Czech and Slovak Roma in Leeds: Escaping Exceptionality, Remaining Roma

  • Marketa Dolezalova

Student thesis: Phd


Roma in former Czechoslovakia have historically experienced economic and political marginalisation and been treated and portrayed as inferior to ethnic Czechs and Slovaks. Roma thereby became perceived as different from non-Roma citizens, as not belonging to the Czech or Slovak nation, as an 'exception'. The post-socialist transition produced economic precarity, new inequalities, and a climate of rising nationalist sentiments in Central and Eastern Europe. The perception of Roma as not having the same rights as ethnic Czechs or Slovaks to access state care became even more salient than during the socialist period. Following the enlargement of the European Union in 2004, Roma are now able to move freely across EU borders and to find employment and settle in the United Kingdom. Migration to the UK, including Leeds, offered Roma new economic opportunities as well as the promise of escaping ethnic stigmatisation. It seemed to offer the possibility to lead what I refer to as a 'normal life' as equal citizens. This thesis is based on ethnographic research among Czech and Slovak Roma in Leeds. It reveals the processes that contribute to Roma becoming defined as an exception after migrating to Leeds, and looks at the ways in which Roma resist this. It recounts the interactions that Roma have with different aspects of state care, namely welfare provision, services and projects aimed at improving the well-being of Roma, and with non-Roma Czech and Slovak interpreters. Some Roma in Leeds have converted to a Roma Pentecostal Church, the Life and Light. In this thesis I argue that by providing material support to Roma, both converts and non-converts, and through a narrative that Roma are a lost tribe of Israel, the Church constructs Roma as a moral collectivity and subverts their position of inferiority and 'exceptionality'. The Church provides a way for Roma to be respectable, to live with dignity and to have what they understand to be a 'normal' life, whilst retaining their Roma identity.
Date of Award31 Dec 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJeanette Edwards (Supervisor) & Anthony Simpson (Supervisor)


  • religious conversions
  • state care
  • Roma
  • migration

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