For Roma Families, a Racist Myth Returns with a Vengeance

News of a little blond girl allegedly abducted by a Roma couple in Greece dominated headlines this week. The hysteria that ensued was shocking, playing on medieval myths and racist stereotypes.

“What we have seen to date is rumor run amok and an absence of political leadership,” said Jim Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative.

Police in Greece raided Roma settlements, thugs in Serbia tried to take away a Roma child whose skin was lighter than his father, and in Ireland, authorities removed two blond, blue-eyed children from their families.

It now turns out that the children in question were Roma and not kidnapped as first claimed.

These incidents highlight how far we have to go before Roma are accepted as full members of society. All it took was a single story for people to vilify 12 million Europeans.

Watch more of our conversation with Jim Goldston above.

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Thank you for fighting for Roma dignity for human rights are just, humane.

Thanks for your support. We hope that more people see the dignity in all humans, regardless of who they are.

Authorities involved are swift to further vilify Roma community to avoid admission that own response knee jerk with racist attitude implicit, heard Irish police spokesman on BBC R4 Today Programme justify action as to prevent sexual abuse common in community - conflation of stolen children with another source of moral outrage to deflect possible criticism of Garda actions.

I agree. The response of the authorities was appalling. It is my hope that the subsequent outrage will give people before reverting to knee-jerk and racist stereotypes.

Racism must be stamped out in all its forms, everywhere.

Thanks Therese. A huge challenge and Open Society, along with our partners, is committed to fighting against discrimination in all its forms.

What done is not civilization suitable for nowdays world. I believe there are many ways to know the truth about the relationship of children and their parents but not this new type of of kidnaping.

Bosco, thanks for your thoughts and getting engaged. In these cases, the actions of authorities in Greece and Ireland do not comport with an open society.

completely support your views on the prejudice against Roma people

Until we have empathy for and identify with the other racism will never end. Thank you.

Robyn, too often empathy and identifying with people we perceive as "other" is elusive or absent. I agree both are essential.

The hysteria running amok is only the second instance. There was nothing random about the greek police actions, the statements from the Smile of the Child charity or the massive speculation of the newspapers. It was pure agit prop. The outcome doesnt matter once those abduction headlines where flying around the world.this is all legitimated by saying, oh but the mother was committing fraud with benefits etc, but that is also not proven, the police found some documents during the raid and released photos and assured claims jours later. The charity claims Maria was sorry and underfed when she came in. But the photos show differently. We dont suppose she changed clothes at the station before she was taken to athens, and she was cleanclothed. It's all framing. The girl is not better off then she was: she's bring sent to a Bulgarian orphanage. The adoptive parents, who took her in mostly because the stories about organ harvesting from children in care in greece are rife and partly proven, have taken Good care of her for years. But they for vilified for it worldwide, vitriolic hate louter over them and the community branded criminals of the worst kind. But that was an AIM, not a byproduct. The outcome doesnt matter.

Natasha, too often headlines feed on hysteria and prejudice. We all need to look deeper to learn the facts and understand the context. In this case, most failed.

Yes, this outburst of anti-Gypsyism is shocking. Yes, the absence of sound, principled political leadership has been striking. And the lack of self-criticism in the media outlets which incited the hysteria...

What an honor to hear from you, Ambassador Hammarberg. