White Academia is looking for the next thing to say, when it should be listening
I would like to thank Dr. Katja Dunajeva for supporting the idea of a joint panel at the 2018 GLS conference as well as Dr. Violeta Vajda for her continued support and encouragement to pursue this paper as well as other pursuits in fighting discrimination to the very end. A special thanks goes out to Dr. Lucie Fremlova for suggesting I write this paper, encouraging me to submit my extract, participate in the 2018 GLS conference and continue with my revisions to my drafts. If she hadn’t noticed my responses to internet trolls on The Economist’s web site over 10 years ago, I wouldn’t be here. Also thanks to Hristo Kyuchikov, Ethel Brooks and Ian Hancock for their encouragement throughout the years. Thanks to all of them and I wish them courage and success in all their endeavors.
How many times have we been at a conversation, whether at a party or in the office, where we were uncomfortable, not interested, pre-occupied with other worries, and just not interested in listening? It could also happen that we are trying to impress someone, change the subject, or simply move across the room. In such situations we are looking for the next thing to say, to satisfy our (legitimate or not) selfish needs. In such cases with multiple people saying what they want for their own reasons, or just looking for the next thing to say to fill the silence, is anyone really listening?
There is no sincerity in communication if there is no sincerity in listening. It is a two way street. I would like to try to address these issues for the sake of people like my mother, like myself, who have needed knowledge produced by Roma but couldn’t find any. It didn’t exist due to academia being dominated by non-Roma.
She left Czechoslovakia at the age of 38 for the United States with my father and my three siblings after the Prague Spring, not speaking a single word of English. By the time of her unexpected departure from all that was familiar to her, she had never heard anything in her schooling or in the media that was remotely related to the history and origins of her Romani people. Several years later after she managed to learn some English, and she happened to come across the term Gypsy in a set of encyclopedias, she discovered that there was a probable historical link with India. This filled in some of the gaps in the puzzle which she had managed to hold onto in her mind, such as the facial features among people in our neighborhood that she had learned came from India, but reminded her of people back home from Myjava. She grew up in an environment where being Roma, actually back then it was Gypsy (cigan), wasn’t recognized as an ethnicity. She had to listen to teachers and others with more education tell her that Gypsies were just an accumulation of vagabonds, poor social classes, and the descendants of marginalized people who were banished from somewhere to the outskirts of small villages. Despite the fact that this is what the common speak was in majority society, there was enough of a discussion within her community and her family to postulate, “If that’s true, how come we have our own language?” She was made to feel like she is the progeny of some unfortunate lowly social class with dark skin who never amounted to any good or made any contributions to majority society, but somehow that didn’t feel right. Until she discovered that others acknowledged some of the contributions of Roma as per that encyclopedia entry, and found someone else’s acknowledgement of things she already knew to be true, she couldn’t substantiate what she felt was logic without such a simple form of what we consider proof. How much strength, stamina, intelligence, and intellectual curiosity must she have had after having several children and still taking care of her family in her 40s, half way across the world in a foreign society, to feel the need to find out more? Or perhaps the question could be, what was missing from her childhood and earlier life that made her still yearn to understand more about who she is and where she was from? A simple encyclopedia entry provided validation. It made it appear that others acknowledge finally what she had long felt to be valuable and true. And she learned something new about herself and her people.
She was born in one world but married and moved into another one, one foot in both worlds. She knew who she was and where she was from. This is not a point to be pooh-poohed away as conjecture. I pose another question: had the works of Ian Hancock, Ethel Brooks and others been available to her in her formative years, would she have had more self-esteem that would have allowed her to develop her potential more confidently, even if still in a world that continued to constrain her because of the color of her skin? She managed just fine without them, and lived up to far beyond the potential that societal norms would have had her believe of herself, but could she have contributed more to society if she had been freed from those thoughts at an earlier age by having access to such knowledge? Why is the potential homogenization that might take place across Romani communities by supporting the dissemination of academically accredited knowledge production by Romani people on the subject of Roma considered a threat by anyone? And who gets to decide that this is a greater threat than other homogenizing factors within Romani communities? And a threat to whom? How will academia and institutional knowledge production suffer by having more self-aware Romani people who can critically think and choose which narratives they want to follow? Why is it acceptable to allow religious zealots to perform this task?
I have my mother to thank for that attitude. It’s not only because she was a nurse that this attitude prioritizing the preservation of my own physical and mental well-being rubbed off on me. It’s the culture to which I am referring. I need to complete this digression before I return to discussing my evidence based findings because I need to demonstrate a personal example of why this subject of listening to the Roma, and who can speak for the Roma under what circumstances needs to be approached with sincerity (Kocze, 2015) and not dissected along the lines of semantics as my primary motivation for writing this paper.
It seems that some members of the Academy have been unwilling to address the current modus operandi with respect to more than one area of study, of how lack of practitioners’ input can cause harm and furthermore, unduly influence the actual environment one is supposedly observing by choosing to avoid any direct interaction, due to the change in the meta-environment that is created by publishing such unchecked observations. This definitely occurs in Academic Finance (Rutledge, 2018) and I would like to provide some examples of how I believe this is occurring in Romani Studies. It starts in my opinion with the fact that there is no such thing as a completely objective observer given how we can “expose the workings of power that produce the very concept of objectivity; in the case of Romani Studies, the bounding of the field by culture produces hierarchies that are called into question once power is brought into the field of analysis,” (Brooks, 2015) but some members of the Academy dismiss the plausibility of such a hypothesis, as if my, or any other Romani person’s only reason to express such an opinion were politically motivated, suggesting a pretext of vested interests as a member of one or more Romani communities. Why do these questions of first concerned representation only receive attention in Romani Studies but not in Jewish Studies, Arabic Studies, African-American Studies, or Feminist/Gender/Queer Studies? Do straight white people claim their African American and LGBTIQ colleagues’ work is not objective due to their political motivations for representation?
