together form the municipality of Ochotnica Dolna. In Ochotnica Górna, right next to the main road, along which the village extends, there is a settlement of people who belong to the Bergitka Roma community, the poorest and least attached to Roma tradition of the Roma groups living in Poland. For that reason they are treated by other Roma groups as a community with lower status. The residents of Ochotnica are convinced that the Roma – commonly called Gypsies, or, in Slavic languages, Tsigani– have always lived there. The oldest members of the community, however, remember that during the German Occupation they lived in Młynne, in a valley adjacent to Ochotnica Dolna. The Uplanders (Gorale) of Ochotnica Górna know little of the Roma’s past, culture, language, customs, and social order, and what they do know is the result of very superficial external observation, since there is no social interaction between the and the Roma. A quarter century ago, there was still an old neighbor who remembered them and reminisced about a meeting in his house with the Roma smith Szczerba over coffee. At present meeting for coffee is unimaginable, though one Roma woman works in the local elementary school as an assistant with Roma children and, as a co-worker on the school staff, is invited to school events, including those of a social character. She speaks with pride of the charm and kindness of the administrators and teachers, of their egalitarian approach, of the absence of any kind of prejudice towards her and her family. Roma and Uplander children meet at school, but there is no talk of coming over to each other’s houses. The “impenetrability” of the two environments is an enduring fact, similar to what Czesław Miłosz described in Native Realm with regard to the Polish and Jewish communities in the Vilnius of his youth. Until recently, this impenetrable coexistence did not bear the signs of conflict.

Section: The Roma Behind Walls

Section: The Roma Behind Walls

Abstract:

The experience of the Roma within the Warsaw Ghetto– the space of indirect extermination– has been relatively little studied. In writings that touch on the Holocaust’s effects on the Roma, the context most frequently addressed is that of the death camps. It therefore seems particularly important to excavate traces of the Roma presence in the Warsaw Ghetto. Since the release of Jerzy Ficowski’s book Cyganie na polskich drogach,1 Biuletyn Głównej Komisji Badania Zbrodni Przeciwko Narodowi Polskiemu Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej 1992, vol. XXXIV.] in which the subject of the Roma in the Ghetto was discussed for the first time, no texts have appeared in Polish to expand upon Ficowski’s findings. This is primarily a result of the fact that documentation of the fate of the Roma in the Ghetto remains sparse. Unlike the Jews, who produced many personal writings, preserved today in large part through the work of the Oneg Szabat group, the Roma did not write down their war stories and did not pass them on to succeeding generations. Those stories thus did not function as an essential element of their identity. This was conditioned by their culture, which, in keeping with romanipen – Roma tradition, was not directed toward remembrance of the past.

Section: The Roma Behind Walls

Abstract:

Wim Willems claims that the Roma appear in the popular imagination chiefly in two roles–as the dregs of society or in a flattering but not exactly illuminating light as Romantic outsiders.1 Willems underscores that his book does not answer the question of who the Roma truly are or what they are like, but rather how they are portrayed in literary and anthropological texts of the past two centuries. Willems’s research indicates that in the history of representations of the Roma, a collective image dominates which does not reveal the ethnic diversity of the group, but instead oscillates around the position that its cultural system is “inferior,” while the “norm” against which it is so judged is naturally located in the culture of the scholar or author.

The history of representation shapes social reality; that history participates in public discourse which has contributed to the continuation of discrimination against Roma, their marginalization and exclusion. The culmination of these processes was the creation, in many parts of Europe of Roma ghettoes, closed spaces both physically and symbolically. It should be underscored that the phenomenon of Roma migrations2 as well as that of the social advancement of some representatives of the community3 have hindered the process of consistent ghettoization.4 Nonetheless, the formation of separate spaces to which Roma are confined, whether camps or neighborhoods on the outskirts of European towns and cities, endures as an ongoing phenomenon.

Images depicting the condition of these communities and their members, hitherto absent in Polish nonfiction literature, have now become the subject of journalism by reporter Lidia Ostałowska.5 In the period 1996-2000 she took a series of journeys into Roma communities in Romania, Poland, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Czechia and Hungary. As a journalist, Ostałowska is conscious of the mechanisms of previous, orientalist representations of the Roma in literature and the media and is consistently engaged in building an oppositional project of listening closely to the Roma point of view; the result of her efforts is a collection of reportages bearing the title Cygan to Cygan (A Gypsy Is A Gypsy), an ironic poke at generalizing oversimplifications.

Section: Self-Colonization

Abstract:

Towards the end of the twentieth-century, Alexander Kiossev proposed a postcolonial model to assess the condition of East, Central, and Southern European Culture – cultures he described as “self-colonizing.” For Kiossev, the nuances of this persistent historical phenomenon consisted of the construction of national identity on the basis of foreign models assimilated from cultures more developed (in terms of historiography, literature, art, and even political, legislative, and economic structures) than the “self-colonizing” cultures. At the heart of the historian’s argument lies the claim that peripheral formations adopt inferior positions vis-à-vis the center not because they have succumbed to a compulsory dependency on outside forces, but because even in the nascent developmental state of national subjectivity, they embraced a model of their own inferiority. This situation stems from recognizing one’s cultural otherness in relation to a set of values deemed universal, and from consciously reckoning with the fact that as “inferior” cultures, they are a reservoir of societal lacks. One such lack was the presumed dearth of grand historical narratives on the early origins of the nations of East-Central Europe– narratives formed in the medieval and renaissance eras in the spirit of dominant ideology: the more deeply rooted a culture is in antiquity, the greater its inherent value and entitlement to nobility.

Section: Self-Colonization

Abstract:

The contemporary phenomenon of euroscepticism prevalent among members of the Polish right can be read as a self-colonization narrative according to which European integration is nothing short of yet another attempt to colonize Poland. According to this view, the integration promoted by a pro-Europe elite suffering from symptoms of postcolonial syndrome has had negative repercussions for the economic and social spheres. This is not the first time that postcolonial theory has been co-opted by right-wing journalists, politicians and scholars (namely, by acolytes of the Law and Justice party) to critique the transformation period, the elite, and the people of the “Third Polish Republic.” Much of this rhetoric can be traced back to Ewa Thompson, professor of comparative literature and Slavic studies at Rice University in Houston. In her research, Thompson uses postcolonial theory to think about Poland’s historical legacy. A number of actions inconsistent with the nationalist and conservative vision (in particular, the rejection of the conspiracy theory that the Smoleńsk catastrophe was an assassination attempt) have been seized as solid evidence that their political adversaries are motivated by a postcolonial mentality. To speak more generally, the pro-European political elite are portrayed as turncoats who have betrayed the essence of Polishness at the service of Western nations. Meanwhile, run-of-the-mill proponents of European integration are portrayed as “sheeples”, who must be rescued from their own ignorance and emancipated. What is more, this interpretation of European integration has also permeated social groups that would ordinarily be prone to pro-European attitudes – namely, urban university students. Theorists of euroscepticism have drawn a distinction between “hard” euroscepticism (represented by an actual desire for Poland to secede from the European Union or reject the EU’s core policies) and “soft” euroscepticism (the belief that national interest is in natural conflict with the EU’s current trajectory of development, a resistance to integration in specific spheres, and hostility toward extensive integration and the idea of a “federal” Europe.) The Polish right, and in particular, the elected officials of the Law and Justice party, clarifies that as a movement, it does not propose secession from the European Union. These officials would, however, certainly qualify as “soft” eurosceptics.

Section: Self-Colonization

Abstract:

The notion of “chamophobia” referenced in this article’s title appears, according to Henryk Domański, “as a lack of respect or perhaps even disdain toward those perceived as inferior. This inferiority is tied to their socio-economic status […], which becomes associated, for instance, with a lack of cultural competence or lower level of education.” The term is usually used to describe contemporary aspects of social life tied to symbolic violence, but confined to the context of the so-called “bridge and tunnel”, folk.

Yet another timely example pertaining to this category is Anna Szulc’s now widely known article “The Huns are Coming” (Najazd Hunów), published in Newsweek. The text describes Poles vacationing at the seaside from an elitist perspective of presumed superiority. Szulc makes an explicit link between an alleged lack of culture she observes among the tourists and their lower socio-economic status.

Dział: Self-Colonization

Abstrakt:

Gente Ruthenus, natione Polonus – this identity-generating expression invoked in a poem by Eugeniusz Tkaczyszyn-Dycki manages to capture issues tied to the poet’s Ukrainian-Polish identity. The borderland, defined here as a specific set of social conditions and “autobiographical site” (Czermińska’s phrase) functioning within the world of the poetic narration, yet referencing actual topographical space and equipped with “its own cultural symbolism,” becomes a recurring theme in subsequent poems. Wólka Krowicka and its environs are portrayed, on the one hand, as an “idyllic region” that has been irreversibly lost, where the Polish language mingles with Podlachian, and Orthodox and Catholic churches stand side by side. On the other hand, this territory bears the imprint of conflict as conveyed through accounts of forced resettlements, persecution, brutal murders, and the “Wisła” action. The poet’s family’s particular geopolitical position left them vulnerable to colonial oppression (from the West and East alike), which entailed the dehistoricization and naturalization of the experience of the Other, and the destructions of communities and their cultures. Surely, this is also why the primary organizing theme for his creative work became the “ritual of salvaging from oblivion” and the search for a chance at emancipation from under the yoke of symbolic violence.

Dział: Self-Colonization

Abstrakt:

Many have described Ukraine as Szczerek’s idée fixe, although his treatment of Ukrainian/Eastern themes and issues is in reality more complex. Szczerek is not interested in Ukraine as an entity in itself. He is interested in Ukraine as a network of relationships (academics and sociologists of literature jump at this approach) between Ukrainian and Polish society, between neighbors, with stereotypes and symbols of all kinds operating within social space. The novel Mordor… was controversial for its form (its colloquial and intensely vulgar language) and content: Szczerek portrays Poles traveling to Ukraine as psychological colonists on a mission of heritage and leisure tourism. Their intentions are to exert their superiority over post-Soviet space, thereby curing their own national complexes, while simultaneously nursing their resentments toward the “Kresy” [Eastern Borderlands”] region. The novel reveals that the prewar or even pre-partition distinction between “cham” (peasant) and “landowner” is still alive and well in contemporary Polish social consciousness.

Dział: Self-Colonization

Abstrakt:

In this article, I try to problematize the question of the feminine subject by invoking women philosophers. I probe the potential for practicing philosophy as a woman and for defining subjectivity as a specific female subject that philosophizes. Somewhat casually, I borrow and mobilize the concept of self-colonization (and more broadly speaking – colonization, colonialism, and postcolonialism), so often applied to cultures and nations, to reflect on the category of the subject. In the context of the female philosophical subject, this seems entirely justified. If we take Alexander Kiossev at his word when he writes about self-colonizing cultures, we can make the claim that the woman-philosopher is a “symbol of absence,” for she adapts an “alien” (so far unavailable) model of values for conceiving the subject and adopts an “alien” model of philosophical practice.

The notion of self-colonization cited in the title of this article can be understood as an attempt to clarify the terms of subjectivity, using categories and properties that are foreign, unrecognized, and unfamiliar, yet somehow appropriated or claimed (with simultaneous reluctance and enthusiasm) as one’s own. To identify as a philosopher, a woman must contend with the original colonizing gesture enacted by the philosophical tradition – a tradition that acknowledges her as neither a rational subject capable of reflexivity nor an agent that can authentically practice philosophy. For the most part, women philosophers find themselves in circumstances resembling the postcolonial framework and necessarily collide with what Kiossev describes as the “the morbid consciousness of an absence – a total, structural, non-empirical absence.” It is the “Others” (in this case, the select men sanctioned by tradition as rational subjects) who “possess all that we lack; they are all that we are not.”

Dział: Self-Colonization

Abstrakt:

Sadomasochistic fascism is commonplace in today’s world; this impulse is the seed of own modest, ultranationalist iteration of self-colonization. To free oneself, then, is a matter of sublimation, or of joining with the “human family” and other species, pushing toward diverse forms of life, coalitions between cultures (as Zygmunt Bauman proposed), and the celebration of difference (following Julia Kristeva). This is a matter of cultivating hospitality towards the Other and (as Cezary Wodziński wrote), hosting-otherness. This takes on special meaning in our part of Europe, as we know from the excellent postcolonial scholarship of Renata Salecl, Maria Todorova and Nataša Kovačević, the curatorial projects of Natalia Chermalych, and finally, from what is inscribed on our own skin.