Klaus-Michael Bogdal

Europe Discovers the Gypsies - A Story of Fascination and Contempt

(German title: Europa erfindet die Zigeuner)
ca. 592 pages
Klaus-Michael Bogdal
Foto: Klaus-Michael Bogdal
© Jürgen Bauer

Klaus-Michael Bogdal studied philosophy and German and Slavic literature. He teaches at the University of Bielefeld, where he has been professor of Germanic language and literature since 2002.

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English world rights (Penguin Press), Russia (LRC Publishing House), Hungary (Kalligram), Croatia (Zagrebacka Naklada)

Leipzig Book Prize for European Understanding in 2013


Natural born thieves and liars, companions of Satan, backwoodsmen, untameable savages, a pack of antisocial outsiders – These are just some of the terms used to ostracise and marginalise Europe’s Romani population over the past 600 years. In this brilliantly researched, comparative study, Klaus-Michael Bogdal tells the story of how this centuries-old hatred was able to survive in the tension between fascination and contempt right down to the present day.

In this compelling and accessible history, Bogdal shows how Europeans have continually sought to maintain the greatest possible distance from this despised people at the bottom of the social hierarchy. None of the various social and political orders under which they have lived has allowed them finally to arrive in Europe. Always unwelcome, they have been subject to constant persecution and marginalisation ever since their arrival 600 years ago: in the imaginary space of art as well as in the political reality.
The book presents the history of the representation of ›gypsies‹ in European literature and art from the late middle ages to the present – from Norway to Spain, from Britain to Russia. Bodgal draws on documents ranging from early chronicles and legal documents, to works of art and ethnography, to the memory of the Holocaust amongst the Sinti and Roma.


Jury Statement from the 2013 Leipzig Book Prize for European Understanding:
»The 2013 Leipzig Book Prize for European Understanding is awarded to the literary scholar Klaus-Michael Bogdal (Bielefeld) for his groundbreaking work Europe Discovers the Gypsies, which explores six centuries of persecution and marginalisation of Sinti and Roma in Europe. Bogdal’s study is the first comprehensive, comparative analysis of the representation of ›Gypsies‹, ›Zigeuner‹, ›Bohémiens‹ and ›Gitanos‹ in European literature and art from the late middle ages to the present. It traces the gradual formation of an historical prejudice against an imaginary collective, which, lacking writers of its own, was helpless in the face of the interpretations, ascriptions and projections of others. Bogdal demonstrates how Europe secured its own status as civilised and cultivated by denigrating the Roma through a combination of hatred, fear and romanticised gypsy-folklore. Particularly in the light of the current resurgence of antiziganism in Europe, Bogdal’s landmark study is especially timely and urgent.«

»This study is an excitingly lucid, rewarding, often abashing read, for example when the Federal Court of Justice validates persecution of the ›gipsies‹ to be methods of ›security policy and crime prevention‹ against ›primitive prehistoric men‹ in 1956.« Rolf-Bernhard Essig, DIE ZEIT

»Despite the repetitions of stereotypes about gipsies inherent to object of study, Bogdal has succeeded in [compiling] a highly differentiated, wholly un-kitschy and often captivating study that has no choice but to translate its findings into a relevant warning […]« Uwe Ebbinghaus, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

»Bogdal’s study is constructed chronologically on the one hand, from the late Middle Ages until today, but on the other hand, it deals with very different European cultural spaces: from Spain to Russia, from Sweden to Romania […] Bogdal’s book presents many approaches. Because not only is it politically alarming, it is also intellectually electrifying.« Steffen Richter, Tagesspiegel

»Klaus-Michael Bogdal’s book is crucial for understanding the current situation of the Romani people in Europe and its background. One would like to hope that it finds its way into history lessons and onto the desk of politicians – because, as Bogdal trenchantly notes, Europe has not yet lost its ability to de-civilise.« Cia Rinne, taz. die tageszeitung

»This profound study has the makings of a standard work.« Edelgard Abenstein, Deutschlandradio Kultur

»The Bielefeld-based literary scholar Klaus-Michael Bogdal has set out to reconstruct European projections that target gipsies as the incorporation of the foreign in an exhaustive and utterly worthwhile study.« Ulrich Schmid, Osteuropa

»A recommendable book!« Andrea Härle, Romano Centro