Re-Negotiating the Public Image of Gypsy Musicians in the Polish Everyday Press of the Communist Period

15 June 2019

Anna G. Piotrowska

The article discusses how the Roma minority was portrayed in the Polish press during the communist era, taking so-called Gypsy musicians as an example. Having analysed a number of articles, notes and reports, as well as reviews and editorials published before 1989 in the Polish daily press, the author identifies the main tendencies in portraying Gypsies during the communist era, identifying nostalgia for the romanticised Gypsies, and the inclination to homogenise their image, as prevailing trends. Focusing on the Roma musicians, the author examines how they were officially portrayed in the communist Polish press, deliberating on whether this portrayal was promoting the minority, as influenced by the romantic tradition glorifying the wandering Gypsy life-style, or rather subjugating them to serve as another proof of Gypsy backwardness. While claiming that the figure of the splendid Gypsy virtuoso was almost erased from the Polish post-World War II press, the author argues that the Gypsies’ position in the public discourse was overtaken by the Roma folk bands. At the same time the author questions to what degree the musical stereotype associated with the Roma in general was exploited to re-create and to re-negotiate the place of the Roma people as a specific minority functioning within a Polish socialist society.

Roma musicians, Polish press, communist times, stereotype, Roma minority.
  1. The term ‘Gypsy musician’ was preferred in the daily press available in communist Poland. It was also adopted in this paper to denominate not only professional Roma musicians, i.e. those who made their living as instrumentalists, singers, perhaps dancers, but also to refer to amateur Roma musicians.
  2. Anikó Imre, “Roma Music and Transnational Homelessness,” TT 22, no. 3 (2008): 326.
  3. Wim Willems, In Search of the True Gypsy: From Enlightenment to the Final Solution, trans. Don Bloch (London and Portland: Frank Cass, 1997), 53.
  4. Florentina C. Andreescu and Sean P. Quinn, “Gypsy Fetish: Music, Dirt, Magic, and Freedom,” JCR 18, no. 4 (2014): 281.
  5. See Anna G. Piotrowska, Gypsy Music in European Culture: From the Late Eighteenth to the Early Twentieth Centuries (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2013).
  6. The well-known German song from the mid-nineteenth century is titled “Lustig ist das Zigeunerleben.”
  7. See, for example, Elżbieta Głogowska, “Jadą wozy kolorowe” [Colourful Caravans Are Coming], Życie Warszawy, 18 September 1971, 3.
  8. Alaina Lemon, Between Two Fires: Gypsy Performance and Romani Memory from Pushkin to Post-Socialism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000), 43.
  9. These categories – an entertainer and clown were discussed by Stuart Hall in relation to the figures of the Black in nineteenth century America. See Stuart Hall, “The Whites of Their Eyes – Racist Ideologies and the Media” in Gender, Race, and Class in Media – A Text-Reader, vol. 2, eds Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez (London: SAGE Publications, 2003), 8993.
  10. Rebecca Jablonsky, “Russian Jews and ‘Gypsy Punks’: The Performance of Real and Imagined Cultural Identities within a Transnational Migrant Group,” JPMS 24, no. 1 (2012): 7.
  11. Mátyás Binder, “Changes in the Image of ‘Gypsies’ in Slovakia and Hungary after the Post-Communist Transition,” VMT 45, no. 2 (2011): 23.
  12. Similar categories were discussed in relation to perception of the Roma in communist Hungary by the Hungarian socio­logist Zsolt Csalog. The author, though claimed, that the pu­blic perception of the Roma in Hungary was predominantly racial. See Zsolt Csalog, “Etnikum? Faj? Réteg?” [An Ethnic Group, a Race or a Stratum], Világosság 14, no. 1 (1973): 3844.
  13. And yet, even despite their Polish sounding surnames some Roma people were described in the press as of Gypsy nationality! See for example a warrant issued after wanted Gypsy criminals published in Życie Warszawy, 16 August 1963.
