Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Roma Fear for Safety of Their Own Children Accusations of Child Stealing Have Fanned a Violent Backlash against the Roma in Europe

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Roma Fear for Safety of Their Own Children Accusations of Child Stealing Have Fanned a Violent Backlash against the Roma in Europe

Article excerpt

PARIS -- For centuries across Europe, children were raised on folk tales with a disturbing message: Do not wander into the woods, or you risk being snatched by Gypsies.

Such a warning seems like an anachronism from medieval times. But the stereotype of the child-stealing Gypsy has been reawakened since last week, when a Roma couple in Greece were jailed on accusations that they had abducted a blond, green-eyed child called Maria -- dubbed "the blond angel" in the Greek media. This week, two blond, blue-eyed Roma children were taken from their parents in Ireland following suspicions that they had been abducted, too.

The children in Ireland were quickly returned to their families after DNA testing confirmed that the Roma were their parents. In Greece, police confirmed Friday that Maria was the child of a Roma couple from Bulgaria. An investigation continues into whether Maria was sold, adopted or given to the couple in Greece, as they have claimed.

Whatever the outcome, the Roma say it is they who now live in fear -- of having their children snatched for no reason other than their cultural identity or skin color. The cases, they say, have helped fan a sometimes-violent backlash against the roughly 11 million Roma across Europe. In an era of budget cuts and high unemployment, politicians on both the left and right have singled out the Roma as emblematic of the problems of illegal immigration and questioned whether they can ever be integrated.

"Imagine if the situation were reversed, and the children were brown and the parents were white. Would they have ever been taken away?" said Dezideriu Gergely, director of the European Roma Rights Center in Budapest. "The most dangerous consequence of the hysteria is that now we have to live in fear that our children can be removed from us on the basis of a wrong perception. No one should be profiled on the basis of their ethnicity."

Mr. Gergely, a human rights lawyer who has a Roma father and a white Romanian mother, noted that many Roma, who arrived in Europe from India centuries ago and are also called Gypsies, came from mixed families. He has light skin and blue eyes, which he said punctured the widespread stereotype that Roma have dark hair and dusky complexions.

"It is mystifying that those accused of criminality are seen to represent the Roma community," he said, noting that if people engaged in human trafficking, it was because of severe poverty, not their cultural background. "Applying collective responsibility to the entire Roma community is unacceptable."

Despite such warnings, anti-Roma sentiment appears to be spreading. On Wednesday, Serbian media reported that over the weekend a group of skinheads in Novi Sad, in central Serbia, had tried to abduct a Roma child in front of his house because his skin was fairer than that of his father, Stefan Nikolic. …

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