Roma in the Centre


Roma in the Centre

Roma in the Centre is an initiative uniting several Romani Studies related projects under the auspices of the Vigdís Finnbogadóttir Institute of Foreign Languages. It is a sign of our long-term commitment to research, present and popularise — in Iceland, in Nordic countries, in Europe and globally — the literature and culture of the Roma/Gypsies. The centrality of the Romani agency is crucial for the initiative's approach. Our belief is that Roma should be positioned not on the margins, as often done in mainstream culture and media discourse, but in the centre.

Advisory Board of the Roma in the Centre

Our initiatives and projects are developed in cooperation with acclaimed academics and activists of Romani background:

  • Colin Clark
  • Dragoljub Acković
  • Fred Taikon
  • Hristo Kyuchukov
  • Ian Hancock
  • Jana Horváthová
  • Lilyana Kovatcheva

Sofiya Zahova, researcher at the Vigdís Finnbogadóttir Institute, leads the projects implemented in Iceland and represents the University of Iceland in partnership projects implemented abroad.

For more information about Roma in the Centre initiative, contact Sofiya Zahova,

Roma in the Centre activities include:

Three workshops that provide a platform for discussion of Romani agency in various forms of literature, folklore and cultural production with the participation of Roma active in both academia and practice. The workshops bring a novel approach into the research agenda of Romani Studies in Nordic context, and was organized as follows:

1. Roma in the Centre: Narratives by Roma in oral and written culture, June 14-15, 2019, University of Iceland. 

2. Roma in the Centre: Archiving Roma Cultural Heritage, October 24–25, 2019, Finnish Literature Society, Helsinki.

3. Roma in Nordic societies, May 12–13, 2020, CBEES, Södertörn University, Stockholm.

Supported by the Joint Committee for Nordic research councils in the Humanities and Social Sciences (NOS-HS)

The University of Iceland hosted the biggest annual scholarly event in the field of Romani Studies, The 2019 Annual Meeting of the Gypsy Lore Society and Conference on Romani Studies, August 15 to 17, 2019. The conference was organized by the Vigdís International Centre and supported by the Rector of the University of Iceland. 126 participants from over 30 countries (Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, India, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Mexico, Moldova, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Scotland, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, UK, USA)  presented 114 papers at the conference.

Postdoc research project implemented by Sofiya Zahova with the support of the Icelandic Centre for Research (RANNÍS). Its goal was to research and analyse the interrelated history of Romani identity policies and written culture practices on the example of Romani publications in Europe and worldwide. Romane lila (meaning Romani books/publications in Romani) contributes to the academic knowledge and societal understanding of the Romani literature by various means among which creation of a database of Romani written culture, lectures, papers and publications looking into Romani literature in Europe and globally as a common phenomenon.

The open access publication of the theoretical results and the Romani literature database are expected to be a solid resource for future scholarship from different disciplines. They are useful for practitioners as Romani teachers, experts on Roma issues, minority publishers, cultural rights activists, etc., and contribute to elevating the status of Romani written culture and language as part of the world’s linguistic heritage. In this way, in a moment of a rise of strong anti-Roma and anti-migrants feelings throughout Europe backed up by century-long negative stereotypes, the project contributed also to strengthening Romani communities’ self-esteem.

The project outputs are:

A developed Romani literature research infrastructure (including a comprehensive up-to-date bibliography of Romani publications pieces, small Romani publications library at the VFI, archival collection of 30 interviews with researchers and Romani authors and activists, as well as digitalization and recordings; a database of Romani literature titles with at over 2000 entries was created and awaits future publishing at a research repository.

Solid theoretical grid that became the methodological background of the postdoctoral research and for the publications produced.

Contribution to the theory of and scientific knowledge about Romani literature by publicity of the results among researchers;

Initiating a Nordic network of researchers and Roma activists working on literary, folklore and history narratives (including obtaining funding for future activities);

Starting up an informal global network for Romani literature research that is currently organizing annual panels at the biggest academic Romani Studies event;

A total of 21 papers and invited talks given at 6 Icelandic and 15 international academic forums on the topic of the research project;

8 published articles and monographs on Romani literature.

Despite its fame of a reading nation and leading position in various per capita publishing ratings (number of titles and print runs produced annually, number of published authors, etc.), Iceland was, until 2020, the only European country in which literature works by Romani authors had not been published.

To address this gap and popularise the diverse Romani literature scene, VFI published in 2020 Sunnudagsmatur og fleiri sögur Rómafólks, as part of its short stories series. This is the first-ever Icelandic language collection of short stories written by some of the most acclaimed Romani authors publishing in this genre and one author of Scottish Traveller background, and includes stories by Georgijy Tsvetkov, Ilona Ferková, Jess Smith, Jorge Emilio Nedich, Jovan Nikolić and Mateo Maximoff.

Sunnudagsmatur og fleiri sögur Rómafólks was supported by Icelandic Literature Centre (Miðstöð íslenskra bókmennta).

Organizing Romani movies season showing award-winning feature movies and documentaries about Roma that have been screen played, directed or consulted by Roma. 

Art is a reflection of every society. It is a reflection (GENDAL’IPEN in Roma language) of the world as we see it or we wish to see it. It has the power to define, preserve and communicate individual ideas and collective cultural codes. Cultural (including artistic) representation plays an important role in building ethnic (or other) identity, identity and self-esteem of the individual. Throughout history, artists have exercised their creative power to define themselves through art and create self-determination that reveals them and their respective society in the best possible light. For centuries, stereotypes and prejudices have had a negative impact on the position of the Roma and their culture and art. Roma art has been excluded from the mainstream for many centuries, misunderstood, simplified, and its artists have often been pushed to the background.
The aim of this project is to support Roma artists in their creation and presentation of professional Roma contemporary art through various activities and thus to show that Roma contemporary art and its artists wish to be seen and heard and that they have their full place in (not only Czech) culture and society.
As a part of the project activities, we are going to organize Roma cultural days „GENDAL’IPEN“ in Reykjavík in cooperation with partners from the Czech Republic. This 2day event will take place before 8th April 2022 as a part of the Roma Days in Iceland to mark the International Romani Day in Iceland. The program will consist of an exhibition, literary event (public reading of a Czech Roma writer) and musical performance of a Czech Roma band arriving especially for this event. Event will be accompanied by discussion with the public/audience. The exhibition will be open for public for 3 weeks.

Overall project information:

Project period: May 2021 – April 2023

Place: Czech Republic, Norway – Oslo, Iceland – Reykjavík

Official partners: Slovo 21, z. s., Czech Republic, Romsk kultur og ressurssenter – Romano kher / Kirkens bymisjon, Norway, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir Institute of Foreign Languages, Iceland

Financial mechanism: EEA Financial Mechanism 2014-2021

Programme: Programme „Culture“

Download the Gendal’ipen project poster here

In the framework of the United in Diversity project of the Bulgarian National Library “Library “St. St. Cyril and Methodius”, implemented in partnership with the Vigdís International Centre, a Bulgarian language book on Romani literature was published. The book is authored by Sofiya Zahova and is a collection of articles published earlier in English, now translated into Bulgarian, updated, and adapted for Bulgarian audiences. The book also contains Appendices presenting bibliographies of Romani literature books and periodicals published in Bulgaria.

Click here to read the book as pdf.