News / Europe

The Case of Baby Maria: Understanding Europe’s Roma

Bulgarian Romani, Sasha Ruseva (L), 35, holds her son Atanas, 2, as she speaks to media outside her house in the town of Nikolaevo, some 280km (173miles) east of Sofia October 24, 2013.
Bulgarian Romani, Sasha Ruseva (L), 35, holds her son Atanas, 2, as she speaks to media outside her house in the town of Nikolaevo, some 280km (173miles) east of Sofia October 24, 2013.
Cecily Hilleary
For more than a week now much of the global media has been fixated on “baby Maria,” a young blond girl who authorities seized from a Romani couple near Farsala in central Greece on the basis of her fair complexion.  The couple was arrested and charged with welfare fraud and child abduction.

DNA tests have proved that a Bulgarian Roma woman is the biological mother of the little girl in Greece the press dubbed as “the blond angel.”  The woman, Sasha Ruseva, says she gave birth to the baby while working in Greece four years ago and left her in the care of her Roma employers because she could not afford to keep her. 

Maria has been placed into the care of Smile of the Child, a children’s advocacy group with ties to several international centers for missing and exploited children.  No decision has been made about where she will eventually live. 

Christos Failadis, press counselor at the Embassy of Greece in Washington, D.C., says he is pleased that the mystery of “Maria” has been solved.  “It is a great moment for Greek police, investigators and prosecutors.” 

“Media have been mobilized by the Smile of the Child because Maria could have been a victim of child trafficking,” he said.

While the media has provided non-stop coverage of the case, much of it has tapped into negative stereotypes that have dogged the Roma for centuries—i.e., “Gypsies” as “thieves” and “child snatchers.”    

Sinan Gökçen, Media and Communications Officer for the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) says If a crime has been committed in Greece, “those who committed it should be treated as individuals, not as representatives of their ethnicity. Such a case could arise in any racial, ethnic, religious or national group.” 

He says that Roma communities have already begun to feel backlash from irresponsible reporting.  Just this week, a group of “skinheads” in Novi Sad, Serbia, attempted to take a child away from his Roma parents because he was not “dark enough.”  

Roma culture knows no borders

So how is it that a baby born to a Bulgarian-Romani mother ended up in the care of a Romani couple in Greece? 

Ethel BrooksEthel Brooks
x
Ethel Brooks
Ethel Brooks
Those familiar with Roma culture say it has to do with Romani notions of kinship—it would be far better to place the child among other Roma than non-Roma. 

“Extended family is a very fluid notion,” says Dr. Ethel Brooks, Associate Professor in the Departments of Women's and Gender Studies and Sociology at Rutgers University.  Of Romani heritage herself, she is also an expert in Roma rights. 

She uses the anthropological term ‘fictive’ to describe family relationships--not just among the Roma, but across many other cultures. 

“It’s not necessarily a DNA tie, it’s not a blood tie,” Brooks said, “It’s this idea that you have a larger community of people who you think of as your cousins or your aunts or your uncles or grandparents.” 

But according to Brooks, there’s more to it than just kinship. 

Victims of history

“The history of Romani children in the nation state is not a nice one,” she says, citing the mystery of Aghia Varvara.  Between 1998 and 2002, more than 500 Albanian Roma children went missing from this state-run children’s institute where Roma street children were routinely housed.  Only four have been located.  The fate of the others is unknown.

“We need to find out what happened to them,” Brooks said. “And then there’s the larger historical context of Romani children being taken from their families and either placed in institutions that aren’t caring for them or in non-Roma families.”

According to Brooks, for many Roma the Holocaust — in which hundreds of thousands of Roma were exterminated — is a living memory, even if there are few survivors left.

And recent events such as France’s expulsion of a Roma schoolgirl and her family earlier this month, Sweden’s recent illegal attempts to include all Romani over the age of two in a national database and Italy’s plan five years ago to conduct mass fingerprinting of all Roma children. says Brooks. mean that it’s not hard to see why the baby “Maria” was left with her Romani employers rather than the Greek state.

“This woman, who had come from Bulgaria to Greece to pick olives to provide for her family, has a baby and then has to think, ‘What do I do now, with another mouth to feed?’  It makes perfect sense that she would find somebody in the community to take care of the baby,” said Brooks.

You May Like

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More