New Soviet Gypsies: Nationality, Performance, and Selfhood in the Early Soviet Union

New Soviet Gypsies: Nationality, Performance, and Selfhood in the Early Soviet Union

Weight 0.00 lbs
By Brigid O'Keeffe
University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division © 2013
World Rights
344 Pages 8 Images
ISBN 9781442646506
Published Aug 2013
ebook (EPUB format)
ISBN 9781442665873
Published Sep 2013
Full purchase $64.95

As perceived icons of indifferent marginality, disorder, indolence, and parasitism, “Gypsies” threatened the Bolsheviks’ ideal of New Soviet Men and Women.  The early Soviet state feared that its Romani population suffered from an extraordinary and potentially insurmountable cultural “backwardness,” and sought to sovietize Roma through a range of nation-building projects. Yet as Brigid O’Keeffe shows in this book, Roma actively engaged with Bolshevik nationality policies, thereby assimilating Soviet culture, social customs, and economic relations.  Roma proved the primary agents in the refashioning of so-called “backwards Gypsies” into conscious Soviet citizens.

New Soviet Gypsies provides a unique history of Roma, an overwhelmingly understudied and misunderstood diasporic people, by focusing on their social and political lives in the early Soviet Union. O’Keeffe illustrates how Roma mobilized and performed “Gypsiness” as a means of advancing themselves socially, culturally, and economically as Soviet citizens. Exploring the intersection between nationality, performance, and self-fashioning, O’Keeffe shows that Roma not only defy easy typecasting, but also deserve study as agents of history.

Brigid O’Keeffe is an assistant professor in the Department of History at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York.

List of Illustrations

A Note on Terminology and Transliteration


Chapter 1  Backward Gypsies, Soviet Citizens:  The All-Russian Gypsy Union
Chapter 2  A Political Education:  Soviet Values and Practical Realities in Gypsy Schools
Chapter 3  Parasites, Pariahs, and Proletarians:  Class Struggle And the Forging of a Gypsy Proletariat
Chapter 4  Nomads into Farmers:  Romani Activism and the Territorialization of (In)Difference
Chapter 5  Pornography or Authenticity?  Performing Gypsiness on the Soviet Stage
Epilogue and Conclusion:  “Am I a Gypsy or Not a Gypsy?”:  Nationality and the Performance of Soviet Selfhood 

Glossary of Terms and Abbreviations



“An extensively researched study of a group about which we knew little previously, New Soviet Gypsies makes an outstanding contribution to the fields of Russian history, the history of the Roma, and the history of minority groups more generally. Brigid O’Keeffe provides not only a rich picture of the Roma in the Soviet Union, but also an important lens through which to examine the debates and dynamics of Soviet nationality policy.”

David Hoffmann, Department of History, The Ohio State University

“This book clearly and successfully traces how Romani individuals actively participated in transforming themselves into Soviet selves, joining the cutting edge of historical and social science research that refuses to dismiss Romani agency in the world. Well researched, with careful attention to a wide array of archival sources, it offers sustained attention to the ways events and institutions and actions interweave, helping us to understand how those social patterns came to be.”

Alaina Lemon, Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan

‘Stories of trivialization and stylization of local historic culture and their music and language abound in this fascinating account… O’Keeffe’s book is well researched and tells an important tale of Roma history and struggle. Highly recommended. Most levels/Libraries.’

L.De Donaan, Choice Magazine, vol 51:06:2014

‘This brilliant new study of the Roma’s plight in the early decades of Soviet power in Russia opens up new avenues of discussion and study of this fascinating ethnic group’s history… This study will certainly become a classic in Roma studies.’

David M. Crowe, Slavic Studies vol 73:03:2014

‘Brigid O’Keeffe’s book is an intelligent study of Soviet nationalities that an instructor who teaches ethnicity and nationalism in any context should include as required reading in his or her syllabus.’

Ali Igmen, American Historical Review, October 2014

‘This is a meticulously researched and well-written work… O’Keeffe is very good at showing the proverbial bigger picture within which we ought to locate the attempted Sovietization of Russian Roma.’

David Z. Scheffel, Anthropos vol 110:2015