Yelis Erolova

(Re) Invented Traditions – Reconstructed Identities (Case Studies from Bulgarian-Romanian Border Region of Dobrudzha)

Yelis Erolova

Yelis Erolova, PhD is an assistant professor at the IEFSEM-BAS, Balkan Ethnology Department. Her research interests are focused on identity, cultural heritage, ethnicity and migration.

Abstract: At this time of constant changes and innovations in the modern globalized world, more and more small communities have begun to realize the deprivation of their cultural heritage. As a result, they have tried to preserve their threatened ethnocultural heritages and are trying to revive their lost traditions or are inventing new ones. This phenomenon can be explained by the invention of tradition’s concept of Erik Hobsbawm as a process of formalization and ritualization with a reference to the past aimed at establishing or symbolizing a social cohesion and collective identities. Modernity offers a new need for usage of the traditions as elements marking ethnocultural identity boundaries. (Re) Invention of the traditions in the contemporary context is not only directed towards popularization of the historical knowledge of the cultural heritage in the field of cultural tourism development, but also is determined by the small (local, ethnic) communities' needs to fill their identities with new content or to unite their members around the Anthony Smith’s cultural attachments, and thus, to develop a common sense of belonging. The paper pays attention to cases of the Crimean Tatars, Roma/Gypsies and Russian Old Believers living in the Bulgarian-Romanian border region of Dobrudzha. Within their self-identification in different forms (national, ethnic, religious, local and cultural), the surveyed communities turn to the past, re-think and recognize and (re) invent certain cultural elements as an important part of their contemporary cultural heritage, public images, and socio-cultural activities.

Keywords: Dobrudzha, Crimean Tatars, Roma/ Gypsies, Old Believers


In the modern globalized world of mobility and technological innovations, the cultural boundaries between different societies and communities are shifting more and more, becoming fuzzy and permeable. The small communities face the challenges of adopting new global unifying culture or preserving their cultural heritage through (re) invention of new traditions as a set of practices of ritual or symbolic character, determined by E. Hobsbawm (Hobsbawm, 1983, pp.1-14). In any case, the effects of globalization lead to a change or re-thinking of the Smith’s attributes (Smith, 1991) around which the national, ethnic, cultural, regional and local identities have been constructed. In this context, this article aims to initiate a discussion on the functions of the (re) invented traditions as ethnic identity markers.

Methodological framework

The scientific debate about the globalization impacts on the cultural development of societies/communities includes various complementary or contradictory concepts that highlight the focus on creating a new world global culture or cultures where different economic, political, cultural and social processes of homogenization and heterogeneity intertwine or resist. (Featherstone, 1990; Appadurai, 1996; 2001; Russel and Valenzuela, 2005, pp. 86-89). In homogenization-heterogenization framework, a set of global (McDonald’s, Microsoft, famous pop music stars, multiplex cinemas, etc.) or local symbols (non-professional artists, specific traditions, practices, and customs) can be distinguished. The discussion on ‘local responses’ to globalization varies from critical to optimistic viewpoints. On the one hand, the globalization has been approached as a process of international integration of economic, political, technological and socio-cultural forces, as a Westernization and imperialism, which has „dramatic (homogenizing) effects on local communities and personal identities“ (Yongelson-Neal, Neal and Fried, 2001, pp. 31-36; Rothkopf, 1997, pp. 38-53). On the other hand, the impact of globalization has been defined as an impulse for local communities to create a new heterogeneous rather than a homogenous world in which diversity and tradition persist (Inglehart and Wayne, 2000, pp.19-51). Other authors define the essence of globalization as macro-localization and/or micro-globalization (Khondker, 1994). This paper pays attention to (re)inventing of traditions and reconstructing of identity dimensions of three different types of communities: The Crimean Tatars, Roma/Gypsies and the Russian Old Believers who live in the historical-geographical Bulgarian-Romanian border region of Dobrudzha (North Dobrudzha includes the Romanian administrative districts of Constanța and Tulcea, and South Dobrudzha includes Bulgarian administrative districts of Silistra and Dobrich). In-depth interviews and observations as part of a multi-sited ethnological study were held over the 2007-2012 period. Additionally, academic studies, historical, media and political data were analyzed. The used ethnic names “Crimean Tatars”, “Roma/Gypsies”, and “Russian Old Believers”, are consistent with the forms of ethnic self-determination of the majority of the members of the surveyed communities in both parts of the region. The following questions have been discussed: What factors and conditions lead to (re) invention of traditions? What is the correlation between (re) invented traditions and identities of the studied communities? How do local traditions ‘co-exist’ with the influences of the global world? The choice of the research area and objects is not accidental and aims to show how one and the same communities in a common area, but divided by Bulgarian-Romanian state border, re-think their cultural heritage within their self-identification, public images, and socio-cultural activities. Many ethnic and border studies have been done by native and foreign scholars, including Bulgarian and Romanian scientists. Unfortunately, the scientific discussion has not been developed between them because of the language barrier.

The current parameters of the cultural and ethnic development of the Crimean Tatars, Roma/Gypsies, and Old Believers have been formed under the impact of the earlier socialist government's policy (1944–1989) and the political and socio-economic changes in both countries after 1989. The Romanian Constitution of 1991 recognizes the ethnic minorities and gives them certain privileges[1]. According to the Bulgarian Constitution of 1991, all citizens have equal rights. They have the right to freedom of language, religion, self-identification by ethnicity and origin (Art. 6, Art. 13 and Art. 37). The Basic Law does not allow the formation of parties on an ethnic, racial or religious basis (Art. 11, p. 4)[2]. The Bulgarian parliament recognized the ethnic minorities de facto by the ratification of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities in 1999. The legislation in both countries creates different prerequisites for preserving the cultural heritage of ethnic minorities and is a very important factor which defines the ways and means of maintaining, developing and manifesting their identities.

The case of the Crimean Tatars in Dobrudzha

The Crimean Tatars settled in Dobrudzha in several main waves after 1476, when the Crimean Khanate was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire; after 1783, when Russia conquered the Crimea; after the 1806–1812 Russo-Turkish War (when the region of Budzhak was incorporated into the Russian Empire); and especially after the Crimean War (1853–1856). Today’s Crimean Tatars in Bulgaria and Romania are descended mainly from the Crimean Tatars who emigrated after the Crimean War (Ülküsal, 1980, pp. 134–135; Karpat, 1986, pp. 275–305; Ibram, 2007, pp.9-10). Since the end of the 19th c. and beginning of the 20th c., the Dobrudzha Crimean Tatars were influenced by the emerged national movement for cultural, political and territorial autonomy that emerged among the Crimean Tatars in the Crimea (Kullberg, 2004, pp. 23–30). The last establishment of the Bulgarian-Romanian state borders in 1940 has had a stronger impact on community development as its members have been divided. Being citizens of two states with two specific policies, their cultural heritage has been preserved in different ways and their unity was destroyed by the discontinuance of the marriage, kin and social relations. During the so-called ‘socialist period’ the policy towards the Crimean Tatars in Bulgaria and Romania was inconsistent and had specific aspects. They were treated in different ways as an integral part of the local Turkish Muslim communities until the middle of the 1950s, and since the end of the their 1950s and beginning of the 1960s, as a separate community. In both countries the highly educated stratum of studied community was formed (Eminov, 2002, pp. 584–591; Аndreescu, 2005, pp. 124–128; Cupcea et all, 2015). Since 1989, this stratum has become active, functioning as the political and intellectual elite of the community. The Crimean Tatars in Romania have founded a cultural and political organization „Uniunea Democrată a Tătarilor Turco Musulmani din Romania” (UDTTMR). In Bulgaria, they have been organized in two cultural NGOs – „Asabai” (Vetovo) and „Nawrez” (Dobrich). Contemporary Crimean Tatar self-consciousness has been formed as a multidimensional self-identification with three centres – the Crimea as historical homeland in which they were formed as an ethnos (or original homeland), Turkey as their spiritual homeland which always supports them, and Bulgaria or Romania as their country of birth and citizenship. In connection with the common group notions of the homeland, the members of the community prefer using a definite set of symbols: A geographic map of the Crimea, the Crimean Tatar national flag, the traditional Crimean Tatar costume, photographs of cultural and political events and of eminent Crimean Tatar public figures, such as Mustafa Abdülcemil Kırımoğlu[3], Ismail Gaspirali (Gaspirab, Gasprinsky)[4], and others which can be seen in community’ places such as the Crimean Tatar cultural clubs in some settlements in Northern Dobrudzha (Megidia, Constanţa, and elsewhere). The preservation of the cultural heritage of the Crimean Tatars takes place not only in the domestic environment, but also it is managed by their organizations, which recreate and revive cultural elements through local, national or cross-border ethnic initiatives. Community members are actively attempting to maintain their mother tongue (within the community it is preferable to communicate in Crimean-Tatar; in Romania, language courses are organized almost every year by the initiative of the UDTTMR, etc.), to preserve and popularize their customs (community meetings, in South Dobrudzha known as Tepreș [‘Picnic’] and in North Dobrudzha known as Tatar Qureș [‘Tatar Wrestlings’], have been held every year in different settlements, since 2010, the Nawrez spring holiday, which was stopped from being celebrated during the 1970s, has been revived under artistic performances of folklore youth groups. An interesting part of the modern ethnonational symbolism of the Crimean Tatars in Dobrudzha is the Crimean Tatar National Flag. Over the past 20 years, it has become a main decorative element in the community cultural and socio-cultural activities.

