The two recent cases of allegations of Roma child abducting in Greece and Ireland are telling the public more than the usual media is saying. They are about antigypsyism and its influence in the European and Anglo-Saxon cultures. They are about racial profiling practices extended to social services, media and the public at large. They are about violations of privacy and family life based on racist believes about Roma and supported by a significant part of the public due to extensive media coverage. But let’s start with the cases, get the lessons we might learn from these cases and also raise some questions.
In Greece a white-skinned, blonde, blue-eyed girl, Maria, is picked up by police, tested together with her dark-skinned parents, accusations launched that the ‘white angel’ was abducted by Gypsies and a quest to find the biological parents of the white girl. In Ireland, following the public hysteria following the case in Greece, another white-skinned girl is removed from her Roma family, under the same accusations that Roma have abducted the “white girl”, DNA tests conducted and media reports spreading all over the world with the potential news confirming widely-held prejudices that Gypsies are stealing children. In the city of Novi Sad in Serbia far right groups were also trying to identify abducted white-skinned children within the Roma neighbourhood. They did not find any… In the Irish case the DNA tests results showed that the girl was the biological daughter of the Roma parents. She was traumatized only because she was a light-skinned Roma. In the Greek drama, the DNA tests proved that in spite of the allegations, Maria was the biological daughter of a Roma couple from Bulgaria. She was placed in temporary custody care and her future is unclear at the moment as her adoption by her parents was not formalised/legalised. The trauma inflicted on her could be hardly described by anyone. Again, Maria’s light skin and other physical characteristic played a significant role in the case.
The first question that comes to my mind is why such facts become breaking news in Europe and North America? In fact child disappearance is, unfortunately, a frequent phenomenon. But here is not even about child disappearance… It is also not about child kidnapping as there were no formal complaints and none was reported missing. So, what is the news about? It is the embedded antigypsyism in the European and Anglo-Saxon culture that made the news. The public imaginary depicts Roma as dark-skinned or blacks capable of all crimes, including stealing white children from their parents. Folklore, as shown by Peter McGuire, presents one side of this image of Roma. In educating their children, many parents are using this ‘imagined” characteristic of Roma as child-stealer: “behave or I will give you to Gypsies” is a frequently used formula by such parents. The fact that some Roma are white-skinned, blonde and blue-eyed contradicts this public imaginary of black Roma. Consequently, they have done something bad and, without any evidences, law enforcement officials and social services feel obliged to investigate such “crimes”. Had they known little about Roma, they would have learned that Roma groups are quite diverse and, due to historical and complex relations with non-Roma ( jus primae noctis) that resulted in genetic mixture, some Roma have physical characteristics that do not distinguish them from the non-Roma.
The second thing these cases are telling us is that racial profiling is not only a practice among law enforcement officials. Social services employees, journalists and a significant part of the public were very suspicious as well and supported the violations of the privacy of these Roma families based on their racist believe that Roma cannot be white skinned, blonde and blue-eyed. What was the justification for the authorities’ intervention in these cases others than arguments based on physical characteristics of children and parents? What evidences supported their intervention? Was the public reaction in these cases normal – normal in the sense that the public mobilizes against such intrusion into the privacy and family life of these families? Was media coverage sensitive to the issue? I let the reader answer these questions but we have to ask them and think of what happened out of our own mind sets when it comes to Roma (out of the box?!)
What will be next? The simple answer is ‘I do not know’. Logically, although when it comes to Roma logic could be disregarded as proven by history, things should return to daily routine. In Ireland there is hope that an investigation would be launched on the case. In Greece, Maria should be immediately returned to her family (of course the parents in Greece as these are the parents she knows of) and her parents should be assisted to legalize the informal adoption that happened years ago. How will these families, especially the children involved, go over the trauma they suffered these days? Will someone pay for the violation of privacy and family life in these cases? The justice served in these cases will be a good indicator of the commitment to rights and fairness in these societies.
But let’s also get the positive side: now at least thanks to media, many non-Roma learned that (wondering if Nazis would have been proud of the way to uncover the non-Aryans) Roma are diverse not only in terms of languages spoken, religion denomination followers, degree of assimilation/integration, kinship and exposure to multiple cultures but also diverse as physical characteristics, i.e. Roma are not only “blacks” but also “whites” as well as “grey”. This might be a step in combating antigypsyism and the usual depiction of Roma. Or at least could be seen like that if there is some awareness that such practices are not ok and something has to be learned out of the cases. It also depends on how Roma and human rights activist react to such cases. They should use the opportunity arisen by these cases to promote an open debate about Roma and non-Roma relations in society free of accusations and beyond political correctness.
Humour and irony have to be part of the lessons learned as well. Thus, I propose the use of a new instrument which might tell authorities who is Roma and who is not: the GYPSY-O-METER! Satisfaction 100% guaranteed and affordable prices for everyone! Any buyers?!