ResearchPDF Available

Abstract

Introduction: pandemics, community life and cyberspace Historically speaking, epidemics and pandemics have always impacted culture, the economy, modes of governance and – since the association of the disease with death – religion. In this respect, Covid-19 appears as no different than for instance the mediaeval Black Death which has been deeply imprinted in the collective European memory (Bedyński 2020; Goudsblom 1986). It is therefore not surprising that among thousands of images from the coronavirus-hit world, there are also those of religious ceremonies: live streamed prayers, the Pope delivering Angelus on an empty square in the Vatican City, sanitation workers on the empty Grand Mosque square in Mecca, Orthodox Jews standing two metres apart at their prayers by the Western Wall in Jerusalem, icons covered with cloths to prevent them from being kissed, and countless other examples (also from the non-Biblical religions). The epidemics also reshape family and community life and everyday practices. Under the Covid-19 pandemic, social (inter-household) relations have almost entirely switched to online mode. That was the case with the Easter and Passover celebrated in April 2020. Social media blossomed with pictures and screen-shots of distant gatherings and various forms of “digital kinning” (Baldassar and Wilding 2020). It is quite likely that some of our readers also took part in these kinds of family meetings. Below, we present initial findings from the “Transnational lives of Polish Roma” a research project undertaken at the Centre of Migration Research. In the following short piece, which is a teaser for an upcoming research paper, we analyse the online practices accompanying Easter celebrations under the Covid-19 pandemic. As the project is devoted to Polish Roma (and three of us identify as Roma), we focus on that group noting that: first, one needs to bare in mind that this group is by no means homogenous; second, these kinds of actions and performances are not limited to Roma. Nevertheless we claim that in time of increased uncertainty, everyday references to mortality and potential rupture of social bonds due to lockdowns restrictions on mobility and physical contact, these online interactions become more imperative and are increasingly used to maintain Roma culture, language and identity in the migratory and transnational context.
16
Transnational e-Easter at the time of pandemic. The case
study of the Polish Roma families in Poland and abroad
Kamila Fiałkowska, Michał P. Garapich, Ignacy Jóźwiak, Elżbieta Mirga-Wójtowicz, Sonia
Styrkacz, Monika Szewczyk
Introduction: pandemics, community life and
cyberspace
Historically speaking, epidemics and pandemics
have always impacted culture, the economy,
modes of governance and since the association
of the disease with death religion. In this
respect, Covid-19 appears as no different than for
instance the mediaeval Black Death which has
been deeply imprinted in the collective European
memory (Bedyński 2020; Goudsblom 1986). It is
therefore not surprising that among thousands of
images from the coronavirus-hit world, there are
also those of religious ceremonies: live streamed
prayers, the Pope delivering Angelus on an empty
square in the Vatican City, sanitation workers on
the empty Grand Mosque square in Mecca,
Orthodox Jews standing two metres apart at their
prayers by the Western Wall in Jerusalem, icons
covered with cloths to prevent them from being
kissed, and countless other examples (also from
the non-Biblical religions).
The epidemics also reshape family and community
life and everyday practices. Under the Covid-19
pandemic, social (inter-household) relations have
almost entirely switched to online mode. That was
the case with the Easter and Passover celebrated
in April 2020. Social media blossomed with
pictures and screen-shots of distant gatherings
and various forms of “digital kinning” (Baldassar
and Wilding 2020). It is quite likely that some of
our readers also took part in these kinds of family
meetings. Below, we present initial findings from
the “Transnational lives of Polish Roma” a
research project undertaken at the Centre of
Migration Research. In the following short piece,
which is a teaser for an upcoming research paper,
we analyse the online practices accompanying
Easter celebrations under the Covid-19 pandemic.