The Crimean Tatar flag − the new ‘old’ emblem

The Crimean Tatar flag − a blue flag with a yellow/golden emblem (taraq tamğa) is a historical symbol, which has gained popularity among the majority of the Crimean Tatars in Dobrudzha over the past twenty years. It was the family emblem of the Giray Dynasty that ruled the Crimean Khanate. This emblem personifies the Crimea as the homeland, the cradle of the formation of the Crimean Tatar ethnos, the connection between generations and folk traditions, the ideal of honor, freedom, and independence (Sultanbekov, 2002). The Crimean Tatar flag began to be used actively after the February 1917 Revolution in Russia. In 1991, it was adopted by the Qurultay (the National Assembly of Crimean Tatars in the Crimea) as the national flag of Crimean Tatars. In Dobrudzha; it can be seen inside and outside the Crimean Tatars community’s organization centres, on festive occasions, cultural and social events, on clothes (ties, women’s artistic costumes, the clothes of judges at the yearly wrestling in North Dobrudzha), on books published by the Crimean Tatar organization [British English spells "organization" with an "S"] as the logo on their websites in Bulgaria and Romania, and so on. During my visit to one of the offices of the UDTTMR I was even offered coffee in a glass, part of a ceramic set depicted with the Crimean Tatar flag. Also, this flag was displayed in some mosques on certain occasions and was placed above the door of the mosque in Eforie Sud during the holiday of Kâdârlez (the 6th May in 2009). Today the use of the Crimean Tatar flag in Dobrudzha becomes a contemporary tradition, full of historical and ethnonational symbolism, which not only expresses the recognition of the historical heritage of the Giray dynasty, as well as the Crimean Tatars nation in the Crimea, but also is a marker of the current Crimean Tatar transborder ethnonationalism.

The case of the Roma/Gypsies in Dobrudzha

Nowadays, the Roma/Gypsies are one of the most numerous and heterogeneous ethnic communities in Bulgaria and Romania. Unlike the other ethnic minorities, they do not keep memories about their (ethnic) homeland, because their resettlement to the Balkan lands was a long process dating back before the 10th c. (Marushiakova and Popov, 2000, pp. 12–16). Within the Byzantium and the Ottoman Empire on the basis of policies and the attitude of surrounding populations towards them, they were formed as a specific metagroup community with specific ethnic structure and composition as they have been united more or less in bounded groups, divisions, and subdivisions. Their long-term establishment in the Balkan states led to re-thinking of the respective countries as their homelands. Both in Bulgaria and Romania, in the period of socialism (1944–1989), sedentary and urbanization, improving living conditions, health, education, employment targeted policies and measures were implemented. Socialist policies led to the change of their (semi) nomadic way of life, professional characteristics, and some of them abandoned their traditional occupations and orientated to employment in the agriculture and construction (Crowe, 1996, pp. 137–149; Marushiakova and Popov, 2004, pp. 9-23; Achim, 2004, pp. 190-201). The visible and invisible cultural heritage of the Muslim Roma/Gypsies in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1980s was particularly affected (Büchsenschütz, 2000, pp. 36–64).

At the beginning of the 21st c. the Roma/Gypsy presence in Dobrudzha has remained durable and almost in every settlement, there are representatives of different communities/groups. In North Dobrudzha, we can distinguish groups of the so-called Turkish or Muslim Gypsies, Tatar Gypsies, Ţigani de mătase (or ţigani românizaţi), Ursars, Kelderar Gypsies, Rudars. In South Dobrudzha, live representatives of the groups of the so-called Turkish Gypsies with Gypsy or Turkish identity, Tatar Gypsies with Crimean Tatar identity, Bulgarian Gypsies, Kalderash Gypsies and Rudars live. Often the ethnonym ‘Roma’ is not accepted by the studied community and the name ‘Gypsies’ is preferred instead. It is difficult to talk about the common cultural heritage of the Roma/Gypsy community, rather we observe common group traditions, defined by mother tongue and dialect, religious belonging (Orthodox Christianity, Islamic or Protestant), a way of life in the recent past and labor occupation (cultivators, comb-makers, coppersmiths, blacksmiths, and others), clothing, customs, and so on, which ultimately support a strong group consciousness. However, since the early 1990s, in terms of democratic changes in Bulgaria and Romania and intensification of the minorities’ social and political participation, new dimensions of a common Roma identity have been developed. This process has been influenced by the modern national policies in line with international and European standards in the field of human and minorities rights; the establishment of NGOs (Roma or mixed) with various cultural, educational and social purposes; the establishment of Roma parties (Romania) or parties with predominantly Roma electors (Bulgaria). One of the expressions of the common Roma unity is the popularization of the International Romani Day as an initiative bringing together the different Roma groups.

The 8th April, International Romani Day − the New Roma Holiday

The International Romani Day in a European Context was first officially observed in Poland on the 8th April 1990 at the Fourth Congress of the International Roma Union in honor of its establishment in 1971 in Great Britain, when the first congress was held between 7-11 April, and the international Roma flag and anthem were adopted. This special day originated with the idea of ​​being a Day of International Roma Unity but was later established as a Memorial Day to Holocaust victims during the Second World War. United Nations and European Union also announced the 8th April as International Romani Day. In Bulgaria and Romania, since 2000, the 8th April has become popular mainly in the context of the civil and political activity of the Roma as over the years it has become more and more attractive for ordinary members of the community. The activists observe it as a Day in memory of the Holocaust victims as well as a Day of the Romani culture.

In Sofia, a wreath of flowers was placed in front of the Unknown Soldier Monument and a liturgy was organized at the Aleksandar Nevski cathedral. In Varna, a solemn memorial plaque was opened (Marushiakova and Popov, 2007, p. 186). In South Dobrudzha, the International Romani Day has been observed for the first time in 2003. In Silistra, the Roma NGOs ‘Poor Brothers’ and ‘Eurohorizonti’ organized a festive program. In Kavarna, the International Romani Day was organized by the initiative of the local authorities. In 2006, Bulgarian showmen Lyubomir Neykov and Krassimir Radkov were invited and awarded for their contribution to the presentation of the cultural image of the Roma. In Dobrich, the 8th April was celebrated with a festive program, including the organization of competitions for Mr. and Ms. Roma as well as Mini Mr. and Mini Ms. Roma. In South Dobrudzha, the International Romani Day has started to be observed for the first time as a Memorial Day for Holocaust victims in 2008. At the initiative of the Roma community center ‘Romano Drom’ in Dobrich, a wreath of flowers as a sign of solidarity with Holocaust victims was placed to the monument of the biggest national historical hero Vasil Levski, ‘because he did not make difference between Bulgarians and Gypsies’. Also, the representatives of the Party of the Roma (Partida Romilor) from Romanian village of Cuza Voda attended the event. During the next decade, the 8th April has been developed with dual interpretation - in honor of the victims of the Holocaust and as a Day of the Roma culture and civil rights. In 2014, a procession in memory of Holocaust victims, a roundtable entitled ‘The Roma – not a passive object of influence but an active subject in the civil society’, competitions ‘I love and protect the nature’ for artistic products from natural and waste drawing materials and essays, and a concert with Gypsy music and dances were organized by the Roma community center and local authorities in Dobrich. In 2017, the practice of observing the 8th April has been continued by this community center in partnership with Dobrich Municipality as a photo exhibition entitled ‘Roma - Past, Present and Future’, a procession to the monument of Vasil Levski, a roundtable ‘25th Anniversary of the Adoption of the 8th April for International Holocaust Victims' Day by the UN and EU – what has been changed?’, а festive concert in the city Youth Theater was held.

