Honorary doctor at the University of Södertörn conducts anti-ziganist research

Södertörns högskola

Swedish University of Södertörn (outside Stockholm) gives a program in Roma Studies. At the same time, the university has given the title of Doctor Honoris Causa, honorary doctor, to a person accused of anti-zigamism. This sounded unbelievable, so DIKKO decided to call the university to hear how this could be. 

Elena Marushiakova has been criticized for associating the Roma with negative characteristics she claims to be genetically conditioned. Through this, she is manifesting anti-ziganist stereotypes. We feel it is problematic to have an honorary doctor with this attitude at the same time as you give a program in Roma Studies. 

We called Peter Dobers, Chairman of The Faculty:

Can you understand the worries it has caused among us belonging to this minority, when it on such a high level is a woman manifesting anti-ziganist stereotypies in her academical research? 

I understand your perspective if you read her works from that specific point of view, but from our broader examination of them, neither we nor others have been able to confirm what you and others read into them. The thing with academical papers, is that you can read the material in many ways, says Peter Dobers.

If we, for instance, take a look at what Marushiakova brings forth in her research and her papers, things Peter Dobers finds open for alternative interpretations, there are some of her contributions to the annals of history which stand out.

Marushiakova has since 2001 been involved in genetical research, which is nothing short of racial biology. She also consequently uses the word ’Zigeuner’ (Gypsy), and has been criticized for this by the Roma community since 1991.

She also consequently uses a terminology concerning the Roma People, usually exclusively used about animals. For example she decribes how the ’Zigeuners’ are invasive, don’t want to be domesticated, and that Roma individuals have a number of congenital characteristics impossible to remove by training.

She writes: ”you are born a Gypsy, you can’t become a Gypsy, and you are a Gypsy throughout your whole life”. She also states that the term ’Roma’ is a politically correct word without relevance, and she dismisses the inclusion of Roma in the study of Roma as equally to be an adjustment to Political Correctness.

Still, all of this was brought forward in a letter to the University leadership before she was given the title of Doctor Honoris Causa. They knew. All of this, in a Swedish university, in the year 2020.

The interview with Peter Dobers continues in the earlier way, without much substance either in real answers or explicit statements. 

The critique against her is very serious. Do you take it seriously?

Yes, and so does the Faculty Board, but The University leadership has adressed the issue as well, says Peter Dobers.

So, you are still satisfied with the decision you have made concerning Elena Marushiakova and her honorary doctorate?

If we look forward, we clearly see that the Roma Studies under Jan Selling is important for the University. Those who are behind the appointment of Elena Marushiakova to Doctor Honoris Causa will soon no longer be part of The University, says Peter Dobers.

Regarding the question about their education in Roma Studies, Peter Dobers refers it to Jan Selling, leader of the program. DIKKO called him to get some clearance, and in hope of a more nuanced picture of what really has been going on at The University of Södertörn.

What do the students learn at the program of Roma Studies?

According to our definition of the subject, Roma Studies includes Roma, Roma interaction with others and other’s perspective on and interaction with Roma People. At the University of Södertörn, we have focused specifically on The Roma right to school and education, on anti-ziganism, on the language Romani Chib and on Roma History, says Jan Selling.

Is Elena Marushiakova’s anti-ziganistic research representative for the University of Södertörn or does the program see human beings from a more contemporary and less stale perspective?

All among the now appointed researchers and teachers on the program for Roma Studies have clearly distanced themselves from the tradition in research represented by Elena Marushiakova. We have made this through a letter to the University management because we find that tradition embossed with anti-ziganism, says Jan Selling

It’s stated in the aims of several of the included subjects, that we want the students to become able to identify and critically reflect on this kind of anti-ziganism. When the program was formed, rather recently, we clearly declared that Roma Studies at The University of Södertörn associates us with the parts of this academical field that challenges antiquated, colonial and racist perspectives.

This field is called Critical Roma Studies, and we cooperate closely with Roma researchers at CEU, Harvard and ERIAC on this. I also believe there is trust in us among Roma communities in Sweden, notable for instance from how ordinary and doctoral students of Roma origin have found their way here.

The conversation with Jan Selling clarifies that parts of the University leadership would do best by taking some time off themselves and enter the program in Roma Studies. This in order to appear less as they missed the train leaving the 1930s and the horrible values that penetrated it. 

After the interviews, it has become clear that the leadership for The University of Södertörn has made an active and conscious appointment in Marushiakova, in spite of a big part of their staff pointing out the exorbitance in it.

They have appointed a Doctor Honoris Causa with a career entirely built from bricks of anti-ziganist stereotypes, with a method in research based on racial biology.

It is also perfectly clear how they find the terminology she uses being representative for The University. The Chairman of The Faculty also states that it is a matter of perspective whether a diminishing expression about a People really IS diminishing or not.

There is indeed a good program in Roma Studies at The University of Södertörn, no doubt an adequate university education. 

That is also why it appears truly macabre to give an honorary doctorate to person with a perspective that had been more fitting in Nazi Germany than in Sweden in the 21st century.

Artikeln på svenska Hedersdoktor på Södertörns högskola bedriver antiziganistisk forskning

Rektor Gustav Ambergs, Södertörns Högskola, kontaktade DIKKO den 30 april med en önskan om en replik på artikeln. Södertörns högskolas klargörande om valet av hedersdoktor

Linda Lundqvist

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