Police, Experts and Race: Handling the "Gypsy Plague" in Denmark, Sweden and Latvia, 1930-1945

Project manager

Hurd, Madeleine - Senior Lecturer


The Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies

Project type


In September 2013, Dagens Nyheter ran the headline “The Police Register Thousands of Romanis”. This, of course, horrified its readers. But how foreign are such lists to the Baltic Sea region? Before the 1950s, state experts and police had often joined in identifying and suggesting measures to deal with the "Gypsy race". In Scandinavia, enthusiasm for social engineering combined with social prejudices to define “Gypsies” and "tattare" as a threat. In the new Baltic states, state-making entailed ethno-nationalist efforts to guard the race’s “quality and quantity” against contamination. Throughout the Baltic Sea area, accordingly, states asked experts to help identify "Gypsies"; experts’ international networks, national institutions, and sub-state organizations (including the police) combined, in their turn, to issue recommendations as to what to do with “the Gypsy plague”.

These efforts culminated in the early 1940s, when German genocidal policies also reached their apogee. East of the Baltic, anti-minority sentiments combined with bitter experiences of Soviet occupation to condition responses to German demands for racial cleansing. In Scandinavia, meanwhile, both occupied and unoccupied nations undertook their own investigations into the "Gypsy problem". Interest in “Gypsies” and "tattare" peaked on both sides of the Baltic in the early 1940s. How can we understand this simultaneous concern?

In this project, we will look at the persecution of “Gypsies” and "tattare" as a matter of expert knowledge-production. One sub-project will examine Baltic-region international eugenicist and criminologist networks, with attention to the 1940s. Did international discourses change; how were they reflected in Baltic region countries? The other three sub-projects are on actions concerning "Gypsies" in Latvia, Denmark and Sweden. There, we are interested in national experts’ relation to both international Baltic networks, and to the local adjuncts necessary to their work: schools, hospitals, social services, and, above all, the police. Without these local instances, experts would not have been able to find (or act against) the populations they often defined as a separate “race”. We write, thus, of three-tiered knowledge production: international, national, and local. This Foucauldian approach to the production of “Gypsies”, combined with our stringently comparative focus, will allow new understanding of Baltic-region antiziganism during a time of drastic geopolitical change.

Andrej Kotljarchuk - Projektforskare, Docent
Institutionen för historia och samtidsstudier

Matthew Kott - Projektforskare, Fil dr
Institutionen för historia och samtidsstudier

Steffen Werther - Lektor, Fil dr
Institutionen för historia och samtidsstudier

Matthew Kott - Uppsala universitet, Centre for Russian and Eurasian Studies

  • Andrej Kotljarchuk: ”Roma and Travellers of Scandinavia during World War II: registration and racial cleansing policy-making in transnational context”. 2016 Annual Meeting of Gypsy Lore Society and Conference on Romani Studies. 14–15 September 2016 Södertörn University. http://www.gypsyloresociety.org/ External link.
  • Andrej Kotljarchuk: ”Registrering och rasbiologiska undersökningar av resandefolket och romer i Sverige under andra världskriget. Experternas roll i den internationella kontexten”. Tyresö historiedag. Södertörn University and Tyresö Municipality. Tyresö castle, 13 May 2016.
  • Andrej Kotljarchuk: ”Roma and Travellers of Sweden during World War II: experts, networks and racial cleansing policy-making in transnational context.” 2016 Nordic Conference on Romani Studies. April 13–15, 2016. Södertörn University.
  • Andrej Kotljarchuk: "World War II and the Registration of Roma in Ukraine and Sweden in Transnational Context: the Role of Collected Data, Experts and Census Takers". Higher seminar organized by the Centre for Baltic and East European Studies (CBEES), Södertörn University. January 26, 2015.
  • Madeleine Hurd: “The Joint Production of Inter-War Eugenics: National and International «Gypsie» Experts in the Baltic Sea Area”. 2016 Nordic Conference on Romani Studies. April 13–15, 2016. Södertörn University.
  • Matthew Kott: Second opponent for the public defence of Chalak Kaveh’s PhD dissertation in history, “Omstreiferuvæsenet”: Politiets og domstolenes behandling av tatere og sigøynere 1900–1960, University of Oslo. 14 October 2016.
  • Matthew Kott: Workshop, “Consultation on Current Issues and Future Directions for Holocaust Studies in the Baltic States”, US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington DC. 30 January–2 February 2017.
  • Steffen Werther & Andrej Kotljarchuk: "Roma and Travelers in the Baltic Sea Region during World War II: Registration and Racial Cleansing Policy-Making". 29TH Congress of Nordic Historians, 15-18 August 2017, Aalborg University, Denmark.
  • Andrej Kotljarchuk: Interview with Romani Radio Chiriklo in Ukraine (Natallia Zynevych) about the genocide of Roma during WWII, 1 January 2016. Link External link.
  • Andrej Kotljarchuk: Interview with Moment Magazine (Thomas Siurkus) about the Roma pogrom in Ukraine and the antigypsyism, 3 October 2016. Link External link.
  • Matthew Kott: "The History of Antiziganism in Latvia: The Case of the Police, 1900–1945". 2017 Baltic Sea Conference on Romani Studies. April 19-21 2017, Södertörn University.
  • Matthew Kott: "The History of Antiziganism in Latvia: The Case of the Police, 1900–1945". The 12th Conference on Baltic Studies in Europe. University of Latvia, Riga, Latvia, 19-21 June, 2017. Programme External link.
  • Hurd/Kott/Kotljarchuk/Werther: Open Seminar "Experter, romer och rasistisk kunskapsproduktion i Sverige, Danmark och Lettland, 1940–1945" (in Swedish). 12 April 2017, Södertörn University.
  • Panel (with Ida Ohlsson Al Fakir and Håkan Blomquist): "Vetenskapen i politiken eller politiken i vetenskapen? Experterna och kunskapsproduktionen kring romer och resande ca 1940-1965". Svenska Historikermötet, Sundsvall 10-12 May.

Research area / geographic area

Historical and Contemporary Studies History The Institute of Contemporary History History Roma Studies Baltic Eastern Europe

Project time

2016 — 2019


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