As the project is devoted to Polish Roma (and
three of us identify as Roma), we focus on that
group noting that: first, one needs to bare in mind
that this group is by no means homogenous;
second, these kinds of actions and performances
are not limited to Roma. Nevertheless we claim
that in time of increased uncertainty, everyday
references to mortality and potential rupture of
social bonds due to lockdowns restrictions on
mobility and physical contact, these online
interactions become more imperative and are
increasingly used to maintain Roma culture,
language and identity in the migratory and
transnational context.
Following Carol Silverman’s study on adopting the
use of modern means of communications by
Roma in order to transgress the dominant culture
and maintain the minority one (Silverman 1988),
we point to the ways culture is maintained and
transformed with the use of new technologies.
The broader point links with modernity driven
transnational being and maintaining group ties
on-line that strengthens, not weakens certain
traditional codes of behaviour and meaning
making practices.
17
The use of internet and communication platforms
has long been recognized as key to maintain
transnational social fields in which migrants and
their families and friends interact. The current
lock-down has turned them into a kind of global
trend-setters in this respect. What is novel to the
non-migrant global majority, had long been the
norm among the migrants and their kin (Baldassar
and Krzyzowski 2020). So has been the case with
Polish Roma communities in the UK and Germany.
Polish Roma and the internet, “at home” and
“abroad”
Cyberspace is an important, or rather the main
communication platform for Roma leaders and
celebrities who want to reach Polish Roma in
Poland and abroad. We identify several persons
(all of them males in their 50s - 60s) who can be
described as Roma leaders and celebrities
particularly active on that front. They very often
combine their roles of community leaders, moral
authorities and NGO leaders and (in at least one
case) policy advisors to the state administration,
with a career in entertainment and sport. One of
them (to secure his anonymity, let us refer to him
as The Celebrity) is particularly active on social
media, building his position not only as a Roma
leader but also an intermediary between Roma
and non-Roma (Gadje) in Poland. The Celebrity
combines his stage charisma with policy advising
which makes him a popular (though controversial
and not necessarily admired by everyone) figure
among Polish Roma in Poland as well as in
England, Sweden and Germany. Aiming at both
Roma and non-Roma, he manages to
simultaneously perform his message as a kind of
“respectful elder” of the Roma community and
also a noble citizen and religious Pole.
The internet is a vital space of communication and
social/family life for migrating and non-migrating
Polish Roma. It enables the maintaining of regular
contact with relatives, meeting potential spouses
and serves as a means of social control regarding
traditional, common-law code of conduct
(romanipen). It is also the space for an unbound
use of the Romani language. Incomprehensible for
the non-Roma, it contributes to the creation of
online safe-spaces for the minority. Names of
particular applications, mesendżeris, fejsbukos,
skejpos, wotsapos, have long settled into the
Romani language. Rituals due to important live
events (baptisms, weddings, feasts, funerals) or
calendar celebrations (All Saints, Christmas,
Easter) are very often shot, live-streamed and
shared on social media and thematic internet
"Keep calm and stay home" says this sign published on
Facebook by the Aresel organization from
Romania. ©Aresel
18
forums. Food consumption among relatives and
friends is an important part of Roma culture as it
reinforces group solidarity, family structure and
hierarchy. Due to the popular practice of live
streaming of feasts, it is also a way to show other
Roma (in Poland, UK and other countries) that
everything during the ritual goes according to the
custom; an appropriate quality and quantity of
food and drinks is placed on the table, proper
toasts are made, traditional music is played, men
and women are dressed properly and also that
people behave themselves. The presence of all
these elements in place, live streamed to
numerous Roma households through Facebook
between England, Germany and Poland is a way to
strengthen the groups bonds, but also, to
demonstrate mutual respect.
Following the coronavirus outbreak, Polish Roma
leaders supported the #stayhome campaign,
encouraging everyone to follow the instructions
of doctors and the authorities. All of them
retreated from any meetings and non-internet
public activity. The Celebrity launched a fund-
raising campaign to support public institutions.
This campaign was to show (or perhaps break the
stereotype of Roma as a recipient of social
welfare) that the Roma can contribute to the
nation-wide cause instead of being dependant on
the state (i.e. ethnic majority) support. Another
leader (The Musician) started to sell his stage-
clothes and musical instruments to raise funds for
the hospitals. It was also The Celebrity, who
started popular “nominations” on social media.,
where the nominees were asked to sing songs or
play music. Nominations were launched before
Easter celebrations and continued ever since.
They were picked-up by professional musicians
and amateurs alike.
In general, since the pandemic outbreak, the
streaming of feasts has gradually declined and
been replaced by other forms of activity such as
competitions, nominations and challenges. The
words nominineł, nomininaw, czelendżos and
czelendżo have quickly settled into the Romani
language becoming highly popular in online
activity. In one of the short movies, we can see a
Roma man from Cracow send greetings to his
family in Poland, UK and Germany. He also
nominates his online peers to toast to the end of
koronawirusos. This task was performed mostly by
men, however women could also be observed
filming or assisting in the language, for example in
finding the Romani equivalents of Polish and
English words related to social media.
The pandemic related online activities of Polish
Roma, also demonstrate a subtle, but visible, shift
in gender dynamics of the usage of social media,
particularly Facebook. Broadly speaking, among
conservative Roma, Facebook is regarded as
mainly a platform for findings partners for
amorous relationships and in a patriarchal family
structure, female use of Facebook is sometimes
condemned on moral grounds as wrong. This
resulted in many women actually hiding their
online presence. We find that currently, females
are less shy about their Facebook usage, as if the
importance of social media in maintaining social
bonds in times of crisis overrides any gender
inequality in that respect.
Online celebrations and festivals
The International Romani Day is celebrated world-
wide every year on the 8th of April and Easter (this
year celebrated by Catholic and Protestant
churches on the 12th and 13th of April) contributed
to the general festive atmosphere. This festivity
though, even if apparently joyful, was supressed
by the forced immobility, grief and anxiety
19
deriving from the contradiction between the state
of exception and the attempts to live the usual
way. In our ongoing observation of the online
activities of Roma families, we found that both
men and women picked up public online
challenges related to food preparation. Female
nominees where baking cakes and other sweet
snacks while men were encouraged to make
dumplings. The dumpling challenge was
introduced between Roma families living in
Poland and in the UK. In one of the movies, a man
in his forties living in England can be seen making
the so called Russian dumplings (pierogi ruskie)
one of the most popular Polish dishes. The man is
wearing a traditional Tatra-highlander hat (which
points to part of his family’s origin from Podhale
region in the south of Poland), chef's apron and
rubber gloves (supposedly contributing to the
safety measures under the pandemic). The
performance was filmed by his wife who was also
giving him some practical tips with music playing
in the background. In another movie, a young man
in Cracow, who used to live in England, made
dumplings accompanied by his daughter who was
also responsible for filming. In both cases, the
people involved were mixing Romani and Polish
languages. These kinds of live streams and videos
serve as a message sent to friends and relatives,
showing that “we” are fine, healthy and that “we”
stay at home and you should to. As stated in the
introduction, the whole world (or at least the
parts which honour Easter) celebrated distant,
online festivities. It was also our experience and
presumably some of our readers had similar ones.
Below, we would like to portray the Easter Sunday
experienced by one of us. For this particular part,
let us switch into first person narrative.
The family meeting took place in the form of a
video-call and was attended by my aunts and
cousins living in and calling from two towns in
England and two towns in Poland. The
atmosphere was festive and familiar. There were
jokes, toasts and the showing and sending of old
pictures. Some people sang and danced; one
cousin played the accordion. Another cousin was
simultaneously present on three different calls
using two telephones and one computer. After a
while, the older generation left the video-call
leaving more freedom to the younger generation.
One of the aunties kept dropping by in order to
check if everything was fine. Another auntie
appeared for “inspection” and suggested that it
was late and that the call could be continued the
next day. It is to be stressed that these kinds of
video-calls are not a new phenomenon in my
family. What is new is the online meeting around
the table. It was for the first time in my life that we
didn’t visit each other for Easter. It was a
conscious isolation driven by the fear of the
disease. It is quite common among the Roma to
fear diseases and hospitals. And this fear made
them stay home.
Conclusions
Obviously, these kind of activities have been
present over the years but we argue they seem to
gain additional strength caused by the pandemic
and subsequent rules of social distancing and
lockdowns. They are characteristic not only for the
Roma, and they are not limited to transnational
communities as people living in the same town
and people living in other countries have turned
equally distant (and in online communication the
time zone appears more crucial than the physical
distance). What can be observed among the Roma
families we interact with, is the need to create an
own niche and safe space for languages and
customs. The internet enables to stay in contact
with the loved ones and to maintain language and
20
culture, even if both of them undergo certain
modifications.
Our research shows how within diverse and
territorially dispersed family networks, the
internet appears as a highly functional tool for
cultural reproduction, social control and group
integration. In de-territorialized and transnational
conditions, it facilitates maintaining tradition and
strengthening interpersonal, social relations.
The ease of the internet’s fitting-in the Roma
social lives suggests that we are dealing here with
a vital element of this culture, with some key
elements of romanipen showing an ability to
mobilise group integrative agency in times of
crisis. Romanipen refers to the values and norms
shared by the group and these as in many others
are recreated in a ritual. Online meetings, feasts,
challenges and nominations are not only about
entertainment and the way to spend time. They
function as important community rituals where
people meet, do things together according to
certain script and feel a sense of togetherness.
Normally, people will meet and feast in person
with an additional live stream from other feasts
their families in England or Germany would
organize. But these abnormal times require the
on-line feast taking centre stage, becoming the
main arena of Roma social and cultural
expression. These rituals that reproduce key
meanings of a group through the use of social
media, may be termed e-romanipen rituals (term
coined by Monika Szewczyk).
What’s crucial in our findings, is that the festive
‘feel’ of these on-line interactions gave way to
more sombre and serious tones. Epidemics are
associated with death and human vulnerability. It
may be said that the messages of e-romanipen
rituals have gained some characteristics of
anticipation of grief, since they deal with an
unusual situation of crisis where the group cannot
get together to perform the usual in these cases
rituals of closure. The anticipation of inability to
get together to reinforce group bonds no matter
whether it is for a funeral, to meet parents or
grandparents, or elders to discuss important
things of family politics generates deep anxiety
linked not just to individual, but family bonds’
survival. The creative, invented ad hoc, highly
popular nomininaw and czelendżos on skejpos are
therefore not just a fun way to spend time during
lockdown-induced boredom. They are
underpinned by an existential fear for group
survival and a need to make sense of it and
contain it. They show the powerful human agency
designed to take control using its own cultural
resources in order to collectively deal with the
potential crisis of a community for whom family
bonds are a supreme value.
Bibliography
Baldassar, L. and Krzyzowski, L. (2020). Physical, not social
distancing: what we can learn from migrants. UWA
Social Care and Social Ageing Living Lab News, April
2020: https://livinglab.com.au/4548-2/
Baldassar, L. and Wilding, R. (2020). Migration, Aging, and
Digital Kinning: The Role of Distant Care Support
Networks in Experiences of Aging Well, “The
Gerontologist” 60(2): 313-321.
https://doi.org/10.1093/geront/gnz156
Bedyński, W. (2020). Liminality: Black Death 700 years after.
What lessons are for us from the Medieval pandemic?
“Society Register” 4(3): 129-144.
https://doi.org/10.14746/sr.2020.4.3.07
Goudsblom, J. (1986). Public health and the civilizing
process. “The Milbank Quarterly” 64(2): 161-188. DOI:
10.2307/3349969.
