Svinia in Black and White: Slovak Roma and their Neighbours

Svinia in Black and White: Slovak Roma and their Neighbours

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By David Z. Scheffel
Teaching Culture: UTP Ethnographies for the Classroom
University of Toronto Press, Higher Education Division © 2005
World Rights
256 Pages
ISBN 9781551116075
Published Apr 2005
Online discount: 15%
 $28.95    $24.61
ebook (EPUB format)
ISBN 9781442606838
Published Apr 2005
Full purchase $23.95
Teaching Materials

Roma—or Gypsies as some people still call them—constitute Europe's largest, poorest, and most enigmatic minority. In spite of their centuries-long coexistence with mainstream Europeans, our picture of this people remains rooted in stereotypes and myths that have little in common with contemporary social reality. Full-fledged citizens of the European Union, and ostensibly protected by the world's most progressive human rights legislation, many Roma live under conditions that challenge our notions of Europe, modernity, and pluralism.

This book is about a Romani settlement in eastern Slovakia. It is a community that has grown to become one of the largest and most problematic townships of rural Roma in the entire district. The dark-skinned squatters on the margins of Svinia are segregated from the surrounding society by means of physical and social barriers entrenched in local ideology and enforced by rules and conventions reminiscent of apartheid.

David Scheffel offers a detailed ethnographic account of the social, cultural, and historical circumstances that have encouraged and supported inter-ethnic inequality in the region. In the process, he demonstrates the complexity of what is often referred to as Europe's "Gypsy problem" with passion and sensitivity.

Born in Prague, David Z. Scheffel spent his early years in Czechoslovakia, Austria, and the Netherlands. His interest in anthropology took him to several European and Canadian universities where he specialized in Polar and Russian studies.  Author of the original research for the 1989 National Film Board of Canada production The Old Believers, he obtained his doctorate from McMaster University, and now teaches at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia.
List of Tables and Figures


1. A Fragmented Community

    The Setting
    The People
    The Numbers
    Inter-ethnic Relations
    Local Politics

2. Inside the Osada

    The Roma and their Environment
    Making a Living
    Sex and Procreation
    The Family and the Community
    Deviance, Handicaps, and Pathology
    Music, Dogs, and Celebrations
    Relations with the Outside World

3. Romani Marginality in Historical Perspective

    The Traditional Pattern
    The First Czechoslovak Republic (1918-1938) and World War II
    The Socialist Era (1948-1989)
    Post-war Modernization in Svinia

        The entrenchment of socialism during the 1950s
        Uneven development during the 1960s
        Criminalization and segregation in the 1970s
        The deepening crisis in the 1980s
        The post-communist era

Conclusions: What Went Wrong in Svinia?


This book is a terrific contribution to the literature on the East European Roma. It is an invaluable tool for the classroom, a thoughtful and carefully researched work for ethnographers and anthropologists to ponder, and a fascinating read for the general public.

Zoltan Barany, University of Texas, author of East European Gypsies: Regime Change, Marginality, and Ethnopolitics

This excellent, well-written study blends traditional anthropology with history to give us a unique look into the life, history, culture, and status of the Roma. [...] The author's sensitive yet 'no-holds-barred' approach, whether it be towards the 'white' Slovaks or their despised Roma neighbours, underscores the value of this work. It is a welcome addition to the growing field of Romani studies.

David M. Crowe, Elon University

Scheffel offers a superb history of Roma settlements and integration efforts while succinctly analyzing the present-day culture of the Roma community. An invaluable book for both the general public and undergraduate and graduate students.

A. Karakasidou, Wellesley College

Brilliant study of a complex, haunting situation. One of the best ethnographic works I have ever read!

Nancy S. Netting, UBC Okanagan

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