In Romania, in 2006, a photo exhibition dedicated to the Holocaust victims was organized at the National Theater in Bucharest. On March 28, 2006, the 8th April was announced by the Parliament as a ‘Sărbătoarea etniei romilor din România’ [‘Holiday of the Ethnic Roma in Romania’]. In 2007, on the initiative of the Roma organization “Alianta pentru Unitatea Rromilor”, the International Romani Day was observed in Bucharest. In 2008, on the eve of the local elections, local structures of the Party of the Roma initiated celebrations in almost every larger Roma settlement. In the next years, the 8th April has continued to be observed at national and local level. In Bucharest, various events were organized at the University Square, the Crângaşi Park, and the National Art Museum. In Constanța, a festive program with the participation of Roma musicians was organized in the city center. In Tulcea, traditional Roma dances were performed at the School of Arts and Crafts, as well as School Olympiad on Roma language was held. At the initiative of local authorities and Roma organizations in different settlements in Dobrudzha, as well as in Bulgaria and Romania, the International Romani Day has gained popularity among the members of the surveyed community as a multi-layered occasion to honor the memory of the Holocaust victims and the Roma cultural heritage and civil activity to be shown. Despite my earlier doubts that the 8th April will remain an event involving only the Roma activists (Erolova, 2010, p. 180), the observing of this day has become a tradition that engages in various forms the local Gypsies and partly the surrounding majority society.

The case of the Russian Old Believers in Dobrudzha

The Russian Old Believer diaspora community, known as ‘starovery’, ‘nekrasovtzi’, ‘lipovani’ or ‘kazatzi’, dispersed all over the world, was formed as a result of the migration processes from the Russian lands caused by the reforms of Patriarch Nikon during the 17th c. and the Europeanization policy of Peter I (1682–1725) at the end of 17th c. and the first quarter of the 18th c. Their settlement in Dobrudzha lasted during the 18th, the 19th and the beginning of the 20th c. (Klyuchevskiy, 1993). During the socialist period in Bulgaria and Romania the Old Believers as religious community were not influenced by the communist ideology and politics, and especially by the propagandized atheism. Their low number and Russian ethnicity were some of the reasons they remained unaffected by any possible reprisals. Since the beginning of the communist regime in Bulgaria, many Old Believers began to migrate to the USSR. Half of the population of the Bulgarian villages of Tataritza and Kazashko moved to the regions of Kuban, Herson, and Odessa (Prigarin, 2004, p. 32). In both countries, as rural people, they were employed mainly in local agricultural and fishing cooperatives, and in local industries (Anastasova, 2006, p. 26). Thus, for many Old Believers their specific traditional occupation became from main labour employment to a hobby. In Romania, a School of pedagogy with Russian language and Lyceum were founded as many members of the studied community were educated there. Today they represent the Russian Lipovan intelligence in the country. Since 1989, when the political conditions in Romania and Bulgaria have changed, a new trend in self-identification of the Russians Old Believers has occurred, related to their socio-political activity. In Romania, the so-called ‘Lipovan intelligence’ created their own organization “Comunitatea Ruşilor Lipoveni în România” (CRLR) [Community of the Russians Lipovan in Romania] which issuing bilingual newspapers „Zorile/Зори” and „Kitej-grad”, books, organizesd conferences and symposiums, dedicated to the Russian language and culture, folk festivals, holidays, language courses, and support (re)construction of the Old Believers’ churches. Its main purpose is to unite the community members and to develop their ethnic, cultural, language and religious identity (Moldovan, 2006, p. 275). The policy concept of the Old Believers’ organization includes ‘return’ to their Russian roots through active relations with Russia, study of literary Russian language, literature and history, preservation and promotion of Russian culture, etc. Their socio-political activity leads to enhancing of their identity and self-awareness as Russians, as a modern European minority. In Bulgaria, social and political activism of the Old Believers is limited mainly on local level, but they have been reflected widely by the national media, in connection with the activities, organized by the Mayor of Kazashko. In public, the Cossack origin of the Old Believers in Kazashko is always emphasized by the Mayor and community members (Еrolova, 2010, pp. 214-220). Religious identification is the most specific part of the Old Believers’ culture, which has characterized the community for centuries and continues to play an important role in their identification. Usually, their religious consciousness dominated the ethnic one and is entangled with historical memories for their resettlement from Russian lands. Being Old Believer means to believe deeply in certain religious ideas and to observations established within the community norms, prohibitions and behavior [again my American spell-check caused me to change the British spelling] every day and festive life. Old Believers in Dobrudzha belong to two major religious denominations (soglasia): popovtzi (“with priests” in sense of people who recognize the priest), famous also as ‘lipovani’; and bezpopovtzi, (‘priestless’, in sense of people who do not recognize the priest), famous also as ‘cossacs’. The main reason for the differences between both groups is the lack of priests in religious rituals of the bezpopovtzi community until the end of the 20th c. (the religious life was led by an old man aware of religious norms, called dyak). Popovtzi are part of the dioceses of the Old Ritual Orthodox Church of Belaya Krinitza in Braila. Priestless’ Old Believers are organized into religious communities (in Romania: Slava Rusă, Slava Cercheză, Sarichioi, Mahmudia; Bulgaria: Kazashko). Last decade some of them recognized the authority of the Russian Old Orthodox church called “Novozybkovo soglasie” in Russia and the term ‘priestess’ become conditional name, because they start to recognize Novozybkovo’ priests. On the other hand, not all priestless’ Old Believers recognized this church hierarchy and continue to maintain the old traditional church structure without a priest, with a self-taught traditional leader in newly created houses of worship.

