The modern Bulgarian state was born with the Treaty of Berlin in 1878 and its key defining features were its Bulgarian ethnicity, nationality, and Orthodox Christianity as its official religion. That was the general context that Bulgarian Roma found themselves at the time, which contrasted to the previous era of the Ottoman Empire which was far larger and comprised of many ethnicities, peoples and religions. Bulgarian Roma thus were citizens of a nation-state which now sought ways to establish, define and institutionalise itself.
As is the case today, official census data is not entirely reliable when it comes to establishing the true numbers of Roma in Bulgaria. Nevertheless, according to the census data, in 1910, three percent of the Bulgarian population comprised of Gypsies and this figure dipped to two percent in 1920, 1926, 1934 and 1946, respectively (see Table 2.1). In the years between 1910 and 1934, the vast majority of Roma (defined by the census according to mother tongue/spoken language) identified as Muslims i.e., an average of 83 percent; on average, 17 percent identified as Eastern Orthodox in this period and just 0.1 percent in 1926 and 1934 said they were Protestant (
Against the previously discussed backdrop of the creation of the new Bulgarian state, the Roma found themselves within the boundaries of a nascent country which witnessed domestic unrest, several coups, wars, and power struggles. The Roma’s visions for their future and civic development were to a great extent influenced not only by their unequal place within the society but by the overall development, trends and aspirations observed within the nascent Bulgarian state. The Tarnovo Constitution of 1879 and its legislation would encompass various religious and ethnic groups, including Gypsies, and give them rights and freedoms (Crowe 2007). When the Bulgarian government decided, on May 31, 1901, to suspend the voting rights of Muslim Gypsies (which were in the majority) and nomads, this gave rise to the convocation of a conference in the town of Vidin, which was organised by a group of Gypsies who insisted that they deserve to have the same rights as the rest of the Bulgarian citizens. This initiative is also believed to be one of the earliest signs of the civic emancipation struggles of Roma in Bulgaria, where the campaign was headed by the tsaribashi (headman, leader) of the Gypsies in Bulgaria, Ramadan Ali, and was supported by the Bulgarian lawyer, Marko Markov in 1905 (Marushiakova and Popov 2021a:33–69).
Thus, when the Bulgarian Roma felt like their rights have been infringed upon or that they have been left unprotected by the state, they sought ways to pursue them and secure an equal social position through the establishment of their own organisations. One of earliest Roma civic organisations was thus founded in 1910 in the town of Vidin, as we learn from the officially recognised “Statute of the Egyptian Nationality in the Town of Vidin” (Marushiakova and Popov 2015;
Bulgarian Roma took active part in all wars that the country fought, they gave their lives to these wars, that whole experience has been remembered by the Roma and, furthermore, they have professed their readiness to defend and fight in the interest of their Bulgarian homeland. Their contribution in the wars has been recognised and some Roma even took positions of respectable ranks in the military, the police, and the gendarmerie. As a whole, this has contributed to the emergence of Roma leaders who would be active among their Roma communities (
The old Gypsy forms of leadership observed during the Ottoman Empire were transferred in the new socio-political realities in Bulgaria after its liberation (
It should be highlighted that, in fact, the majority of Bulgarian Roma led a sedentary way of life and had various distinctive professions, such as porters, shoeblacks, basket-makers, florists, blacksmith, musicians, etc. which was a pre-requisite for the emergence of their civic emancipation movement and press and literature.
The level of literacy is a key issue related to the concept of Roma civic emancipation. Roma were included in the Bulgarian educational reforms and legislature, which made attendance of the first four years of school compulsory for all Bulgarian citizens. Official statistics show, however, that most of the Roma in the period until the wake of the Second World War were illiterate. According to the respective census data, Roma literacy was 3.4 percent in 1910 which increased to 6.0 percent in 1920, and to 8.2 percent in 1926 (
Against this general framework of the formation of the modern Bulgarian state, Roma’s position within it and the lack of genuine interest in dealing with the Roma, hence the lack of national policies toward them, this chapter will try to present the early development of Romani literature and publications. The birth of Roma writing was thus Roma’s search for their recognition, organisation, and emancipation. Specifically, the chapter will explore two sections – one which was influenced and inspired mainly by the Protestant missionary work among Roma in northwest Bulgaria and, secondly, the publications that came from Bulgaria’s capital, and the works of a couple of Roma civic organisations which were based on the Islamic faith and their newspaper Terbie.
2.2 Publications through the Work of Early Protestant Missionaries
The overall presence of Protestants within Bulgaria, which has been predominantly Orthodox, has been quite limited. For example, in 1910, out of a total population of 4,337,513, there were 3,374 Protestants; in 1920, out of a total population of 4,846,971, Protestants were 2,842; in 1926, out of 5,478,741, Protestants were 2,895; in 1934, out of a total of population of 6,077,939, Protestants were 4,983 (
As indicated in the introduction to this chapter, the number of Roma Protestants was quite nominal while one of the key features of being Bulgarian was to be Eastern Orthodox. As such, Protestantism would have been regarded as a religious sect on the fringe of Bulgarian society. The Protestant missionary work and involvement with this small number of Bulgarian Roma played an important role in the emergence of some of the earliest Roma publications. Protestant missionaries have recognised the importance of learning about Bulgarian Roma, their culture and mastering their language. Thus, one was able to witness the issuing of translations into Romani as well as original publications which sought to resonate better among the Roma and attract them to religion.
The place where Protestant missionaries have been particularly successful in reaching and influencing Roma has been in the north-west of the country, more specifically, in today’s towns of Lom and Montana and, in particular, the small village of Golinsti, which presently is a neighbourhood called “Mladenovo” and is part of the town of Lom. Its Roma residents could be considered some of the first in Bulgaria to have successfully received and benefitted from the outreach of the Evangelical Baptist work of Austrian missionaries. Its history is linked to the general history of the work of American, Austrian, British, and German missionaries from the times of late Ottoman empire. From the outset of their work, missionaries aimed to also attract Bulgarians by doing chiefly charitable work, providing education, and offering medical assistance while the spreading of religious teachings was left for a later stage. As a result, between 1903 and 1910 a Baptist Church in the larger town of Lom was established while a Roma group of Baptist churchgoers was formed in the nearby village of Golintsi. The two churches were not exclusive and often members of one group would frequent the services of the other. The Protestant missionary work among Bulgarian Gypsies first began in the 1920s but there is no information about its founders, or about its leaders. In 1934, it was re-launched (Marushiakova and Popov 2021a). We are aware thus of the Evangelical Baptist Mission Among the Gypsies in Bulgaria, which was based in Lom and the Committee Gypsy Evangelical Mission based in Sofia.
Consequently, in the village of Golinsti, in 1920s, the first Gypsy Baptist Church in Bulgaria was eventually formed. By 1921, the Gypsy Church in Golinsti could boast of a steady following of around 30 persons and that was when it was recognised as a part of the Baptist Church in the town of Lom. Ultimately, on September 28, 1930, because of its success, the Roma Church managed to erect its own building on its purchased land which was a true source of pride of many of its followers (Marinov 2019;
In 1919, another Baptist community was established in Lom’s neighbouring town, Ferdinand (today, it is called Montana), whose local preacher was Baro Boev. Boev was even recognised in the protestant journal,
Against this background of the setting up and the existence of the first Roma Church in Golinsti, the first piece written by Roma churchgoers was published (for the full text in original and in English, Marushiakova and Popov 2021a:140–156). Its genre is that of opinion journalism and was written to represent the subjective viewpoint of the churchgoers in Golinsti. The whole conception of the idea of writing and publishing it could be described as a direct consequence of the power struggle, interests and the pursuit of civic and social rights, and the position of the Roma churchgoers. The printed booklet bears the title
The writing of the booklet is a great demonstration which addresses a major issue for several Roma Baptist churchgoers. It clearly seeks to raise awareness of what the authors have perceived as a great injustice related to who would become the next leader of the Baptist Church in Golintsi following the passing of its previous leader, Petar Punchev. Punchev died in 1924, a year after he was recognised as a pastor. At the time, the Gypsy Baptist Church in the village could boast of acquiring an almost complete shape, having a steady following, its own structure, deacons, and a choir. This conscious civic act of writing and publishing the booklet was a clear attempt by the Evangelists from Golintsi to secure their own place, representation, independence and access of power and privileges. From the booklet we learn that the Roma churchgoers were against their merging with the Baptist Church in Lom and wanted to remain an independent branch while preserving the Roma character of their church.
The booklet describes the Gypsy Church in Golitsi as a great privilege. The Roma believers considered themselves also as receivers of a great blessing and a favour of God, to whom they were extremely grateful, especially as they consciously recognised their lower standing in the Bulgarian society: “[God] revived us too, the Gypsies, as the very last people to accept [in His religion] from our [Gypsy] tribe” (
This church is located on a northern end of Bulgaria, two kilometres from the town of Lom on the historic side of the village of Golintsi. Our church was renowned and gave joy to the whole West: Germany, England and America. (
The booklet then quickly moves forward to the core of the matter and presents to the reader that the Gypsy Church’s existence and future had been challenged by the interference of external figures such as Trifon Dimitrov, the Bulgarian priest of the Baptist Church in Lom. Dimitrov is presented to have influenced some members of the Gypsy Church and meddled in the whole decision process, which determined its future. The actual reasons, we learn, were personal as Dimitrov’s aim was to head the church in Golinsti. This total disregard of the will of the Roma churchgoers thus urged them to write and publish the booklet, hoping to raise awareness of the situation, the injustice and disregard of their interests and will to have their own and independent Roma church. This publication of the booklet in 1926 is a clear indication of Roma protestant churchgoers’ search to publicly express their own interests, vision and place within the protestant community and, by extension, in the Bulgarian society.
Correspondingly, because of the influence of some of the members of the Baptist church in Lom, along with the priest Trifon Dimitrov, the Gypsy Church in Golinsti became a branch of the one in Lom, i.e. it lost its independence. Eventually, this period of contention came to an end with the appointment, in 1926, of the Bulgarian priest Petar Minkov. Minkov is a figure who has made a notable contribution for the spreading of the Evangelical faith among Roma. He was the editor of the Roma newspaper,
It must be emphasised that journal Evangelist acted as a platform where the general progress of the mission to include Roma was showcased and it simultaneously published Roma’s personal voices, experiences, opinions, and reflections. Evangelist’s issues 5 of 1927 published an article with the title “Christ or Mohamed” and it was authored by a Gypsy who has signed his name simply as F. Adzhov (
Between the Ogosta River and the town of F[erdinand] the little huts are located, in which I, how many years ago - I do not know, saw the world of God. My life did not differ in any way from the life of my fellow tribesmen, the Gypsies. It [my life] was quiet around the big smith’s skin and anvil of my father’s smithery …
A winter’s day in 1924, in our mahala the news was spread that a teacher has come to gather the illiterate and teach them to read and write. I did not know how to read nor to write and I also decided to go to this teacher … Together with this teacher, whose name was [P]etar M[inkov], there was also one Gypsy whose name was B[aro] B[oev]. Very often, almost every time before they taught us how to read and write, the teacher or the Gypsy B[oev] used to read from a book and talked to us about God and about Jesus Christ.
So that I could learn, I ought to buy the needed books, while I did not have money for this. My father did not give me money for such silly things, while I could not take it from anywhere … (
The article seeks to highlight the power and the positive changes that the Baptist religion could bring to other Gypsies. Their old ways of life and faith are presented almost as outdated, useless, and ignorant. This is opposed to the positive change that the protestant missionaries brought while teaching the Roma to read, write and learn about God. As Adzhov writes, the twist of his life comes with his acceptance of the new religion, leaving behind his old ways and religion to become a better person. Thus, the raising of the social standing of the Roma and consequently the emancipatory character of the Baptist mission were emphasised.
In the summer of 1925, as usual, we went to work and cheat the villagers from the villages. We settled in the village of K. One day, by us came B[aro] B[oev]. My Christian brother welcomed him with great joy. They read again from the book; […] I felt very heavy and sad. For the first time in my life I felt the power of sin and its weight. And I fell on my knees praying already not to Mohammad but to Jesus Christ to forgive my sins …
One day during fall, I was baptised by my first teacher, P[etar] M[inkov] and I joined the followers of Jesus Christ. (ibid.)
The importance to learn, recognise and include Gypsies into the general Protestant mission was presented several times in the journal Evangelist. For example, in 1931 it stated: “One of our holy songs tells us to walk forward and up. That is exactly how our work among the Gypsies in Bulgaria could be characterised. The history of the mission of this people is a history of progress.” (cited in
Early Evangelical Baptists were aware of the outcast status of the Gypsies and their desperate situation not only in Bulgaria but across the world (
The protestant missionary work sought to make Gypsies better Christians and, as a consequence, this gave them the chance to assume another, better position in the general society. The central question, that early missionaries have been pondering about, has been to what extent different cultures and local customs should be recognised so that they accept the professed faith and, importantly, be good believers. This was important because the Evangelical missionaries did not advocate for the obliteration of the identities of the Roma believers. Instead, they pondered on the question what would be the best way for Roma to retain their identities and at the same time be good Christians.