  14. József Vekerdi, “The Gypsies and the Gypsy Problem in Hungary,” HSR XV, no. 2 (Fall, 1988): 17.
  15. Georg Brunner, Nationality Problems and Minority Conflicts in Eastern Europe (Gütersloh: Bertelsmann Foundation Publishers, 1996), 87.
  16. See a warrant issued after wanted criminals, a man and a woman of ‘Gypsy nationality’ published in popular newspaper Życie Warszawy, 16 August 1963.
  17. Letters from readers, “Zatrzaśnijmy otwarte drzwi” [Let’s Slam the Open Door], Życie Warszawy, 16 February 1962.
  18. Ibid.
  19. See a short note signed with a pseudonym Negas, “Obcym drzwi nie otwieraj” [Don’t Open the Door for the Strangers], Życie Warszawy, 21 July 1975.
  20. S. W., “Dajmy spokój Cyganom” [Leave Gypsies Alone], Polityka, 1 March 1968.
  21. “Cyganie w Polsce. Połowa koczuje – analfabetyzm i gruźlica” [Gypsies in Poland – Nomads – Analphabetism and Tuberculosis], Dziennik Polski, 13 February 1963.
  22. “Cygański Uniwersytet” [Gypsy University], Głos Pracy, 19 November 1965; E. Margański, “Cygan maturzysta” [Gypsy Graduate], Trybuna Ludu, 24 December 1965.
  23. Zygmunt Nowakowski, “Nie Cyganie” [Non Gypsies], Dziennik Polski, 26 February 1959; “Powróżyć na Krupówkach” [Fortune-Telling in a Resort], Życie Warszawy, 28 May 1965.
  24. Amelia Peraj, “Cygani, jak tam z wami jest?” [Gypsies, What Is It Like with You?], Czas, 28 September 1975, 1112, 31.
  25. See also Łukasz Sołtysik, “Sytuacja Romów w Polskiej Rzeczpospolitej Ludowej w świetle dokumentu Ministerstwa spraw Wewnętrznych z 1984 roku. Uwaga o skutkach trzydziestopięcioletniej polityki państwa polskiego wobec ludności romskiej” [The Situation of Roma in the Polish People’s Republic in the Light of the Document of the Ministry of Interior from 1984: Remarks on the Consequences of 35 Years of Polish Policy towards the Roma Community], in Roma in Visegrad Countries: History, Culture, Social Integration, Social Work and Education, eds Jaroslav Balvin et al. (Wrocław: Foundation of Social Integration Prom, 2013), 422.
  26. Irena Chomać, “Cygańskie nowe życie” [Gypsy New Life], Głos Pracy, 30 October 1968.
  27. Sometimes it is claimed that ‘forgetting’ the Romani Holocaust can be, to a certain degree, connected with the Gypsy lifestyle which bases on mechanisms of anti-memory. See Yosefa Loshitzky, “Quintessential Strangers: The Representation of Romanies and Jews in Some Holocaust Films,” Framework 44, no. 2 (2003): 58.
  28. Also, there appeared more detailed reportages picturing the life of the Roma. See Leszek Michalski, “Cygan się nie da powiesić” [You Cannot Hang a Gypsy], Tak i Nie, 9 March 1984; Regina Osowicka, “Dobrze przyszłość wróżę” [I Am a Good Fortune-Teller], Dziennik Bałtycki, 14 October 1983.
  29. David Malvinni, The Gypsy Caravan: From Real Roma to Imaginary Gypsies in Western Music and Film (New York and London: Routledge, 2004), ix.
  30. Lozanka Peycheva and Ventsislav Dimov, “The Gypsy Music and Gypsy Musicians’ Market in Bulgaria,” in Segmentation und Komplementarität. Organisatorische, ökonomische und kulturelle Aspekte der Interaktion von Nomaden und Sesshaften. Beiträge der Kolloquia am 25.10.2002 und 27.06.2003, ed. Bernhard Streck (Halle: Orientwissenschaftliche Hefte, 2004), 190.
