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

Australia Knights Prince Philip, Sparking National Outrage

Abbott's surprise reintroduction of knights and dames in the country's honors system last year drew criticism that he was out of touch with national sentiment More

SAG Award Boosts 'Birdman' Oscar Hopes

Individual acting Oscars appear to be sewn up: SAG awards went to artists who won Golden Globes: Julianne Moore, Eddie Redmayne, Patricia Arquette, J.K. Simmons More

Katy Perry Lights Way for Super Bowl's Girl Power Moment

Pop star's selection to headline US football championship's halftime show extends NFL's trend of selecting artists who appeal to younger viewers 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.
Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sidesi
X
June Soh
January 23, 2015 10:03 PM
The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, even music are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. Faith Lapidus narrates a report from VOA’s June Soh.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, even music are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. Faith Lapidus narrates a report from VOA’s June Soh.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.
Video

Video US Marching Bands Grow Into a Show of Their Own

The 2014 Super Bowl halftime show was the most-watched in history - attracting an estimated 115 million viewers. That event featured pop star Bruno Mars. But the halftime show tradition started with marching bands, which still dominate the entertainment at U.S. high school and college American football games. But as Enming Liu reports in this story narrated by Adrianna Zhang, marching bands have grown into a show of their own.

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

All About America

AppleAndroid