Silverman, C. (1988). Negotiating "Gypsiness": Strategy in
Context, “Journal of American Folklore” 101(401): 261-
275. https://www.jstor.org/stable/540467
21
Transnational lives of Polish Roma Migration, family and ethnic boundary making in changing European Union
research project funded by the National Science Centre, Poland, OPUS 16, grant no: UMO-2018/31/B/HS6/03006:
http://www.migracje.uw.edu.pl/projects/transnational-lives-of-polish-roma-migration-family-and-ethnic-boundary-
making-in-changing-european-union/
Suggested citation: Fiałkowska, K, Garapich, M.P., Jóźwiak, I., Mirga-Wójtowicz, E., Styrkacz, S., Szewczyk, M., 2020.
Transnational e-Easter at the time of pandemic. The case study of the Polish Roma families in Poland and abroad CMR
Spotlight, 12(18), 16-21.
sential hands for work, CMR Spotlight, 12(18), 2-8.
Kamila Fiałkowska
Researcher at the Centre of Migration Research, University of Warsaw. Her research interests revolve
around gender relations in migratory settings, masculinity studies and family relations, construction of
national and gender identities. Involved in the study of Polish Roma migrations to Germany and Great
Britain and temporary migrations (e.g. of seasonal farm workers).
Michał Garapich
Dr Michał P. Garapich is a social anthropologist, working in the area of migration to Great Britain,
ethnicity, diaspora nationalism, homelessness, land invasions in Peru, social resistance and recently on
migration of the Roma. He has participated in numerous research projects funded by National Science
Centre, Economic and Social Research Council, EU, Southlands Methodists Trust and local government
in London area.
Ignacy Jóźwiak
Sociologist and social anthropologist (ethnologist). He is interested in the phenomena of
transnationality and translocality, migrants’ position in the receiving countries’ labor markets and
immigrant organizations. Currently involved in the research project about the Roma migrations from
Poland, the construction of ethnic, national, and transnational identities and boundary-making.
Elżbieta Mirga-Wójtowicz
PhD candidate at the Institute of Political Science at the Pedagogical University in Kraków. Completed
two MA at the Jagiellonian University: Culture Animation (2002) and Ethnic Relations and International
Migration (2004). Trainee at the European Commission (2005). Completed Roma Access Program at
the Central European University (2006). Since 2007 lecturer at the Pedagogical University in Kraków at
the annual postgraduate course about Roma minority. Since 2007 working in Malopolska Voivdeship
in Krakow in field of national and ethnic minorities. Plenipotentiary for the Governor of Malopolska for
National and Ethnic Minorities (2008-2014). At the moment her research focuses on migrations of
Polish Roma.
Sonia Styrkacz
Currently a PhD student at the Robert Zajonc Institute for Social Studies, University of Warsaw,
cooperates with the Center for Research on Prejudice in the field of psychology. Her research focuses
on the Gypsy Life Style phenomenon. She is socially, professionally and scientifically engaged with the
Roma community. She is a member of the Ian F. Hancock Institute of Roma Research, Research,
Documentation & Archive Center in Mersin, Turkey.
Monika Szewczyk
Currently a master student at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Faculty of International and
Political Studies at the Institute of American Studies and Polish Diaspora in the field of International
Migration and Ethnic Relations. Engaged in the activities focused on the development and preservation
of Roma culture and tradition, cooperates with Roma organizations, writes and translates texts into
Romani. She co-authored a book Prosto z garnka. Tradycje kulinarne Romów [Straight from the pot.
Culinary traditions of the Roma]. The author of the documentary film Byli kowale, byli...[There were
the blacksmiths, there were...].
... Generally, they could be described as the reflection on the massive presence of digital format in the spiritual sphere. They address, in particular, the issues of religious practices, such as Christian Easter (Fiałkowska et al. 2020), religious behaviour (Sulkowski and Ignatowski 2020;Parish 2020), the role of religious authority on the opening of the mosques (Al-Astewani 2021), and the barriers to Islamic education (Habibi et al. 2021) under the global pandemic. The need to assess the situation from within the field and to know the reaction of the religious communities triggered the research on how international religious leaders responded to new challenges (Goshen-Gottstein 2020). ...