  31. Ibid., 196.
  32. Vesa Kurkela, “Music Media in the Eastern Balkans: Privatised, Deregulated, and Neo-Traditional,” EJCP 3, no. 2 (1997): 188.
  33. Anthony Shay, Choreographic Politics: State Folk Dance Companies, Representation and Power (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 2002), 49.
  34. Margaret H. Beissinger, “Occupation and Ethnicity: Constructing Identity among Professional Romani (Gypsy) Musicians in Romania,” SR 60, no. 1 (2001): 31.
  35. “The Concert Group of the Hungarian Army,” April 1955. HU OSA 300-40-4-5326/55. Records of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Research Institute. General Records. Information Items (Open Society Archives at Central European University: Budapest).
  36. Katalin Kovalcsik, “The Music of the Roma in Hungary,” accessed 22 August 2016,
  37. Peycheva and Dimov, “The Gypsy Music,” 196.
  38. Margaret H. Beissinger, “Romani (Gypsy) Music-Making at Weddings in Post-Communist Romania: Political Transitions and Cultural Adaptations,” Folklorica X, no. 1 (2005): 41.
  39. Imre, “Roma Music,” 330.
  40. Zofia Kwiecińska, “Hej tam pod lasem” [Near the Woods], Trybuna Ludu, 22 August 1965; Życie Warszawy, 24 August 1965.
  41. See Trybuna Ludu, 14 April 1964.
  42. See Anna Kroh, “W połowie drogi” [In the Middle of the Road], Głos Koszaliński, 18 February 1967, 11–12.
  43. Kovalcsik, “The Music of the Roma in Hungary.”
  44. See “No More Tips for Bratislava Gypsy Musicians,” 1 December 1951. HU OSA 300-1-2-11985. Records of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Research Institute. General Records. Information Items (Open Society Archives at Central European University: Budapest).
  45. See “Liquidation of Gypsy Music Bands,” 10 December 1951. HU OSA 300-1-2-12405. Records of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Research Institute. General Records. Information Items (Open Society Archives at Central European University: Budapest) and “Gypsy Band in Bratislava Banned,” 15 August 1951. HU OSA 300-1-2-4523. Records of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Research Institute. General Records. Information Items (Open Society Archives at Central European University: Budapest).
  46. Beissinger, “Romani,” 41.
  47. For example, in the Balkans, Gypsy musicians often played at weddings presenting the latest hits while with time “amplified instruments in many cases have replaced acoustic ones, and electronic instruments have joined and often supplanted traditional ones.” See Beissinger, “Romani,” 39.
  48. See Kazimierz Ligocki, “Randia,” in Mutimedialna Encyklopedia Gorzowa Wielkopolskiego, accessed 10 May 2019,
  49. The official site of the Terno ensemble, accessed 22 August 2016, pl/?history-of-terno.
  50. See among others the issues of Trybuna Ludu, 24 August 1965.
  51. Randia, “Randia wyjaśnia” [Randia Explains], Życie Warszawy, 1 October 1965.
  52. See Peycheva and Dimov, “The Gypsy Music”; Speranța Rădulescu, Taifasuri despre muzica țigănească /Chats about Gypsy Music (Bucharest: Paideia, 2004).
  53. Ernő Kállai, “Gypsy Musicians,” in Roma Migration, ed. András Kováts (Budapest: Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Institute of Minority Research – Centre for Migration and Refugee Studies, 2002), 77.
  54. Marlene Sway, “Gypsies as a Perpetual Minority: A Case Study,” HJSR 3, no. 1 (Fall/Winter, 1975): 54.
  55. The museum features also the permanent exhibition on the Roma, accessed 10 May 2019,
  56. Sway, “Gypsies as a Perpetual Minority,” 54.
  57. Aspasia Theodosiou, “Disorienting Rhythms: Gypsyness, ‘Authenticity’ and Place on the Greek-Albanian Border,” HA 18, no. 2 (Jun., 2007): 154.