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Two Paths of a Shared Past: Memory and Representation of the Nazi Genocide of Roma in Belarus and Lithuania

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ROMPAST (Two Paths of a Shared Past: Memory and Representation of the Nazi Genocide of Roma in Belarus and Lithuania)

Reporting period: 2018-07-01 to 2020-06-30

How do individuals and societies remember their traumatic past? Who and how does construct national memory, and why does it include the narratives of certain groups, while silencing and excluding the memory of others? How to write down the memory of historically excluded ethnic minorities in national narratives?
Taking a comparative approach, this interdisciplinary project revealed the relationship between the official World War II memory politics in Belarus and Lithuania and the memory of local Roma communities affected by the Nazi genocide.
The project combined archival research with ethnographic participant observation of commemoration practices and oral history interviews. This included interviews and conversations with “ordinary” Roma, activists, policy makers, educators, historians and museum workers.
My comparative study has revealed that, in spite of significant differences in Belarusian and Lithuanian official memory politics, the Roma communities of both countries face similar challenges. These challenges are, to a great degree, legacies of the Soviet time, for example, the omissions in the post-war documentation of the Nazi crimes in the Soviet Union. Powerful national narratives of World War II, which focus on the fates of titular nations, are another obstacle to the inclusion of memory of ethnic minorities. At last, some local commemoration initiatives of Roma have failed because of the lack of coordinated support, insufficient material resources and administrative accesses.
At the same time, it was possible to observe some positive dynamics in the commemoration of Roma genocide in Lithuania. In 2019 the Lithuanian parliament officially recognized the Nazi genocide of Roma. My field research has revealed diverse memory agents who supported the Lithuanian Roma community in their struggle for official recognition. Local activists, museum workers, Jewish NGOs, Catholic Church and scholars were among them.
In Belarus the Nazi genocide of Roma has not received official recognition yet, and the commemoration happens mostly within family and community cycles. The number of memory agents is much lower than in Lithuania, which can be attributed to the (relative) isolation of the country and infavourable political climate.
At a theoretical level, ROMPAST paid close attention to the entanglements of different kinds of memory, as well as to its societal aspects. The project has yielded new insights into the socio-political context of the work of memory; the relationship of official, family and community memory; living memory and archival history. The theoretical findings of the project have been summarized and prepared for publication in several research articles. The project outcome was presented in international conferences and workshops. The dissemination programme included the online research workshop “Memory and Recognition of the Nazi Genocide of Roma in the Baltic Context” organized by the IOS Regensburg and Vilnius University (16 June 2021).
The overarching goal of the project was to elucidate the challenges, which Roma communities face in their commemoration efforts, and provide the research basis for the inclusion of their memory in national historical narratives. The project has generated new data on the history of Roma genocide, identified the sites of memory of local importance and elucidated the commemoration practices of Roma. The project researchers offered their support and advice to the local and international commemoration initiatives, as well as to the local research and memory institutions.
"Wheel-memorial" constructed by Roma schoolchildren in Paneriai, Lithuania