In modern times, industrialization, globalization and intense mobility towards and within the EU, as well as the national political, economic and civil legislation affect community development and traditions of the Russian Old Believers in Bulgaria and Romania, who for a long time have formed a community with a relatively closed and conservative culture. A number of elements such as the dialect spoken by them, marital endogamy, family customs, etc. dropped out or changed. Among these elements is their traditional clothing, whose use and functions have been changed as well.

The modern use of the Old Believer traditional clothing

The Old Believer clothing has two forms - everyday and traditional (or ritual). Everyday dress is formed under the influence of the surrounding Bulgarian or Romanian society, or different world fashionable lines. Traditional female and male costume contains rich symbolism reflecting the moral concepts of purity, shame, decency, etc. related to the community ascetic ideal model. Today, they dress up with these traditional costumes by religious-church obligation, when they attend the religious rituals and visit their churches on Sunday. Thus, this type of clothing has been re-thought as a ritual one. For a long time, the community’s churches are inaccessible to non-Old Believers, but in the last two decades they have been open to outside visitors. Along with that, traditional clothing also has begun to be used outside the surveyed community and its church-religious life on occasion of different national and local sociocultural events. The traditional female dress includes: a full-bodied shirt (‘sorochka’) or a two-piece costume (‘chehlik’, ‘talichka’) - blouse (‘kofta’) and skirt (‘shubka’, ‘yubka’). Also, there is another costume called ‘sarafan’, which becomes a distinctive sign of Priestless Old Believers. In Kazashko, Bulgaria it is described as ‘the old Don costume of the female followers of Nekrasov’ (Romanska, 1960, p. 579; Prigarin, 2006, pp. 288-289). A specific part of this dress is the headscarf, which covers their long-braided hair. In the past, two- or three-piece headscarf were used together as each piece has different forms and name − kichka’, ‘kosyak’, ‘platok’. Today, only one or two-piece headscarf is used. Men's traditional or ritual clothing in the North and South Dobrudzha includes: trousers (‘shtany’) and shirt (‘rubashka’, ‘kosovorotka’, ‘gosheyka’). The shirt is dressed over the top of the trousers and girdled with a knit belt (Komenesku, 1998, pp. 274-275). Specific and distinctive part of the male clothing within the two religious denomination of the surveyed community are the so-called ‘Lipovanian rubashka’ (shirt, used by popovtzi) and ‘podevka’ (a kind of black cassock, used by bezpopovtzi) (Romanska, 1960, pp. 576-577). Long beards were also part of the traditional vision of the men until the 1960s and it was an expression of their notion about ascetic way of life and striving to avoidance vanity. In the past, the clean shaven man was not allowed into the church in the village of Kazashko (Anastasova, 1998, pp. 56-57) and the man who married must have a beard (Prigarin, 2006, pp. 292-293). Today, this prohibition does not exist. Only the elderly men and church officials have long beards. An important element of traditional and modern male and female ritual clothing (used only in church-religious customs and rituals) is the wearing of a long-plaited belt separating the ‘clean’ from the ‘unclean’ half of the body. Also, they function as a gender distinctive sign as the men’s belts are darker colored and tied to the right while the women’s lighter belts are tied on the left. During my field studies in Tulcea in 2009, these belts could be purchased from the local Old Believers church, which further confirms the opening of the Old Believers culture to surrounding society. The silver or metallic cross necklace is an indispensable element of the everyday and ritual modern and traditional clothing of the Old Believers. They begin to wear it from the moment they are baptized and it should not be taken off. It is a symbol of confessional belonging and continues to be worn regardless of the changes that occur in their clothing.

