Nowadays, the number of public sites of memory is rapidly growing. Does this mean that we currently are focusing more on the past? Are we even ready to process such a vast amount of information? Significant historical events are commemorated in various ways – this is what the project “Ethnically Encoded Sites of Memory in the Public Space” – implemented by the Institute of Social Sciences at the Centre of Social and Psychological Sciences of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, financed by the Fund for the Support of the Culture of National Minorities (Kultminor) – focuses on .
The Košice-based Institute of Social Sciences has a long tradition in researching the history of the Roma. Scientific research, focusing on the “Gypsy family” (the term used at the time) began in the second half of the 1980s. After 1989, even a Gypsy Family Research Division was established at the Institute. One of the experts working here was the deceased PhDr. Anna Jurová, CSc., who put significant effort in researching the Roma. Today, the Institute’s own Ondrej Ficeri (historian) and Klara Kohoutová (oral historian and manager of the “Ethnically Encoded Sites of Memory in the Public Space” project) take on her work and also focus on research new topics, methodology, approaches and views, i.e. Roma history and related phenomena.
In the past three decades, many Roma sites of memory have been established in the Czech and Slovak Republics, most of which relate to the tragic events of the Roma Holocaust during World War II. For long, the Roma had a hard time conceptualizing their own sufferings experienced during WWII. Until recently, historical books dealing with this issue were very scarce. This was related to the low interest in the issue. Roma were excluded from the education process and did not participate in public debates. It is worth noting that the Roma are not a homogeneous population group and the various groups have different historical experiences.
As a part of the project, we record the testimonies of those who remember the details of events commemorated by the Roma sites of memory in the territory of former Czechoslovakia. Research focuses on the forms and visualizations of Roma sites of memory and letting the public know about them. The aim of the project is to promote Roma sites of memory and to record the stories of those involved (initiators, artists, scientists, i.e. public figures and professionals involved in the construction and establishment of Roma sites of memory, both Roma and non-Roma and/or people connected to the Roma sites of memory). Also, we plan to map the Roma memory, microhistory and history from below, changing in front of our eyes, based on specific statements.
Last week, we launched the website www.paramisar.eu, the main output of the project. This site presents the results of our – multiple-year-long – oral history research. On its homepage, there is a map of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, on which the individual Roma sites of memory are marked. Visitors of the website may click on the respective sites to get more detailed information about the location, history and statements of the involved with the particular site of memory. The site also includes photos of the individual sites of memory. The website can thus serve as an online guide to the well-known and lesser-known Roma history.
The name and the logo of the web are symbolic. Since written sources dealing with Romani history are scarce, history used to be preserved orally. Every Roma community had its own paramisar – a teller of stories, legends or fairy tales. For ethnic groups, minorities or nations without any written history, the spoken word is the only way to preserve collective memory. The testimonies presented on the project website are neither legends nor fairy tales. These are real stories, a living history of specific sites of memory, conveyed through the website. The logo of the website represents a stylized beard and moustache of a Roma story-teller, passing on an unwritten memory. This logo – the moustache and beard – is depicted as an equilateral triangle. The mouth is somewhat open, telling stories and pointing to the particular site of memory.
Currently, www.paramisar.eu is available in two languages: in Slovak and English. We are currently working on a Roma translation, which is also very important for the project, as the site should also be available to the Roma themselves, whose history and culture the site presents to the general public.
This site is still under construction. Feel free to send any suggestions, observations or advice concerning the site to the following address: email@example.com.
Klara Kohoutová, Institute of Social Sciences (SvÚ CSPV SAV)