Among the pages of the journal, readers could also learn about some of the progress and fruits of that intention. For example, under the rubric News of the Union, we can read the article “The First Baptist Deacon House in Bulgaria” (
Roma were clearly recognised as in need of help, but at the same time, this quest to help them resulted in also recognising their culture and language. The Baptist and Evangelical missionary work thus uplifted the status of the Evangelical Roma, albeit few in their numbers, by teaching them literacy and other valuable skills which ultimately not only introduced them to the Protestant faith but empowered them as better citizens. This recognition of the Roma was also clearly manifested in the journal Evangelist when in its issue 7 in 1927, it included an additional supplement which was in the Romani language (
This general aim to evangelise the Roma indirectly resulted in the recognition of their language, culture, gave them credulity and ultimately resulted in uplifting their social status. Here we should also mention the first translations into Romani language of books of the Bible. Not long after the start of protestant missionary work in Bulgaria, in 1912, the British scholar, Bernard Gilliat-Smith, translated the Gospel of Luke into Romani language. Gilliat-Smith has been commissioned by the British and Foreign Bible Society (Gilliat-Smith 1912). According to the author himself, this translation has “[marked] the beginning of Gypsy literature in modern Bulgaria, a fact known only to a few.” (Gilliat-Smith 1934:161) A rather curious question here lies as to why Gilliat-Smith has done this first translation using the Latin letters, rather than Cyrillic, and there is no information to suggest that that translation was used. It is hard to imagine that Latin characters were intelligible and meaningful to the target audience – the Roma readers themselves. Consequently, there came two additional translations in Romani language of Books of the Bible, this time using the Cyrillic alphabet. In 1932 Angel Atanasakiev translated the Gospel of St Mathew (
In addition, the Scripture Gift Mission in London has issued several publications in Romani language. Translations of the titles include:
This discussion of religious publications in Romani language is further continued with three other publications of religious songs.
Four years later, a second publication in Romani language was published in Sofia by the Union of the Bulgarian Evangelical Baptist Churches –
Андо Исус Гараде
Jesus is my Refuge
As a whole, Roma holy songs (
A third collection of religious songs was published in Romani language, in 1936, bearing the title
The translations in Romani language of books of the Bible, of standard evangelical songs as well as the publication of original creative work in Romani as seen in Roma Holy Songs (
There are three known Roma religious newspapers published in the interwar period. One is
Perhaps the pinnacle of the Sofia-based Evangelical Baptist Mission Among the Gypsies in Bulgaria, was the publishing of the newspaper
The opening statement by the editor of Candlestick is a clear indication of its intention to help Bulgarian Gypsies alike by exposing them to the doctrines of the Evangelical religion, on the one hand, and by stressing the importance of all believers to spread the word of God especially to those who need it the most, the Gypsies, on the other hand. The small opening article is entitled “The Gospel for Everybody” (
Thus, fulfilling this mission, the newspaper is dedicated exclusively to work with and help Bulgaria’s Gypsies, and at the same time alleviate their hardships and misfortunes.
Go to all corners of the world and preach the Gospel to every creature (Mark 16. 15). […]
In this grand march of the children of God around the world a humble place has been dedicated for the evangelical work among the Gypsies in Bulgaria. We are glad that with the help of God, we could do something about this forgotten by the people, but dear to God, creatures.
We begin the publishing of the small newspaper “Svetilnik” with a prayer to God so that it would be really a real candlestick for the spreading of light amongst the impenetrable darkness which surrounds the Gypsy tribe in Bulgaria. With that we fulfil also a debt to our human brothers – Gypsies, which makes us doubly happier and strong in welcoming the hardships and misfortunes of a similar task.
We believe that in this difficult task we will be supported by the prayers of all who love God Jesus Christ. (
From the very outset of the newspaper, its editors seem to be well-aware of the low social status of the Roma and the need to work with them and help them. Thus, they could be allies in their social emancipation, even though this is through the work and prism of the Protestant movement.
Immediately after the editor’s note, on pages 1 and 2 we find the article “The stolen Gospel.” The importance of this article in fact is integral for the birth and consolidation of the history of Roma evangelical faith in Bulgaria and particularly in the geographical north-west of the country – precisely where the first evangelical missions in Bulgaria were first concentrated. The author of the piece is Trifon Dimitrov and he argues here about the unparalleled power of the Gospel. Besides arguing that the there is no better way to receive enlightenment and becoming a better person than through reading and receiving the Gospel, Trifon Dimitrov tries to promote and propagate a legend which would in fact become pivotal in the birth, spreading and the success of the protestant religion among Bulgarian Roma.
No other book has not had such an immense influence upon the moral transformation of humankind and the personality as the gospel. All great poets, philosophers and writers, no matter how great they may be in the world, they were not able to write a book which would possess such beneficial power to bring up and to renew the people, in the way that the Gospel has.
It has influenced people in various experiences in their lives. (
Keeping that opening excerpt in mind, about the unparalleled power of the word of God and its ability to influence and uplift those who come across it, the author Dimitrov swiftly introduces his key point and how a Gypsy brother embraced the evangelical faith. It must be noted that the Gypsy is not named, nor does the article commit in supporting its arguments by giving more specific details. “Recently, a Gypsy brother has, by the way, told that the reason for his conversion was a gospel which he has stolen from one Evangelist.” (
But that was not enough. They, under the influence of the Gospel, began to preach to others. They built a small pulpit, carried it from house to house, as the Jews carried the tabernacle, and preached about the deliverance through the blood of Jesus also to their other tribesmen.
Thus, they continued for a long time. Today, because of this stolen holy book, there are more than 60 souls in this village who have abandoned their old inclinations and sins and enjoy the great redeeming Deed of the Saviour. Among these 60 persons, 20 are Bulgarians while the other 40 are of the Gypsy tribe. (
The article tells that, at the time of writing, in that village, “almost everybody” (
Myths may have many social and political implications; they may be simplified or dramatised while important historical details overlooked and usually there is no evidence to support their veracity. In any case, myths and legends are integral in the process of nation-building and group identity while in this case, when they are related to spirituality and religious belief, the creation and existence of myths and legends can lead to the emergence of beliefs among Roma churchgoers of being ‘chosen’ or favoured by God (Marinov 2019). It should also be noted that the writing of the story of the stolen Gospel and its perpetuation today counters the widely held belief that the Roma have predominantly an oral tradition.
On page 2 of Candlestick, there is a small rubric, titled News. It tells about the existence of the Gypsy Women’s Missionary Association in the village of Golinsti. The Association is described as quite valuable for the Gypsy women in the mahala in Golinsti and thus it informs about the success of their recently organised a charitable night. For the event “the sisters gave away various objects that were sold away with success. The income [was] 708 levs. This association does a very useful work among the Gypsy women in the mahala. Pray about the work of these diligent workers.” Analysing the association between the previously mentioned, Gypsy Women Christian Association “
On the same page 2 of the newspaper, there is the article which asks the rhetorical question – What is the Dearest Name? (
Page 3 of Candlestick is dedicated to the experience of a renowned Italian actor and how he embraced the Evangelical faith. The turning point of the story, which has been envisaged to be continued in the following issue of the newspaper is when, as part of his next role to play and ridicule an Evangelical pastor, he decides to pay a visit to an Evangelical pastor who used to live nearby. The intention of the actor’s visit has been to study the pastor so that he could get an inspiration for his performance. Instead, upon the actor’s arrival in the house of the pastor, he encounters his disabled daughter who is doing so poorly, she has reconciled that soon she will leave the worldly life. Instead of being sad, she says that her dream and happiness “are towards the heavenly home. […] Her deep gaze, crossed arms and trembling lips – this was not a theatrical gesture.” (
This article fits well the general narrative of newspaper Candlestick. It seeks to convince its readers that true happiness could be only found in the Holy scripture and in Jesus Christ and that the evangelical work is at the same time equally important as it gives a purpose to the believers and also happiness and joy for enabling others to have salvation, peace and prosperity.
The Roma newspaper Candlestick thus started with an editorial column which stressed on the importance and the need to evangelise the Bulgarian Roma. In its body, we can read three feature articles, and a news piece which were in Bulgarian while the last section was in Romani language –
It offers three articles. The first one is a Romani language translation of the article presented on page 2, “Think about the One who Loves You” (
The second article, “Who is my neighbour” gives the Romani language translation of Luke verses 25–37 with a re-telling of the story of the Good Samaritan (
The third article is a presentation in Romani language of the story of “the Prodigal Son” which is from Luke 15:11–22 (
Newspaper Candlestick’s section Romano alav, translated as Roma word, which is all written in Romani language, contained parables which seem to be consciously selected by the editors. They can be linked to the existing stereotypes of the Roma who live day by day, wastefully and not saving, and thus can be seen as another attempt at making the religion accessible and identifiable to its Roma audience. Newspaper
2.3 Newspaper Terbie and Its Role in the Pursuit of Roma Civic Interests
This section will present and discuss the newspaper Terbie (Upbringing, from Arabic, through Turkish) which was the publication of the Sofia-based General Mohamedan-Gypsy National Cultural-Educational and Mutual Aid Union in Bulgaria (CSA, f. 264, op. 2, a.e. 8413) in 1930. Official records have reported that newspaper Terbie was a publication of the Sofia-based General Mohamedan National Cultural-Educational Union in Bulgaria; its editor was Shakir Mahmudov Pashev; it was published in Sofia by the publishing house “Bulgaria”; its price was 2 levs, 1,500 copies were issued and it was published in seven issues between 1933 and 1934 (
The history of this Gypsy organisation, however, goes back to 1919 and its predecessor organisation, called the Sofia General Muslim Educational-Cultural and Mutual Aid Organisation “Istikbal-Future” (CSA, f. 1
A publication, which was not explicitly mentioned at this stage, was envisaged to be sold and bring income to the organisation. Apart from selling its publication, the organisation sought to get income, among other things, from selling badges. These badges, its newspaper, along with its proclaimed yearly celebration of St George’s Day, point to the creation of unifying symbols around which Gypsies in Bulgaria would derive meaning and a sense of pride. Unfortunately, none of these badges have been recovered. Perhaps, the stamp of the Union might provide some idea; it had circular form bearing the inscription around its edge: “General Mohamedan National Cultural Educational Union in Bulgaria” bearing a star in its middle (CSA, f. 264, op. 2, a.e. 8413, l. 15–20). The whole translation of the text and a commentary have been presented elsewhere (Marushiakova and Popov 2021a).
The existence of newspaper Terbie is known and noted, however, its issues have been lost from libraries and archives. In spite of that, there is valuable information about the newspaper and here we will present information about its content. One such source we find in the Roma newspaper Romano Esi (Roma Voice) which was the publication of the third Roma organisation, the successor of the General Mohamedan-Gypsy Union – the United General Cultural Educational Organisation of the Gypsy Minorities in Bulgaria ‘Ekipe’ (Unity) (CSA, f. 1
The title of the article that appeared in Romano esi is “From the Life of the Sofia Muslim Confessional Municipality – Sofia” (
Bilyalov tries to emphasise several times in his text that for a number of years, Bulgarian officials rejected the plea of the Muslims of Sofia to hold elections for trustees of mosques in the capital, even though they had their own mosque, a following of reported 4,000 people and waqf properties (
It is not 40, but more than 200 [people who are settled] and properties in the capital Sofia, Muslim families have for a number of years been fighting, subject to the law, for the ordering of the election for the appointment of electing trustees and of confessional municipality. (ibid.)
Despite their best efforts, including legal action, the Muslims of Sofia were not successful:
We filed a lawsuit No. 337 from 1927 for the denial of the Minister to fulfil the rule of the law […]. It was not until 1929 when an order of some kind was made for the election of mosque trustees, however, persons in office frustrated its creation by not advertising the list with the Muslims from Sofia […]. We filed a complaint to the Public Prosecutor of the Court of Sofia Municipality, incoming No. 14983 from 1930, for violating the official obligations of the respective bodies, however, they were not charged. (ibid.)
It is important to note that the offered reprinted article seems to convey the history, relevance, and the frustration of the Muslims from Sofia. Not once in the article the terms ‘Tsigani’, i.e. Gypsies, Roma, Egyptians, have been used, but instead it references “Muslims of Sofia” and Bulgarian Muslims, and their interests (ibid.). This is certainly a relevant and conscious decision, keeping in mind that their main goal has been to gain access or become in charge of the Muslim properties and their mosque – which are all indicative of the clear civic, religious and therefore political purpose of the organisation. Thus, the newspaper Terbie was the vehicle used to convey their struggles and ideas and advance their cause. In that regard, the article makes an emphasis on the importance of education. Becoming in charge of their religious institutions and their properties is recognised by Bilyalov as a way of emancipation that would furthermore facilitate education for the youth in their community:
This [the appointment of trustees] would guarantee also the educational work of our confessional municipality so that our children come out from the university of the street and get involved in general and professional education.
We address our sincere appeal for the revival also of our Muslim school which has been existing for a number of years in Sofia and where our children would receive light, science, upbringing, education and public virtues, [all] desperately needed and good for our homeland. (ibid.)
Reading the excerpts above thus supports the idea that newspaper Terbie had been actively and purposefully utilised as a tool which sought to pursue the civic and political interests of the Roma at the time making it a source of great pride, “To our great joy, after heroic efforts, today we enjoy our child and Supreme patron, our enlightening source “Terbie.”” (ibid.)
Their struggles and hope continued even with the coming of a new, democratic government. And despite that their efforts remained fruitless, the author Hyusein Bilyalov finished his article with a positive note conveying that, “The belief in us, after waiting for more than 10 years, is not yet crashed. We are waiting patiently and we are faithful!” (ibid.)
To support the idea of their conscious Muslim identification, Organisation ‘Istikbal-Future’ published in 1930 a document entitled “Moods and Truths” (DA Sofia, f. 1
About the Roma newspaper Terbie we learn from another source, authored by the Bulgarian scholar and writer, Nayden Sheitanov, who published an article in the Bulgarian newspaper Mir (one of the most read Bulgarian newspapers for its time) on May 5, 1934 (
Among other things, Sheytanov’s article is particularly useful in our topic of Romani literature because it has fleshed out some direct quotes from Terbie’s issue 6, published on March 4, 1934. Before we present the quotes from Terbie, it is integral to keep in mind that they have been brought up in a specific context and especially in support of the author’s own views and objective, which appeared to be aimed at stirring the indifference and inactivity of the Bulgarian nation at large toward the Roma. In his article “Gypsies and the Gypsy question”, Sheytanov (
From the selective collection of quotes that Sheytanov offers, there is a certain image about Terbie’s visions. Its editors seem to stress on history, pride, a much-needed change of the (low) status of the Gypsies, especially in Bulgaria. Therefore, the narrative can be viewed as a call for a total Gypsy (inter)national civic organisation and uprising.
The aspect of the existence of a ‘proud’ history of the Gypsy identity could be inferred from references to its past. This preoccupation with ‘glorious past’ makes sense in the context of nation-building struggles in the Balkans. Gypsies here are referred as the “[…] offspring of the greatest King Pharaoh” (ibid.). They are therefore urged by the editors of newspaper Terbie that “[they] ought to proudly call [themselves] a Gypsy!” Their own traditions, too, should be not ignored but preserved as can be inferred from the quote which urges Gypsies “[not to] ignore your people, faith, traditions!” (ibid.) The idea of Gypsy pride could be also inferred from Terbie’s quote of a great number of Gypsies according to which they number “over a quarter of a million in Bulgaria” (ibid.).
Apart from offering a certain narrative or an image of an ‘ancient’ Gypsy people with proud historical past and traditions and a large population, it is also one which is marred with low social status: “… since the liberation of the Bulgarian country till today, not a single Government of ours take any special care for our nation.” (ibid.) “Why are the Gypsies in Turkey not at such a low social status compared to us in Bulgaria?” (ibid.)
Precisely from that recognised premise of inactivity and indifference of the Bulgarian nation and officials, the editors of Terbie urge for the social organisation, and uplifting of the Gypsies in Bulgaria. The original premise lies on the portrayal that Bulgaria is not doing enough for their Gypsies compared to other European nations – “In Europe, especially Austria, Hungary, Romania, Poland … and Soviet Russia, there are law-makers who passed a number of laws for their support, both financially and cultural-educational.” (ibid.) Hence, it should not be surprising to learn about Terbie’s appeal “[…] to the Sofia Muslim Gypsies to organise themselves sooner, to give an impetus to whole of Bulgaria so that … we have representatives who would protect our interests.” (ibid.) Receiving education is certainly also recognised as integral as we are informed that “… soon, in Sofia [Gypsies] will enjoy a Turkish school.” (ibid) As such, phrases are found which indicate for the need of “[…] our [Gypsy] national revival,” “[Gypsy] national movement,” “Mohamedan nationalists” and “uprising of the Muslims in Sofia” (ibid.) – all indicating for the need for change, pride and organisation.
That organisation, furthermore, was not limited only to Gypsies from Sofia but throughout the country. We learn that they had associates and members across Bulgaria – “Our editorial board will send lists of stock to all our associates in Bulgaria.” (ibid.). Additionally, there are indications that suggest there had been information about the Gypsies, as we saw from the quotes above, internationally such as Turkey, Austria, Poland the Soviet Union and curiously the General Mohamedan-Gypsy Union has been collaborating with “Hungarian and Romanian Gypsies” (ibid.). This highlights the wish of the organisation for greater international cooperation and for a transnational identity.
Another valuable source about Terbie is the editor himself, Shakir Mahmudov Pashov. He wrote a monograph entitled History of the Gypsies in Bulgaria and in Europe. “Roma” (in Bulgarian), which was never published (
In his short autobiography, Pashov presents his political and civic involvement from 1919. This work is associated with some discrepancies (ibid.) but in it Pashov writes that as a Chairman of “the Gypsy Cultural-Educational Organisation in Bulgaria” he has “founded the first Gypsy newspaper in Bulgaria, ‘Terbie’ (Upbringing), which advocated for the cultural and educational uplifting and for the political consciousness of our tobacco workers in Bulgaria.” (ASR f.
Pashov gives another reference to newspaper Terbie in his monograph (
Considering the three secondary sources presented above, the importance of Terbie ought to be appreciated in the context of its position as the first Bulgarian newspaper which was wholly initiated by Roma, managed by Roma and advocated for the interests of the Roma not only in Bulgaria’s capital but throughout the country, regardless of their perceived differences. It sought to pursue and promote its interests and agenda, disseminate ideas, and inspire civic and political consciousness. On the whole, the newspaper was a Gypsy/Roma in its core and character and it stressed its vision for the right, equal and peaceful co-existence with the rest of the Bulgarian nation, and its interest in participating in the political and civic life of the country.
From the presented Roma publications in this chapter, we could discern the emergence and existence of translations in Romani language of books of the Bible, religious hymns, publishing a booklet by the Roma churchgoers from Golinsti in 1926, as well the Roma newspapers Candlestick in 1927 and Terbie in 1933–1934. Overall, these publications acted as a platform for expression of the experiences of the Roma but also for their recognition, social positions, and needs. Translations of Gospels in Romani language, as well as religious songs, gave way for the recognition of the Romani language and were examples of some of its earliest (re)presentation in print form. It is also unique to see the publishing of the Evangelical song collection Roma Holy Songs in 1933 which represented an original creative work of Romani language poetry writing.
The publishing of the Romani literature in Bulgaria was a public expression of the interests and visions of the Roma in the country from the interwar period. For example, we saw how the struggle of the Gypsy Baptist churchgoers in the village of Golinsti to form an independent church and the experienced injustice led them to write and publish a small booklet. In the example of the Muslims from Sofia, Roma have been excluded from the general context of the Muslim community in Sofia. The two cases may have been different in their actual visions and interests; however, they are similar in the way Roma have decided to express publicly their fervent passions, frustration, interests, and what they have perceived as social injustice. In both cases, the actual publishing, printing, and reprinting of these events are a clear demonstration of active civic consciousness.
All these publications offered a unique chance for the Gypsies to express themselves, their visions, interests, and the way they would like to be considered in the Bulgarian society. Thus, reading and interpreting these documents, we could understand that, regardless of their sometimes differing identities, they retained their Roma identities while their visions for emancipation were not in opposition to the general Bulgarian society. In fact, Roma have professed their desire to be a part of Bulgarian society. This points to their functioning as part of both the community and the wider society to which they belong (Marushiakova 2008). In the case of the Protestant Roma, the religion did not try to obliterate their ethnicity but on the contrary, it conveyed that they are ‘better Gypsies’ because of their knowledge of the religion and by knowing how to live in accordance with the tenets of the Protestantism. Terbie and its parent organisations in fact sought to advocate for the interests of all Roma, regardless of their differences, and to unite them under one organisation. As a whole, both the instances presented in the Protestant Roma publications and in Terbie (which was originally framed within the Muslim faith) should be interpreted as seized opportunities in which Roma voices were made manifest. These were utilised not in opposition to being ‘Bulgarian’ but rather as channels through which they could assert their position, elevate their social status, get recognition and ultimately pursue their civic interests.