Article
Full-text available
The article’s purpose is to discuss on a cross-disciplinary plane whether the space’s changing dimension (in terms of social distancing), caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, could affect religious symbols’ characteristics and rituals, leading to new symbolical representation. This is analyzed by addressing the influence of the pandemic on conducting religious practices (Friday Prayer, Namaz, Ramadan, Qurban-ait (Eid al Adha), Sunday Sermon, Easter) among the Sunni Muslims and Russian Orthodox Church believers in Kazakhstan.
Article
Full-text available
Black Death, global plague of the 14th century deeply changed the society of Medieval Europe. This unexpected catastrophe killed from 30 to 60 per cent of the continent’s population remaining the most deadly of all known wars, epidemics or natural disasters up to date1. It was an impulse to a profound transformation of European society, religiosity and art that opened doors for the Renaissance. Time of the catastrophe had a clearly liminal character, well described in Boccaccio’s Decameron. It is far too early to predict the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the world in long-time perspective, as we know little about how and when the disaster will end, but mechanisms of the liminal period are already to be seen and can be described, so is the influence of the virus on global economy, mobility, culture. There are similarities even in human reactions – from the hostility towards Asians (pogroms of Jews as a reaction to the Black Death) to ‘corona-parties’ (similar to the plays described by Boccaccio).
Article
Background and objectives: High rates of migration contribute to the dispersal of support networks across distance. For older adults reliant on informal care, this creates a high risk of increased social isolation. In this article, we highlight the role of communication technologies in maintaining support networks and identities across distance. Building on transnational family research and on anthropological notions of "kinning," we propose that processes of distant support can be better understood through the new concept of "digital kinning." Research design and methods: A qualitative project conducted in Australia (2016-2019) with over 150 older migrants (55+) born in nine countries comprising ethnographic interviews and observations. Analysis comprised the inductive approach of ethnographic qualitative research and theory building from cases, drawn from grounded theory traditions. Select ethnographic cases illustrate the key dimensions and benefits of "digital kinning" for older migrants. Results: Digital kinning practices support the access of older migrants to (i) essential sources of social connection and support, (ii) maintenance of cultural identity, and (iii) protection of social identity, including across distance. Their effectiveness is reliant on access to affordable and reliable digital communication tools. Discussion and implications: Although essential to the well-being of older migrants, distant support networks and the digital kinning practices that sustain them receive little attention from policy makers and health practitioners. Organizations concerned with the care of older people must improve awareness of distant support networks by supporting practices of "digital kinning," ranging from including distant kin in health care plans to prioritizing digital inclusion initiatives.
Article
The apparent paradox of American Gypsy ethnicity is examined, that is, how Gypsies cultivate a distinct ethnic identity while appearing to assimilate. Boundary maintenance and boundary crossing are explored in relation to innovations in Gypsy culture. The non-Gypsy environment is not a threat to Gypsy culture but a rich storehouse from which Gypsies creatively draw, adopt, and interpret.
Article
The author summarizes evidence and arguments for concluding that reasons of hygiene have served mainly as rationalizations a posteriori for changes in manners brought about by other social forces. Next, in search for the most likely counterevidence to Elias's thesis, he looks briefly into the social responses to four major diseases by which Europe was successively visited during the period under consideration: leprosy, the plague, syphilis, and cholera. In the conclusions the author assesses how these four test cases relate to Elias's theory of the civilizing process. Finally, he brings some of the conclusions of his historical-sociological inquiry to bear upon the social responses to AIDS in our time.
Physical, not social distancing: what we can learn from migrants. UWA Social Care and Social Ageing Living Lab News
  • L Baldassar
  • L Krzyzowski
Baldassar, L. and Krzyzowski, L. (2020). Physical, not social distancing: what we can learn from migrants. UWA Social Care and Social Ageing Living Lab News, April 2020: https://livinglab.com.au/4548-2/