Romani Studies

Djorgovci: An ambivalent identity

Romani Studies (2006), 16, (2), 133–151.

Abstract

On the territory of ex-Yugoslavia numerous Romani groups, with special ethnic and cultural characteristics, have formed. One of them is the Djorgovci, mentioned only sporadically in ethnographic literature as a specific group of Orthodox Gypsies who speak the Serbian language and live in south Serbia (around the town of Vranje), Kosovo and Macedonia. This paper is based on field research conducted during 2004 in the village of Golemo Selo near Vranje and its aim is to sketch a portrait of the Djorgovci—a community with an ambivalent identity.

The Djorgovci are linked to the majority group of the Serbs by ‘objective’ cultural traits: religion, language and customs, but the cultural and ethnic boundaries do not necessarily overlap. The differences between the two groups are obvious in the models of conceiving and organising existence and in their subjective belief that they represent different groups. While Djorgovci are connected with the Serbians by cultural identification, they are linked to the Roma living in south Serbia (who speak Romani and are mainly Muslim) by their ethnic origin (we can also add here perceptive indicators which, although always undetermined, have a bearing on identification). The ethnic and cultural schism in the identity of the Djorgovci places them in the realm of liminality, ‘betwixt and between’ clearly determined, socially acknowledged ethnic categories, so they are doubly included and doubly excluded. In the existing ethnic classification they are striving to find their place by conjoining both poles of their identity, so they are ‘both–and’ (We are Serbian Gypsies) or, by denial and self-contempt, ‘neither–nor’ (We aren’t Gypsies, we aren’t Serbs, we’re nobody). In the rural milieu of south Serbia, where identity or its aspects are not a matter of choice, the Djorgovci are floating between two ‘deeply-rooted’ and mutually exclusive identities, and are being marginalised by representatives of both.

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Zlatanović, Sanja