Filip Borev: Ben Needham and Maria - why are Roma people still seen as ‘baby snatching gypsies’?
This week, two cases of suspected child abduction have made headlines - and central to both stories was the role of Roma communities in the alleged crimes. Blonde-haired, blue-eyed Maria was removed from her adoptive Roma parents by police, who suspected them of stealing her. In Cyprus, DNA tests were carried out on a 22-year-old Roma man living in Cyprus - authorities suspected he could be Briton Ben Needham, who disappeared on the island of Kos at the age of two.
In this blog, 18-year-old writer and British Romani Filip Borev – who blogs at Pipopotamus - examines what the media reaction to these stories reveals about public prejudice towards Roma people.
Read the blog, and tell us what you think on the thread below.
Posted on: Thu 31-Oct-13 11:13:08
(53 comments )
Since Maria was discovered living in a Roma neighbourhood in Greece, the Roma have been the target of a piercing force of media attention. Maria, with her blonde hair and pale skin, was assumed to be the victim of child abduction. Her carers were detained and she was snatched from the only home, family and culture she had ever known. The story supposedly brought hope - Maria was referred to as the Greek Maddie and it was believed the girl must belong to a grieving white family, desperate to be reunited with their missing daughter. Indeed, the media was quick to point the finger and condemned the entire Romani community as potential child abductors. Yet, a shocking twist to the story soon emerged. Maria the blonde Angel had not been stolen. Rather, the mystery girl was in fact Roma herself. She had not been trafficked, sold or kidnapped she was the daughter of a Bulgarian Roma couple too destitute to bring her up. Given these revelations, then, why has the media continued to refer to Maria in the cases of Ben Needham and Madeleine McCann?
Essentially, we are discussing two entirely separate situations. On the one hand, we have two suspected child abductions; on the other, the failure to adhere to the process of official adoption. Unlike the McCanns, Marias parents were aware of their daughters whereabouts. There is nothing (other than speculation) to suggest that Maria was bought or sold or that she came to any harm. Yet the baby snatching Gypsy stereotype remains. Just days after Marias discovery, two blonde Roma children were seized by the Gardai in Ireland and carted off for DNA testing. Both were proven to be the biological children of their parents - victims of racist speculation and guesswork. Whats more, their ordeal marked the start of a media witchhunt against the Romani people.
It seems perfectly acceptable to find 'brown' Roma children living in an impoverished slum, but deeply shocking to discover a 'blonde angel' amid the destitution that blights the lives of the Romani people.
The suspected abduction of Ben Needham, a 21-month-old boy who disappeared from the island of Kos in 1991, has long been linked to the Roma. Again, this connection has been built on speculation alone: there has never been any evidence to suggest that Ben was abducted by the Roma. Nevertheless, his family has this week described how the discovery of Maria - a Roma child who was informally adopted - has brought them hope. Predictably, photographs soon appeared of a fair-haired man thought to be living in a Roma community in Cyprus. The media was whipped into a frenzy had they, at long last, discovered an actual Gypsy abduction? The answer was, yet again, no. The young man in question handed himself in to authorities in Cyprus. His DNA results came back negative.
After four suspected abductions are proven false in just two weeks, just why are the media maintaining their futile accusations against the Roma? I suspect the media are bitterly disappointed by the outcome of Maria’s story – a case that was built on skin colour alone. A white Roma child deeply unsettles the notion of ‘whiteness’. Maria’s story made headlines because of the privileges that are associated with white skin. It seemed perfectly acceptable to find ‘brown’ Roma children living in an impoverished slum, but deeply shocking to discover a ‘blonde angel’ amongst the destitution that blights the lives of the Romani people. Upon learning that Maria was indeed Roma; her skin colour remained paramount to her future. She was not returned to her family - instead she remains in the care of a charity, possibly facing a future of institutions. Her Romani blood does not fit with conceptions of whiteness and now she has been thrust into a society that is so intolerant of the Romani people, she is certain to be stripped of her cultural identity.
With the media now uninterested in pursuing the story of a little Roma girl who is the victim of poverty, they have instead turned their attention to children more deserving of their time - Ben Needham and Madeleine McCann. What will become of little Maria, well likely never know; we will, however, no doubt be swamped with further hearsay and speculation about 12 million Romani people suspected of being prolific child abductors. As with all ethnicities there are good and bad people - some may be child abductors, but the majority are not. There are wicked people from all walks of life and to narrow the search for a missing child to one community holds very little benefit. Im not a parent and I do not know the pain of losing a child, yet one thing I know for certain is that the Needhams and McCanns answers wont be found in a futile Roma witchhunt.
By Filip Borev
I have just watched this documentary today. It's very interesting and it puts a slightly more realistic slant on things than our young blogger friend, I think.
I admire his passion but I think he's rather blinkered.
Do watch all of it if you have a spare hour - don't just comment after watching ten minutes.
Great article, well written and thought out. I also can't believe you are only 18!
I hope someone is campaigning to get Maria back to her adoptive parents if she was happy there.
"Us gipsies don't steal babies, whatever they may tell you when you're naughty. We've enough of our own mostly." From Five Children and It.
E Nesbit wrote this in 1902. I don't think our views on the Roma have moved on in over a century.
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