In the present, there is an interesting tendency related to traditional (ritual) clothing. It begins to be used not only when Old Believers visit a church, but also in various secular and calendar holidays celebrated outside of the church, when the community’s folklore groups are invited, on the occasion of the cultural events such as the Day of Minorities in Romania (December the 18th) or the Christmas celebration in village of Kazashko, Bulgaria (January the 7th). Various community’s local folklore groups use their traditional or recreated costumes as a demonstration of their ethnocultural Russian affiliation. For example, one of the folklore groups in the village of Kazashko always emphasizes their Don Cossack origin before their performance. Although nowadays, all ethnic communities in most cases use their traditional costumes as a cultural brand in the process of their socio-cultural participation in various events, in the Old Believer community the popularization of their clothing in this way is not unambiguously perceived. The use of this traditional dress out of the ritual life provokes the dissatisfaction of their spiritual leaders, according to whom, this kind of clothing was intended to be worn only in the church. Thus, observing the change of the clothing functions, it can be concluded that the issue of preserving, recreating and popularization of the cultural heritage has become debatable within the studied community. In fact, the dissatisfaction of the more conservative Old Believers is not against the preservation of traditions, butccc is against the secular use of ritual elements such as clothing, which was an expression of the ascetic-moral worldview of the once religious community, but now it has become a kind of cultural brand of modern ethnic minority opening and brings them closer to the surrounding society.

Concluding notes

In the context of the influence of a modern globalizing society and technical innovations, supplemented by the contemporary political and ethnocultural conditions in Bulgaria and Romania which determine the parameters of ethnic communities development, the cultural heritage of the studied cases of the Crimean Tatars, the Roma/Gypsies and the Russian Old Believers has been rethinking as many of their traditions have fallen out of use and have been recreated with a new sense or newly invented ‘traditions.' The opportunities for social and political participation on the national stage, in accordance with European standards, are a factor that mobilizes these communities, who reconstruct their identities and express them through different markers fulfilled with ‘old’ and ‘new’ cultural content. The examples of the Crimean Tatar flag, the International Romani Day, and the Old Believer clothing are elements with historical reference, which E. Hobsbawm discusses as an invention of tradition. Leading by their local elites, different surveyed communities in Bulgaria and Romania perceived them more or less as distinctive features which ‘serve’ to promote their modern minority image. In brief, the ethnic minority communities have different responses to the external cultural, technical, political and other influences, in order to be distinct and not to be unified with the surrounding majority. Based on their history and cultural heritage, the (re)invented traditions function as ethnic or ethnonational symbols, which distance them from the expanding global culture and mark their new identity boundaries.


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[1] The state guarantees the minorities’ right to preserve, develop and express ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity (Romanian constitution, Art. 6). Ethnic minorities are entitled to participate in the central authority of the country by choosing a representative in the Chamber of Deputies (Art. 62, p. 2). Ethnic minorities’ organizations have the right to participate in the local elections and to broadcast their local councillors and mayors.

[2] Despite this constitutional ban on forming political parties on ethnic and religious ground a number of ‘ethnic’ parties in Bulgaria have been established with the support of a particular ethnic electorate.

[3] Known also by his Ukrainised family name Dzhemilev, Mustafa Abdülcemil Kırımoğlu is the Chairman of the Medzhlis (National Assembly) of the Crimean Tatar People (1993-2013).

[4] Ismail Gaspirali or Gasprinsky is a leading figure in the history of the Crimean Tatars and the contemporary Islamic movement. He was one of the founders of the Union of Muslims in the Russian Empire in 1907.