European studies blog

Exploring Europe at the British Library

29 May 2024

Preservation of Roma historical and cultural heritage in Bulgaria 

Two Endangered Archives Programme projects, one in 2007 and the other in 2009, aimed to digitise collections of material associated with the community and cultural activities of the Roma in Bulgaria during the 20th century. Over 2000 items have been digitised and relocated to the Studii Romani Archive at the Ethnographical Institute and Museum of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. Digital copies have been preserved in both the Studii Romani Archive and the British Library.  
Page from a 1927 issue of the newspaper Svetilnik with Romani text in Cyrillic type
Digital image from a 1927 issue of Svetilnik (‘Candelabra’). The newspaper is written in both Bulgarian (pages one to three) and Romani (page four displayed above). EAP067/6/1. 
Svetilnik was one of the first evangelical newspapers written for a Romani audience. It was published by the Baptist Roma Mission during the 1920s. Other Roma newsletters and pamphlets were printed during the 1920s, some of them also associated with evangelical missions, while others focused on community life. Many copies of these newspapers and booklets have vanished over time, but some issues are preserved in private collections. Throughout the communist era, copies of certain newspapers were archived in public library collections. After 1989 some archival materials became accessible to the public, while others were destroyed, including some with significant historical or cultural value, such as Roma newsletters and pamphlets. 
Front page of the first issue of the newspaper Romano Esi from 1946
Romano Esi (‘Roma’s voice’) EAP067/7/1/1. 
The newspaper Romano Esi was originally published from 1946 to 1948. It was published by the All Cultural and Educational Organization for Roma Minorities in Bulgaria. The title of each issue is in Romani, while the content of the newspapers is in Bulgarian.
Black and white group photograph of circus workers and performers outside the Cirkus Kozarov tent
Circus ‘Kozarov’ where Roma musicians from the Zhivkov family worked as musicians, c1930. EAP067/2/1/1. 
The collection also includes digital images of original documents pertaining to prominent families and community members, as well as  photographs depicting various aspects of family life, such as group and individual portraits, weddings, and images from everyday life. It also encompasses celebrations of common feasts, family gatherings, excursions, holidays, as well as the political and social activities of community members. Additionally, it features theatre posters. 
Black and white photograph of Saban Bajramovic singing, accompanied by a violinist, accordionist and guitarist, with a small girl dancing in the foreground
Saban Bajramovic, known as the ‘King of Gypsy music’ hailing from Niš, a city in Serbia, pictured at a wedding in the Fakulteta neighbourhood of Sofia during the 1970s. EAP285/7/11. 
The folklore collection comprises songs, fairy tales, short stories and ritual songs of nomads created during the 20th century. These expressions convey the hopes for a better life and the faith of Roma people in ‘the bright future of communism,’ a belief they held. 
Poster for the Central Gypsy Theatre ‘Roma’ with photographs of performances. Red and black type and black and while photographs against a pink background.
Poster for the Central Gypsy Theatre ‘Roma’ promoting a musical performance titled Rapsodia (‘Rhapsody’).  EAP067/1/5/2. 
Page of Cyrillic manuscript on squared paper in a spiral-bound notebook
Notes detailing the establishment and history of the Roma quarter in Montana (Mikhailovgrad) in the 1970s. EAP285/9/1.
The illustration above is from a notebook covering topics from everyday life, Roma customs, and holidays. Additionally, it includes various short folklore genres like proverbs and humorous narratives. The original notebook is well preserved and consists of 88 handwritten pages. 
Page of typescript with handwritten corrections in blue ink
Typescript of a work on the origins of the Roma, with manuscript corrections. EAP285/12/1. 
Typescript of a poem with six four-line stanzas
One of two poems by Fikria Fazli, a female Romani activist from Sofia, addressing the plight of the Roma (1970s). EAP285/14/6.  
The documents revealing the fruitful cooperation between the British linguist Donald Kenrick and Dimiter Golemanov, a Romani poet, translator and philologist, are very interesting and enlightening. Kenrick first encountered Golemanov during his second visit to Sliven around 1967. At that time, Golemanov was already recognized in the world of Gypsy studies, thanks to a version of the ‘Song of the Bridge’ published in the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society. Kenrick collected a variety of materials from Golemanov, ranging from traditional songs and tales to Golemanov’s own compositions and translations. 
Letter in Romani language written in blue ink on lined paper
Letter dated 11 November 1969 from Golemanov to Kenrick with news from Sliven in Romani language. EAP285/11/1. 
Manuscript letter in Russian, written in blue ink on lined paper with some verses and lines of music
Above: Letter in Russian from  Golemanov to Kenrick, April 1969, EAP285/11/4. Below: A song in Romani, written and composed by Golemanov himself, sent as an accompaniment to the letter, EAP285/11/5.
Manuscript of music for a song, headed 'Legenda', in blue ink on lined paper
Below: Two pages from Golemanov’s translation of Alexander Pushkin's poem ‘The Gypsies’ into the Romani ‘drindari’ dialect of Sliven, which was his native language (1969), EAP285/11/8. 
Translation of Pushkin's 'The Gypsies' into Romani, manuscript in blue ink on squared paper
Translation of Pushkin's 'The Gypsies' into Romani, manuscript in blue ink on squared paper
Kenrick himself translated some of Golemanov’s work into English. The two pictures below are a translation of a fairy tale (1978), EAP285/11/15 and a song (1978), EAP285/11/14.
Typescript translation of a short fairy tale entitled 'Why man lives for eighty years'
Typescript of a song in Romani with the first two stanzas of an English translation
Milan Grba, Curator South-Eastern European Collections
Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society (Sandon, 1888-1999) Ac.9944. 
Elena Marushiakova and Vesselin Popov, The first Gypsy/Roma organisations, churches and newspapers, in From Dust to Digital: ten years of the Endangered Archives Programme (Cambridge, 2015), pp. [189]-224. ELD.DS.46613, and available online here.