WASHINGTON – The last couple of weeks have seen an inordinate amount of media attention focused on Europes Roma community, also known as gypsies. The biggest international story is that of Maria, the blonde, blue-eyed girl removed by police from a couple during a raid on a camp in Greece when they became suspicious that she looked nothing like her darker-skinned parents.
DNA tests confirmed that the child was not related to the couple, sparking a continent-wide search for her biological parents. The couple say the girl was not abducted, that it was an adoption that was not exactly legal but took place with the mothers consent. This is plausible, though further investigations have shown that the couple had used multiple names to register 14 children in three different cities, perhaps as part of a government benefits scam. Greek authorities have ordered an investigation of thousands of birth certificates issued in the last five years and three more Roma have already been arrested in a similar case.
While it certainly seems like something not-quite-above-board was going on here, the case has raised fears that the case of the blonde angel, as she has been called in the Greek media, could reignite old myths of gypsies seizing white children. When ancient prejudices combine with the tabloid medias fixation on missing blonde children, its hard to imagine anything good coming from it.
In the wake of the case, two Roma children in Ireland – a 7-year-old girl near Dublin and a 2-year-old boy in County Westmeath – were returned to their parents shortly after being seized by police. In the girls case, DNA tests proved she was the couples child.
Meanwhile, France is having its own Roma controversy, with students protesting the expulsion of two teen-agers, including a 15-year-old Kosovar girl who was pulled off a school bus so she could be deported along with her family. The girls mother has been beaten and hospitalized back in Kosovo.
President Francois Hollande has suggested that the girl could return without her family, an idea that didnt really satisfy either side. Hollandes Interior Minister Manuel Valls had created controversy by calling for the Roma to be expelled and saying they would never be integrated into society. These populations have ways of life that are extremely different from ours, and which obviously are in confrontation with ours, he said.
Anti-Roma sentiment tends to become more intense during times of economic distress, and that certainly seems to have been the case during the most recent economic crisis, demonstrated most vividly by the rise of the viciously anti-Roma Jobbik party in Hungary.
Its not quite clear where all this is heading, but it certainly seems like this month could be remembered as something of a turning point for Europes Roma.