Blank Face, Private Strength - Romani Identity as Represented in the Public and Private Sphere (Macedonia)

Shayna Plaut

"Since the fall of Socialism, "the Romani plight" and therefore the necessity to understand "Romani identity" has become a common theme on the international (especially European) level… Roma throughout the world have needed to face presumed "lack of identity" in order to combat centuries of attempted cultural, ethnic and - at times physical - erasure. The question remains, to whom must Roma prove their identity and by what standards?..."

When Roma appear in research or policy, both by international and domestic (Romani and non-Romani) actors, it is often either in the role of "social problem" or "cultural production" -in other words: a "public face" or "private face" but rarely as a complete, and heterogeneous, population. In fact, when Romani political mobilization is mentioned in academia it is often as, "divisive" or "incoherent," with a "weak identity."

This paper, "Blank Face, Public Strength: Romani Identity as Represented
in the Public and Private Sphere," researched and written by Azbija Memedova (Macedonia) and Shayna Plaut (United States of America) argues that the search for a singular identity begins with the wrong premise - it is not whether Roma have a "weak" or "strong" identity but rather, who they should be "proving" this identity to, and under what standards.

The researchers, "operate under the notion that Romani society is not homogenous" however they state that "this is not unique to Romani society; rather, no ethnic group has a singular, monolithic identity." What makes this fluidity in identity problematic however is the social and economic currency that comes from "marketing" and "solidifying" a public ethnicity particularly in the political sphere.

What makes the situation of Roma in Macedonia unique, with the legacy of socialist Yugoslavia, is the historical lack of access to this "public face" and thus, "upon independence Roma, who were historically economically, socially and politically marginalized and disenfranchised were given the 'space' to be politically recognized in the framework of ethno-politics..." The paper continues, "because the majority of the Romani population is alienated from the formal world of party politics and power... they have not crafted a unified (domestic) public image." This can become problematic when researchers come to study "the" Roma of Macedonia.

Through personal interviews and theoretical analysis, this paper explores how this split of a "public" and "private" affects how Roma in Macedonia recognize themselves in the larger society, in the Romani communities and in their families and how Roma are represented in the social, political and cultural tapestry of Macedonia.

The report was commissioned by Ethnobarometer, International Research Network on interethnic politics and migration, and was prepared by Shayna Plaut, Instructor on Human Rights at the Columbia College, the U.S., and Azbija Memedova, Coordinator with the Roma Centre of Skopje, Macedonia.

The full report (PDF Document, 39 p.) is available for download here