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Health, hygiene and Romani assimilation in Austria and Hungary from an intersectional perspective, 1956–1989

Projektmitarbeiterin: Dr. Eszter Varsa

“One glance at this picture is enough to understand the bad hygienic condition [of the Gypsy population],” Egészségtudomány: Az Egészségügyi Minisztérium Tudományos Folyóirata [Health Science: The Scientific Journal of the Hungarian Ministry of Health], 1967.

This project looks at the similarities and differences between health care/health education policies and practices in relation to Roma and non-Roma populations under two different political regimes: in Western Hungary under the post-Stalinist phase of state socialism and Eastern Austria during the same period, following the end of the country's occupation by the Soviet Union in 1955. It addresses health care-/health education-related empirical evidence in order to enrich the theoretical exploration of the Cold War, especially continuities/changes in the uses of medicine as a form of politics in the Cold War.

The objective of the research is to theoretically enrich and fill gaps in research on the history of Roma, and the history of medicine, health and hygiene. At the intersection of several disciplines, including history (in particular the social history of Roma and the history of medicine), sociology, gender studies, this research applies theoretical frameworks and research methodology, in particular intersectionality, from the areas of gender studies and sociology to the fields of Romani historiography and the historiography of medicine, health and hygiene.

The research is based on qualitative methodology. It addresses four interrelated levels:

  1. the role international actors played in Europe in promoting health education in the Cold War period,
  2. national policy-making in the field of health care in Austria and Hungary,
  3. institutional practice at the health departments of the Municipalities of Vienna and Budapest and two regions with a higher density of Romani population: Burgenland in Austria and Szabolcs-Szatmár County in Hungary,
  4. the individual lived experience on basis of in-depth interviews.

Project-related publications

  • Eszter Varsa: “The (Final) Solution of the Gypsy-Question:” Continuities in Discourses about Roma in Hungary, 1940s-1950s. In: Nationalities Papers 45, 1, 2017. Online am 2.12.2016, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00905992.2016.1241221
  • Eszter Varsa: “The Size of the Gypsy Population Is Constantly Growing”: Roma and the Politics of Reproduction in Northeastern Hungary, 1950s–1980s. In: Sara Bernasconi, Heike Karge and Friederike Kind-Kovacs (eds). Health, Welfare and The (Un-)Making of States and Societies in Eastern Europe. New York: CEU Press (forthcoming).
  • Eszter Varsa: “Respect girls as future mothers”: Sex education as family life education in state socialist Hungary, 1950s-1980s. In: Kinder Machen? Menschliche Reproduktion und Familienplanung im Wertewandel des 20. Jahrhunderts, Ann-Katrin Gembries, Isabel Heinemann, and Theresia Theuke, ed. Oldenbourg: De Gruyter (forthcoming 2017).
  • Eszter Varsa (with Karin Reemtsma): Roma. In: Lexikon zur Geschichte Südosteuropas. 2. ed. Holm Sundhaussen and Konrad Clewing, ed. (Wien, Köln Weimar: Böhlau Verlag 2015), 787-791.

The project was supported by the Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship
(grant number FP7-MC-IEF-331555).

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