That vested interest can add value, the lack of any such interest can harm, and postulating that objectivity exists in interpreting such issues simply reinforces the status quo. Without a continuous process in place to control and thus ensure objectivity, I want to bring attention to the meta-damage that has been and will be perpetuated (Kircherr, 2018) if we do not seek alternative approaches in pure knowledge production.
Homogenization in Romani communities
The fact is, within several Romani communities there is a growing religious movement. Much of this is centered on a new nationalism, a new myth of national origin which claims the Roma are the chosen people. This is explained with alleged theories surrounding the similarities in Jewish and Romani customs which are further used to confirm, without real proof, to their audiences that our origins are in Egypt and we are one of the lost tribes of Israel. Allowing disproved theories to flourish contributes to the dumbing down of the population when exposure to critical thinking is avoided for reasons of objectivity and non-interference. Is it because the perpetrators of disinformation are within the community and have no academic standing, that therefore the Academy does not concern itself with intra-community issues? When ignorant members of a Romani community wish to impose their views on members of their own or another Romani community, and Romani people without the tools to be able to analyze and decide how such theories could or might not make sense, this raises no concern to an outsider (supposedly objective) but when academically acclaimed Roma speak to any Romani community with serious subjects on a more transparent level, they are considered a homogenizing threat by non-Roma academics, to the extent that the non-Roma feel justified to protect uneducated isolated communities from them by any means possible? How does this affect members of sexual minorities in any minority group (not just Roma), when mainstream authoritative figures do nothing to intervene in cases of injustice, such as violence experienced as a result of homophobia? If there is to be enlightenment (for lack of a better word) in society led by a sincere Academy, knowledge needs to be placed in de facto terms above who is speaking,which is currently not the case. In Romani Studies such considerations are often simply rhetorical conjecture.
Perhaps it may be worth considering the parallelism of motivations that may exist in the field of Academic Finance in not exploring “topics outside the established orthodoxy” as Rutledge describes in her recent work, Did Academic Finance Play a Role in the Global Financial Crisis? to those in Romani Studies. She points out the perceived risk of a “form of professional suicide” as one of the reasons for academics to avoid topics faced by professionals in the securitization and asset pricing markets. A tenure track position at a top school was understood to be achievable only by a “dissertation with clever proof of asset price efficiency that a top finance journal would publish.”(Rutledge, 2018) We may never know the extent to which Academic Finance might have been able to prevent the issues related to the financial crisis of 2008, but we do know the Academy avoided examination of any such practical issues leading to the crisis (Rutledge, ibid). If we consider that similarly self-interested motivations exist in other scientific fields in the Academy then, it might explain why challenging a pastor’s history of the Roma from Pentecostal Romani Church doctrine may be a topic outside the established orthodoxy and may not serve the furthering of an academic career in contemporary Romani Studies, and therefore something to be avoided. Will we ever know how much our culture will be forever changed while outside observers continue to watch this transformation being spawned by a lack of scientific thinking, lack of proven knowledge, and lack motivation to stop the dumbing down of our Romani peoples? If Romani Studies follows in the footsteps of Academic Finance, avoiding topics presented by practitioners in the field because they do not advance careers in the Academy and refusing to bring the motivations and self-interest of the academic researcher themselves into the field of analysis, then we might eventually expect an implosion similar to a market crash, a major change that will occur resulting from the lack of any mutual self-interest in the preservation of Romani knowledge and Romani knowledge production. We no longer have the mixers of black powder or mercenaries used by French and German nobles for their personal guards, we have fewer and fewer blacksmiths, silversmiths, basket weavers, traditional veterinary medicine practitioners, and even fewer dancers, musicians or linguists with knowledge of ancient dialects with the specialized vocabulary of various specialized professions. Some Christian sects look to our ancient healing practices in medicine, fortune telling and dance as work of the devil to be abandoned in order to achieve salvation, not to mention reducing the visible power of women in the community and imposing new value judgements on interpretations of non-heteronormative behavior. Should we allow these to disappear completely and watch from an objective distance?
Within the community however, we need historians to counteract the assimilative forces of various churches with knowledge. Making the works of our leading Romani scholars more widely available to Roma would help, and any suggestion of an assimilative political agenda can only be presented as a counterargument by those who have their own political agenda of keeping us isolated, separated, and subjected to religious fundamentalism. Given the state of affairs concerning security in Europe today, such a position renders us one step further toward complete disempowerment.
Roma who have some knowledge and education of our history are asking, in eastern Slovakia for example: Where is this disinformation coming from? Why is it spreading so fast? What are the motivations? Romani people want to know. It is a puzzling new phenomenon on the scene for some. I have had a radio show host in local eastern Slovak media ask me if I know anything about where this is coming from, and how is it that our people, Czech and Slovak Roma, are so gullible and falling for it? Why are they not only accepting it but also so vehemently proselytizing? They want to investigate and show others what is happening before they are surprised by this in their own respective communities. Most importantly, they want people to be aware of the facts, and theories about our history before they decide which narrative they choose to follow as their own, because we don’t learn these things in our public schools and it is not a topic that is treated with equal importance in each family’s home. If a new powerful narrative that provides self-esteem and furthers self-confidence despite not being based on any facts or theories that have been proven, potentially erases other parts of our history and culture, so what (according to the impartial observer)? The Christian church in its many forms is not something that has contributed toward the preservation of Romani cultures for the past several centuries and on the contrary has been a major assimilating force when we take for example its role during the reign of Maria Theresa. The works of Ian Hancock could help by exposing people to the critical thinking they might not have had access to in school that can help them maintain their own stories and discover additional possibilities in a non-proselytizing way.
If the works of Kyuchukov, Hancock, Brooks and others were available and known to the community, perhaps they would gain the wherewithal to question before they accepted these religiously and nationalistically motivated notions. I know their works because I have had a voracious appetite to fill the void of my knowledge of all things Romani. Kon rodel arakhel, and I was very happy to find these people and their work. I know I am not the only one. Membership in Pentecostalism is growing and it also requires members to give up some of their old traditional ways in order to be saved in a religious sense. Of course this is a matter of free will and every individual/community has the right to organize itself as it sees fit, with or without any particular religion, but this phenomenon is current, growing and homogenizing Romani cultures in France, Spain and now gaining a strong foothold in Eastern Europe as well. If knowledge and preservation of diverse Romani cultures were the ultimate objective of a Romani Studies practitioner, then they would see the value in having the works of Hancock, Brooks, and others available within Romani communities as tools that would help them to think and make informed, intellectually independent choices about which narrative to believe concerning their national origins and why they could accept parts of one while questioning parts of another one. Despite some people being easily convinced of some seemingly logical comparisons of Jewish and Romani cultural practices and histories, the jumps in logic that occur in church based material that could not be readily justified in an academic paper might only become more apparent to some Roma than they currently are, if the average Roma had easy access to this Roma produced knowledge, rather than having it called into question by non-Roma academic experts on Roma. Calling it into question rather than endorsing it, restricts its acceptance, and limits its distribution. Creating controversy where there is none does nevertheless affect policy decision makers, such as when choosing to make textbook purchases or when text book makers refrain from using references to Romani authors that would be called into question as potentially controversial, thus further restricting sales and distribution.
Creating conflict where there is none:
Scholarly work judged by scholarly merits does no damage
When a non-Roma — who can be seen as an outsider in Romani communities irrespective of whether or not they are a scholar — claims objectivity and chooses to throw doubt not only on the most acclaimed of Romani scholars’ work but also on their Romani ethnic identity as a matter of protecting knowledge production, this is not a choice that is neutral in its impact on the community, nor in its motivations of alleged empathy for victims of social injustices. When outsiders from privileged classes have no qualms creating doubts about such accomplished Romani authors gives more credibility by default to those who create myths. The outsider remains unaffected as they are able to continue their work studying a new trend, one to which they have actually contributed by avoiding any effort that might educate the community, because educating the community would be considered a) interference and b) not in alignment with the objectives of a pure knowledge observer. This seems to be a continuum of the Academy’s work: non-Roma can continue to divide and conquer, just as they can continue to say we are “gypsy” because we in our isolated communities have never been exposed to the concept of Roma or the linguistic origins of our people coming from India in the public schools we have attended, and therefore how can we choose to be Roma if we never heard of such a thing before with our limited education? How could we dare challenge an outsider from a privileged class who is supporting our self-affirming notions, while he in turn challenges the Romanipe of Romani scholars who have transcended their class? Is it really a free choice if we are confronted by these options in this way? My mother grew up being told she is a “Gypsy” but she was able to figure out her people are Romani and rejected the former label, so, would she have rejected it if she had never learned about the other from a trustworthy source? Luckily for her, she didn’t have any non-Roma scholar throw doubt back then on Roma scholars to add complexity to the dilemma. Is it fair to keep people in the dark about the body of knowledge collected about them? If we are indeed aware of some of this, our responsibilities as informed members of any Romani community cannot allow us in good conscience to stand silent while this happens. When anthropologists say I do not exist because there is no international Roma community other than a handful of political activists who are promoting nationalism, despite my firmly being against any Roma nationalism per se and choosing a decolonial approach toward recognizing the similarities and differences among Romani peoples, do I really not exist other than in the vacuum of my own head? That is what I was led to believe during the CEU summer school of 2014 and I rejected it as firmly then as I do today. I paid for a week long course to learn history and culture of my people during my vacation only to be gaslighted. This “Gypsy” with an MBA from the University of Chicago was duped by false advertising from the noble business of academia, which I assumed would help me to acquire unbiased knowledge. Before that, I never imagined that anyone could consider me a subaltern. I was utterly disgusted that I needed to address my non-existence as a serious question and firmly believe the burden of proof should be reversed to have any sort of remotely objective framework. It’s a good thing I never told my mother that I paid someone to learn that.
We need to be taught our history, as contested as it might be. That is perhaps what some of us might not be aware of and it is what Ian Hancock has been saying. We don’t need anyone telling us who we are. That is what Ian Hancock and the Kalderash in Paris have in common despite claims by non-Roma who would like to throw that into doubt, as Stewart attempts to do (Stewart 2017, 133-141). The church sweeping through Roma communities with a clear nationalistic agenda exists simply as an object to observe and study, just as the notion of what we call ourselves and how we recognize each other especially among our less educated brothers and sisters still remains so. There are numerous vested interests in keeping us divided, as “Gypsies,” and objects of further study, and these are within the institutions of the nation state, the academic disciplines of anthropology and sociology, churches, and the internalized xenophobia within Romani communities that has been transferred to them by majority societies within European nation states, among others.
