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

Hong Kong Democracy Calls Spread to Macau

Macau and Hong Kong are China’s two 'special administrative regions' which gives them a measure of autonomy More

After Nearly 2 Years, Pistorius Remains Elusive

Reporter Anita Powell reflects on her experience covering the Olympic athlete's murder trial More

Kenyan Coastal Town Struggles With Deadly June Attacks

Three months after al-Shabab militants allegedly attacked their town, some Mpeketoni residents are still bitter, question who was really behind the assaults 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.
Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africai
X
Luis Ramirez
September 15, 2014 11:01 PM
President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africa

President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid