Kulczycki Book Prize in Polish Studies


Honorable Mention

Roma-Gypsy Presence in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth: 15th-18th Centuries

Honorable Mention: Lech Mróz
Title: Roma-Gypsy Presence in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth: 15th-18th Centuries (Central European University Press)

The Roma (‘Gypsies’) are Central Europe’s largest stateless minority of ten to twelve million people. During the modern period, Roma have been marginalized, denied their ethnic identity and language, and, alongside Jews, targeted by Nazi Germany’s genocidal policy of a ‘Final Solution.’ As a result, Roma were written out from the region’s past and present; in fact, the group’s current sociopolitical situation is eerily reminiscent of the United States’ Afro-Americans prior to the Civil Rights Movement. It suffices to recall how few protested when in 2010, France expelled thousands of Roma from Bulgaria and Romania regardless of the fact that they were citizens of the European Union. Lech Mróz’s groundbreaking monograph gives his readers an opportunity to rethink the history of Roma in the lands of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, that is, today’s Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine. In this book, the culmination of his over-half-a-century-long research on the subject, Mróz returns Roma to their rightful place in the mainstream of Polish and Central European history, showing that until the end of the Commonwealth their position was no stranger or different than any other ethnic group inhabiting these territories. This historical revision single-handedly repudiates the lingering stereotype of Roma as the ‘eternal Other.’ Working with rare and hard-to-locate documents in Latin, Ruthenian and German, Mróz demonstrates that like Jews or Armenians, Roma enjoyed their own ethno-social non-territorial autonomy in the Commonwealth. An invaluable contribution of Mróz’s research is his uncovering of over a hundred and sixty original documents analyzed in the book. These priceless archival sources challenge the often preconceived notion that Roma represent an ‘ahistorical population;’ rather, Mróz shows that Roma history indeed can—and should—be probed with the use of historiographical instruments. Roma-Gypsy Presence in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth: 15th–18th Centuries is an achievement that constitutes a turning point in our understanding of Roma minority. After reading Mróz’s book, one can hardly imagine the histories of the European continent and its political entities without a chapter on Roma.

Winner: Iryna Vushko