Therein lies a direct conflict of interest. This creates obstacles for us to educate ourselves especially when accredited people with reputations for scientific thinking are thrown into doubt by unscientific critique and while untrustworthy sources remain unquestioned. If our Romani academics’ works are invalid, then criticize them from the point of view of science. If we are listening to Romani scholars and truly believe that their origin is irrelevant to the arguments they are making, then we would neither question nor imply any doubt regarding their ethnic identity with labels such as self-declared, halfie or feminist, nor would we contribute to any confusion with respect toward their appertaining to any particular socio-economic class. Doing so is an ad hominem attack. It is unacceptable. Where was the academic rigor that should have been applied to the critiques of the works of Ethel Brooks and Ian Hancock in Stewart’s article? Is the notion of working together with Romani intellectuals who ascribe to enlarging the view of Romani Studies via Intersectionality, Critical Race Theory, Feminism, and Decolonialism for the good of the community an impure political objective that contaminates the production of pure knowledge as heretofore practiced by the Academy? I need to see the proof before accepting such assumptions. Where is the disconfirming evidence?
Michael Stewart in his 2017 article “Nothing about us without us, or the dangers of a closed-society research paradigm” states that this piece is his contribution to the debate around issues of ‘authority to speak’ and questions whether discussing these issues will advance the substantive issues that ought to concern all scholars in the field of Romani Studies. The article is a response to a conference that took place in mid-2017 at Central European University calling for a new paradigm in Romani-oriented research (Stewart, 2017). Stewart takes the position that the new generation of participants who sought to enlarge the scope of Romani Studies by using Post-Colonial Studies, Feminist Critique, Intersectionality, and Critical Race Theory may not genuinely be dedicated to knowledge production but rather to the politics of representation and other agendas (Stewart, 2017). He takes on a very defensive position, as if the new idea of drawing on experience from these fields of study would be the equivalent of throwing the baby out with the bathwater with respect to the previous practices and achievements in Romani Studies. What is disturbing is that to support his argument he uses quotes from both young and established Romani scholars taken out of context and in some cases deliberately stating the opposite of those scholars’ intentions, as in the cases of Kocze and Mirga-Kruszelnicka which I will demonstrate further below. In the case of Ian Hancock, a well-respected scholar for decades with numerous publications in the field of Romani Studies, Stewart refers to him as an activist and questions his ability to speak for any (anthropologically non-defined specific segment of) Roma. He confounds Hancock’s statement, “if we knew who we were,” (Hancock: 2010:18) to be one of questioning one’s identity as opposed to the simple contextually obvious point that Romani history is not taught in schools which leaves it wide-open to repeating unsubstantiated rumors perceived as fact by both the general population and by most Roma. This is true despite Stewart’s assertion of the fact that many Kalderash, Masaro, Gabor or Cortorari Roma have an unquestionably strong sense of identity (Stewart, 2017, 135) and it is true as he states that they have this identity regardless of ever having learned any of that history in school as per Hancock’s suggestion, but Stewart turns this example into an anthropological-classification-as-identity game, i.e. anything other than an anthropological classification is nationalism (Stewart: 2017 p. 136). Stewart then goes further to throw doubt on the authenticity of both Ian Hancock’s and Ethel Brooks’ identity as Roma, claiming the former had his foot in both worlds causing several communities to reject his Roma identity and calling the latter a “self-declared Romni” (Stewart: 2017 p. 135-137). Brooks’ work is further challenged by labelling her with imposing a “simplisitic and monolithic victimhood” despite having published a number of works that do the opposite; one such example, her manifesto : Europe is Ours (2017).
Brooks’, Hancock’s, Kocze’s, Kyuchukov’s , Mirga-Kruszelnicka’s and others’ work is congruent with Intersectional, Decolonial, Feministic schools of thought and Critical Race Theory. Such approaches by their very nature cannot be considered nationalistic. In today’s climate of growing extreme right wing nationalism across Europe, to use that label against Romani scholars is a sick twist in logic to make a comparison between the various National Fronts/Peoples’ Parties and Romani emancipation movements, essentially using the fear of nationalism against the victims of nationalism. Every non-Roma scholar who dares to make such a comparison reeks of desperation themselves and whether that is due to fear of the avant-garde or fear of displacement from their ivory towers, I cannot make any such judgement without being accused of pure conjecture myself. Taking random quotes out of context should not count as substantiation of a personal point of view when considerable amounts of work demonstrate otherwise, yet several quotes out of context compared to the body of their lives’ works is enough to declare Hancock’s and Brooks’ work as being Roma nationalism and having a homogenizing effect on Romani cultures according to the Liverpool University Press. To attribute such notions to them as for example, that we may be one people because of our common victimization, and publish them is not fair. It is disingenuous at best.
Does “seeking support from post-colonial studies, feminism, intersectionality and ‘critical race theory’“( Stewart, 2017, 127) disregard scientific methods? Is their use of them flawed? If this were sincerely a consideration, why not take up the question with the authors of such material directly, like Kimberlé Crenshaw or Gayatri Spivak? One may suppose as a result of the choice not to call them directly, that the content is not really what is in question. Why critique Romani scholars for referring to such works?
The choice of critiquing in this case accredited Romani scholars instead of others should be questioned. While I would personally like to see the authors’ of church supported publications’ theories debunked by leading members of the Academy, I realize the effect on an academic career is not the same as attacking the arguments of an accredited scholar. For the sake of proving that other options do exist that don’t keep our people in ignorance, let’s look at some non-Romani authored works currently considered as impartial third parties’ points of view with no self-interest, and the meta-damage resulting from their research that could be examined by serious members of the Academy.
Romani Religiosity in the eyes of impartial third parties and policy makers
There are three such research reports written by impartial third parties I would like to discuss. How they came to my attention, and how they are being used by policy makers should also be raised. The first of these reports, Features of Roma Religiosity: Is it only mimicry?(Gyetvai and Rajki, 2016) supports my claims that there is a phenomenon regarding the expansion of Pentecostal churches. To what extent does this phenomenon exist? What are the actual numbers over a period of time to be able to describe this as a rapid change? Gyetvai and Rajki (2016) examine this in detail and provide data concerning the rate of expansion and the extent of expansion as well as reasonable conclusions regarding the extent of changes, which they go so far as to call radical. They describe it as a small movement started among Romani peoples in 1951 in France, where some estimates put the current number of Romani members at about one million, and some estimates say that 70,000 became attached to the movement in the first three decades of its existence. Furthermore, they state as follows:
According to Atanasov’s research, the movement was represented in 44 countries in 2008. By that time, in France alone, 130,000 Romanies had converted. Similarly, in Spain, there were 500 Romany churches and more than 2000 pastors, and more than 15% of gitanos were ‘born again’, which is about 100,000 Gypsies altogether. In Great Britain more than 7% of local Gypsies were converted, which is about 1700 people; at about the same time more than a quarter of Finnish Romanies were ‘born again’ into the movement. In Bulgaria, the membership was about 50,000 in 2008. In Hungary, about 20,000 were converted in 2014. In Romania, based on the data of Gog, we estimate the number of members to be at least 50,000. Nowadays, the Romany Evangelical Movement has extended all over the world, and predominantly follows the typical Pentecostal pattern (Ibid, 56).
Gyetvai and Rajki (2016) rightly question some of statements previously made by Hancock (2001) and call him out on the lack of proof of any Romani religion’s existence. They also manage to do this without questioning his origins, misquoting him out of context, or ascribing any misleading intentions to his work, but is that enough to make this an objective, unbiased, pure knowledge production? They label their sample Roma population as intrinsically religious (Ibid, p. 53) but is there any implicit assumption made about the rest of the Romani population? Do they sufficiently explain the context that might be relevant to the reader, preventing them from making jumps in logic to assume all 10-12 million Romanies are intrinsically religious or what the relevant extrapolations could maximally be?
Gyetvai and Rajki (2016) do claim that what they discovered from “newer sources, we know that the Romanies’ ecclesiastical religiosity was not necessarily different from the religiosity of their environment” and, “the archival research of recent years has shown that the religiousness of Gypsies was often not at all different from that of the other people around them.” Such remarks make sense, though they do not sound academically sexy or something that could influence policy makers, and easily get lost in the reading.
I mention policy makers because that is how this report came to my attention. A senior ranking staff member of the European Commission in Brussels quoted this report to several Roma activist colleagues and me as proof of a rebirth of religiosity among Roma in Eastern Europe which is giving rise to a dangerous increase in religious radicalism. At the same time he also brought to our attention the second report here: “Risks of Islamist Radicalisation in Bulgaria: A Case Study in the Iztok Neighborhood of the City of Pazardzhik” (Dzhekova et al.,2017) as further evidence of this rebirth of religious radicalism among Roma in Eastern Europe. I assume these reports were both created by academically qualified researchers. Policy makers are part of the meta-environment being affected by what academically trained people are creating and the decisions they make based on these reports without proper contextualization is part of the meta-damage created by academia’s lack of willingness to involve those first concerned in knowledge production.
This policy maker did not remark that it took 30 years to obtain 70 thousand followers, nor what the total percentage of the Roma population that has become a member of this church, he just simply used it as a basis to generalize that there is “a revival of religiosity in Eastern Europe, in particular among Roma.” Neither Gyetvai and Rajki (2016) nor this member of the European Commission thought that it might be necessary to have a control sample, in order to draw comparisons, for example another population of 10-12 million people that could be compared, like the Czechs, Hungarians, or Belgians, to see how does the increase in religiosity compare between Roma and non-Roma, as well as Eastern and Western Europeans. One may argue this is not these authors’ responsibility. Despite the fact that the data is clearly well presented, and this context not necessary from a pure knowledge point of view, we nevertheless still have this meta-damage, due to affirmation bias and selective memory.
I am personally not aware of such a religious rebirth among the majority of Roma in this region, and still do not have empirical evidence to say this is a major trend. These two reports do not present enough proof to draw the conclusions which this high ranking officer was vehemently defending. If policy makers are not intelligent enough to think as critically as that before drawing conclusions from such reports and making such declarations to the general public, we cannot blame this on the individual authors directly. They don’t have the ability to control how their knowledge is used. I question however the potential extent to which the probability of misinterpretation could not have been foreseen and prevented had Roma participation taken place prior to publishing or whether any ethical guidelines developed by the Academy could support appropriate contextualization prior to final publishing. The latter report spoke of isolated incidents of radical Islam in one location in Bulgaria, where the members of that community had exposure to mosques in Germany which led to some isolated cases of radical Islam in a Roma community, yet the attitude was presuming a security threat coming to Western Europe from Eastern European Roma who are intrinsically religious and prone to radicalism. The meta-damage extends further as a result of this latter perception of radical Islam penetrating Roma communities. This meta-damage created by the reports themselves is what I wanted to bring to light.
Before I do that, let us keep in mind some facts. Clearly the report by Gvetvai and Rajki (2016) shows a recent dramatic increase in membership in the Pentacostal church, but first of all it shows this primarily in Western Europe. Second of all it is missing the contextualization of the percentage of the total Romani population in each country mentioned as well as in Europe on the whole. The numbers of converts, twenty thousand in 2014 in Hungary (Gvetvai and Rajki, 2016), out of a total population of approximately 750.000 represents approximately 3 % of the total Romani population in that country. Out of a total Romani population of approximately 10-12 million in Europe, what is the significance of this? Based on a 7-10% religiosity rate (n.b. which took over 50 years to achieve a 1 million strong membership in the Pentacostal church among Romanies), would any other nation be considered intrinsically religious? The report of muslim radicalization in Bulgaria covers a population of about 14 people total who have allegedly become radicalized. How is this a trend? As a trend how does it compare to non-Roma populations of similar sizes? Logic, science, and decision making theories would support further examination of what was presented in these two reports before concluding any such trend exists or even commissioning further studies seeking any disconfirming evidence to prevent affirmation bias. This however does not explain the behavior of senior officials in policy making institutions. Anyone who has studied the Roma should not be surprised at this misinterpretation, experienced researchers in Romani Studies could actively prevent much of that misinterpretation, and new researchers could potentially avoid such mistakes by seeking input from Romani communities themselves, as they are aware of this phenomenon.
The third report I would like to mention could perhaps be described as a tipping point in creating meta-damage of what may prove to be a trend created by impartial third party observers and their self-perpetuating demand for further research as an industry with vested economic interests to fund further research and continued employment: The Western Balkans Extremism Research Forum Serbia Report by Predrag Petrovic and Isodor Stakic (2018) under the British Council. The report itself makes some basic statements. Muslim Roma in Serbia are primarily those displaced from Kosovo, among this small group some have converted to Salafism, the conversions took place among poor and excluded communities, and conversions took place in times of personal psychological vulnerability, such as after the death of loved ones. A small group of vulnerable people converted under extremely vulnerable conditions. This seems like a fair statement, and understandable. This however caught the attention of senior officials of the OSCE in Serbia who as a result decided to hire a researcher to report on the spread of Muslim radicalization among Roma in Serbia. The position was advertised publicly.
Several Roma NGOs called on the OSCE to justify the budget spend on such research, when the more demonstrable trend among a larger group of people would be the spread of neo-Nazism among white Serbian nationalists across Serbia, which also probably presents a greater threat to society. The increased attention and further stigmatization of Roma in Serbia including potential for violence as a result of such an advertisement was not considered before the OSCE published the final wording of the open position. If the general public understands there is a perceived need in the eyes of high ranking officials concerned with national security to examine Roma Muslims, then the OSCE advertisement can be further used as justification to marginalize Roma by the majority. This in turn is making the vulnerable, more vulnerable to inroads from Salafist missionaries while also signaling to the Salafists where they can find targets for conversion. Meta-damage created by research of impartial third parties who have no stake in the preservation of any Romani community, could potentially create a death spiral of ever increasing damage, without any direct intervention from the community to bring up these points to stop it.
Clearly, pure objective scientific research is not occurring in an impartial observatory fashion but rather exerting influence on the situation. Is meta-damage prevention not worthy of consideration by the Academy? Is this not a greater concern more worthy of publication than ad hominem attacks?
When academic researchers align themselves with government institutions to follow such research agendas as non-interested third parties, in an unquestioning, impartial way, they are doing so consentingly in alignment with existing power structures (Chomsky, 2011). They are creating demand for more research on extremism, potentially causing more extremism. One might argue the political agenda of Romani activists and activist scholars is more aligned with the furthering of pure knowledge production than those who purely follow a research agenda without allowing power to enter into the field of examination. The thought is worth considering. So called pure scientists are destroying our communities in these cases and creating the phenomena they claim they are passively observing. The latter is certainly observable.
Given the current Italian census, Ukrainian and Bulgarian pogroms and the potential Muslim radicalization agenda being pushed in Serbia, could it be time for academics to get involved in a different fashion? Is it possible to admit the mistakes of the past and try to address them with scholarship rather than assuming a defensive posture out of fear that those mistakes will be exposed? Have the practices, like those of Eva Justin that led to the destruction of our people in World War II and continued through the 1960s, ever stopped? If we keep practicing the same methods, how will we ever arrive at different results?
Truth and knowledge come with listening
Instead of looking for the next thing to say, as some academics are doing in order to seek attention, they could be enhancing their scientific reasoning and argumentation by listening. An exchange of true knowledge is like a conversation. It cannot happen without listening (Beres, 2018). When we are searching our minds for the next witty remark to capture the attention of our audience, we are multitasking at best, and not putting our full efforts into listening. To remark on the state of the weather and be the life of the party has rewarded the social (and commercial) aspirations of many an individual in Western Civilization, but who cares about what actually was being said in the so-called conversation before that? Those first concerned in the conversation do care. The content concerns us and our collective memory will not survive if we do not hold the Academy accountable.
Deliberately misquoting their colleagues, taking their work out of context to twist it to suit their own needs rather than seeking to discover, advance or enhance knowledge, in the so-called pursuit of purely objective science is not yet the norm (Stone, 2018), despite its somewhat more prevalent existence in Eastern Europe prior to 1989 in fields outside of the hard sciences (or STEM). Without a doubt such behavior does a great disservice to the advancement of knowledge. Anyone knowingly contributing toward the propagation of false science should be sanctioned or removed from their positions. The enforcement of such due process needed to be applied in order to re-establish the credibility of what is the Academy, in the eyes of Romani communities.
