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The Yeniche Minority

Project by Anja Joos (Doctoral Candidate)

On the significance of mobility and residency rights.

A comparative case study on the situation of the Yeniche minority in Germany and Switzerland.

(working title)

Front page of: "Scharotl. Die Zeitung des Fahrenden Volkes", 8/1979, with kind permission of the Radgenossenschaft der Landstraße.


This project focuses on members of the Yeniche minority. Because of their mobile life-work-arrangement in the past they were often called “Landfahrer”. Today, most members of the minority have settled down. They mainly live in Southern Germany, Switzerland and in Alsace. Nevertheless, the mobile tradition is still an important part for this socio-cultural group on various aspects of life.
Their history is characterized by social marginalization and discrimination. During the NS regime they were persecuted as “asocial elements” in Germany. In Switzerland the government took away their children and organized sterilizations with the aim to break of with their “Wandertrieb” (habit for wandering). In the 1970th the Swiss Yeniche started to organize themselves in order to end and overcome with these incidences. They were fighting for compensations for this unjust treatment and for the recognition as a national minority. In 1998 the Swiss Federal Council decided that „Fahrende“ is a national minority group in Switzerland. Thereby, the Swiss Confederation has committed itself to support the conditions for the practice and the preservation of this culture. In Germany they do not possess a special legal status as a minority and they have not received any compensations for the persecution during the NS period yet. Because of negative experience, Yeniche are often not keen to reveal their origin.
Within a qualitative case study this dissertation project compares the current political and legal conditions in Germany and Switzerland to discover which impact they have on the daily life of the Yeniche. The multi-local ethnographic research will partially be mobile and will mainly take place in Zurich (CH) and Singen/Hohentwiel (DE), where larger groups of Yeniche live. This explorative project combines an analysis on the level of individual actors and the level of regulations. Particularly the viewpoint of the Yeniche is of interest. The project focuses on three main topics:


  • The narratives of origin will be explored to show how knowledge is generated and how sense is constructed in reference to the Yeniche. Thus, it is possible to relate interpretations which are circulating inside and outside the group.
  • On the legal level, human rights, protection of minorities and basic rights, that are related to the tension between mobility and residence, will be surveyed. Especially two fields of practice will be analyzed: halting sites as well as the access to education.
  • Mobile life worlds: This legal dimension has a direct influence on the reality of life for the Yeniche and their everyday life. The whole spectrum of mobility will be considered. This means especially the form mobility takes, reasons and times of travel as well as how mobility is arranged and how mobility is perceived and interpreted by Yeniche.


The data will be collected by an ethnographic research, which is mainly based on participating observation and interviews. Beside Yeniche interviewees, also people from outside, like representatives from relevant institutions linked to the Yeniche, will be integrated into this study.

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