Stewart (2017) states that divisiveness can be a natural by-product of scientific debate. While this is true, the divisiveness he used intentionally in choosing his examples is at best disingenuous with respect to the pursuit of purely objective science. While not only is he misguided in all of the major conclusions he draws from the work of academically accredited Romani scholars and how he deliberately quotes them out of context to essentially misquote them, he ignores others who are guilty of unscientific reasoning and potentially homogenizing Romani culture thereby contributing to the homogenization of Romani communities himself. This meta-damage is further exacerbated by his choices to pursue Romani scholars while omitting non-Romani scholars from his critiques. In his conclusion he praises “Cartesian and Empiricist legacies” as being our “only hope of illumination in these dark times”(Stewart,2017,144) and nevertheless non-Romani scholars who are not adhering to this legacy are influencing policy makers, at the expense of silencing Romani voices, without a response from the Academy. My main point is this: his article has no scientific value, should never have passed the peer review process, his peer reviewers are guilty of gross negligence and should be held accountable, and this utterly hypocritical act of publishing academic click bait renders his opinions and those of his peer reviewers moot. It is therefore unworthy of a response from Romani academics. It also forces us to question the performativity of the Liverpool University Press and its chief editor as reliable academic sources in the future if its peer review process is not audited by an independent third party.
How can we say the conclusions presented are anything other than conjecture, or simple editorial opinion? Since when does the Liverpool Journal run editorials and what credentials must one have in order to obtain the publication of an editorial opinion piece in this heretofore esteemed academic journal? If however it was meant to be an editorial piece and the Liverpool Academic press is regularly publishing editorials, I have wasted my time and everyone else’s.
What we are saying
If the peer reviewers of Stewart’s article “Nothing about us without us, or the dangers of a closed-society research paradigm” were listening to Roma or better to say in this case if they read any referenced portion of the source articles published by the European Roma Rights Centre’s magazine “Nothing about us without us? Roma participation in policy making and knowledge production” they would notice:
- First, there is a question mark missing in the title of the quoted publication, and the significance of questioning versus making declarations is not accidental in either case.
- Secondly, none of the works cited support any of the postulations regarding rejection of a scientific approach or any possible suggestion that all previous academic work by non-Roma is worthless and on the contrary they even go as far as questioning tokenistic participation of Roma as well.
- Thirdly, the framing of these arguments does not contribute toward knowledge production itself.
- On the contrary by its very existence and publication by a renowned social scientist (ibid 127) it demonstrates the opposite of what is argues; that ironically it does matter who speaks when an acclaimed non-Roma is able to publish conjecture in an academic journal while Roma are effectively silenced.
Perhaps we can consider going one step further to clarify that this silencing is actually more profound as it is a stamp of delegitimization as explained by Kocze (2015) when she asks a number of questions and provides an answer as follows:
- Who has the power to delegitimize knowledge experiences or views that produce from a different position and epistemological perspective? (…) In other words, who has the epistemic authority and privilege in Roma-related knowledge production? These are major issues that need to be discussed in a sincere way. The denial and banality of these questions in academia leads to disguising the fact that the system is structurally unfair and maintains a systemic disadvantage for the Roma (…) (ibid, pages 83-87)
For example when Kocze makes a further distinction saying, “However, it is important to differentiate between epistemic authority and epistemic privilege,” she clearly explains that Roma scholars currently still don’t have the power of epistemic authority. Such public acknowledgement can hardly be seen as a threat coupled with Mirga’s statement in the same journal when she clearly says it is not automatically possible, “that Romani scholars may claim greater legitimacy over the knowledge produced on Roma,” and that, “[i]n this regard, ethnicity should be regarded as an added value in research, but should not overshadow the quality of academic production.” It is hard to see how statements like this can be interpreted as disavowing previous knowledge production or imply scientific approaches need not be respected. None of the content in this journal seems to imply any threat to erase all that has come before. On the contrary it is seeking additional alternative views, but the established voices speak over, replace, and in so doing delegitimize the Romani voices.
Romani cultures have survived for centuries in a changing environment. The extent to which they were flexible and changed over time themselves has not been examined as extensively as the fact that they simply still exist as distinct cultures despite a number of institutional contrivances against them. The past does not predict the future. How they will continue to survive in the future is a question. We may not have needed the works of Brooks and Hancock 200 years ago, but if we decide we need them given today’s circumstances, then what right does anyone in the Academy to interfere with how we decide to educate ourselves? Just because an isolated Romani community refuses to use an ethnonym other than “Gypsy” is not a legitimate reason for non-Romani anthropologists to interfere and claim protection of this group from outside influences, like Hancock and Brooks, while allowing Pentecostal historic revisionism go unchallenged and claim objective/impartial science is taking place. Why should we allow ourselves to be provoked into responding to fruitless debate when there are greater challenges that merit our time and effort?
There can be neither reconciliation nor enlightenment without mutual recognition of truth. That means we’re in this together, Roma and non-Roma academics. If who speaks is irrelevant, then we should be able to conclude Romani voices are equally as good as long as they adhere to accepted scientific principles and provide proof for their conclusions, especially if they have the academic credentials that make them relevant players. Instead the rules of the game seem to change according to who claims to be holding the rule book. If we are listening, or actually reading the works of the Romani scholars, then we cannot either accidentally or purposefully misquote them.
Not all non-Roma scholars studying Roma are guilty of such behavior, just as Roma with inadequate academic credentials or who fail to demonstrate scientific approaches to their thinking are not beyond reproach. This is a general rule: academia needs to question and hold to the highest possible standards all ‘scholars’ with inadequate academic credentials who fail to demonstrate scientific rigor in their approaches to thinking
Non-Roma scholars who attack leading accredited Romani scholars by taking their work out of context, associating false claims and fast-tracking publications of these claims without rigorous academic review are in fact interfering to the greatest depths within each and every single Romani community worldwide. Such work is a divisive force that distracts our attention from the very issues which could lead to productive improvements, both in the lives of Romani peoples and in the world at large.
If we can say scholars have an ethical obligation to pursue the truth, to publish and to promote the truth and in so doing refuse to act in alignment with oppressive power structures or simply to speak the truth and expose lies, (Chomsky, 2011) so much more important is this function in today’s post-truth society ushered into being via Brexit, Donald Trump, and Vladmir Putin. To use one’s privilege in this world to seek personal attention and relevance via publishing unworthy material in an academic journal not only demonstrates the abuse of power which activists and activist-scholars protest, it throws the whole body of work of such people and such journals into question.
Romani audiences and in particular Romani academics should not waste their time by responding to conjecture. They are doing valuable work. They should not get drawn into this distraction and keep building upon the foundations set by our great academics like Ian Hancook, Ethel Brooks, Hristo Kyuchukov, Nadezhda Demeter, Sofia Vasilyevna Kovalevskaya, Natalya and Lubov Nikolayevna Pankova, and others. I hope reading this may offer some catharsis and the need to respond after reading this will disappear, so that they will rather continue to focus on the valuable work on the subjects they have chosen based on their desire.
To the rest of academia, you have a chance to contribute toward the correction of these injustices and how you react will inform how Roma and non-Roma may continue to work with each other and under which context. If you want Roma to work with you, then get your house in order or be ready to be shunned and considered irrelevant. How can you allow substandard work that manages to get published remain unchallenged? Why must the political watchdog function be forced upon Romani communities, when there should be more qualified non-Roma stepping up to the challenge?
 Despite court rulings and infraction procedures by the EU, Slovakia and the Czech Republic still maintain a segregated school systems placing the majority of Romani pupils into schools for the mentally handicapped, further crippling their ability to compete in a labor market already rampant with discrimination upon graduation.
 Romani proverb: Who searches, finds (loose translation, she or he who searches, will find).
 This footnote is to confirm that I have the screenshot that can confirm this quote as well as all other information mentioned on this page concerning this European official, who will remain nameless in this report.
 A copy of the job advertisement is provided at the end of the bibliography.
 The sheer number of white supremacist neo Nazi groups in Serbia should give rise to international concern above and beyond any comparison to the Romani outliers on the spectrum of radicalism.
 Eva Justin obtained her PhD in 1943 by using approximately 40 Romani children for her anthropological experiments. They were later deported to Auschwitz Birkenau II, all but four died before the end of the war and many of them were experimented upon further by Dr. Mengele. She supported the racial hygiene laws with her research, to stop the flow of unworthy primitive elements into the German population. She said that Roma could not be assimilated because they usually became asocial as a result of their primitive thinking, she proposed sterilization for Roma, she was present when the Sinti and Roma deportations to concentration camps were organized, and continued to work in the same field until the 1960s without interruption (Kenrick, Donald; Puxon, Grattan: 2009).
Beres, Derek. 3 April 2018.”Jordan Peterson : Conversation requires listening, not just talking,” Big Think Magazine
Brooks, Ethel. Europe is Ours (2017), ERRRC. 20 October 2017
Brooks, Ethel. “The Importance of Feminists and ‘Halfies’ in Romani Studies: New Epistemological Possibilities,” Roma Rights (Special Issue: Nothing About Us Without Us? Roma Participation in Policy Making and Knowledge Production). 2015
Chomsky, Noam. The Responsibility of Intellectuals, Redux Using Privilege to Challenge the State, The Boston Review. September/October 2011
Dzhekova, Rositsa and Mancheva, Mila. “Risks of Islamist Radicalisation in Bulgaria: A Case Study in the Iztok Neighborhood of the City of Pazardzhik,” Working Paper, Center for the Study of Democracy. February 2017
Gyetvai, Gellert, and Rajki, Zoltán. “Features of Roma Religiosity: Is it only mimicry?” Religion and Society in Central and Eastern Europe 9 (1): 53-69. 2016
Kenrick, Donald; Puxon, Grattan. Gypsies Under the Swastika. University Of Hertfordshire Press, 2009
Kirchherr, Julian,”A PhD should be about improving society, not chasing academic kudos,” The Guardian , 9 Aug 2018
Kocze, Angela. “Speaking from the Margins,” Roma Rights (Special Issue: Nothing About Us Without Us? Roma Participation in Policy Making and Knowledge Production). 2015
Mirga-Kruszelnicka, Anna. “Romani Studies and emerging Romani scholarship,” Roma Rights (Special Issue: Nothing About Us Without Us? Roma Participation in Policy Making and Knowledge Production). 2015
Petrović, Predrag and Stakić, Isidora. “SERBIA REPORT, WESTERN BALKANS EXTREMISM RESEARCH FORUM,” British Council. April 2018
Rutledge, Ann. “Did Academic Finance Play a Role in the Global Financial Crisis?” The Journal of Structured Finance. Summer 2018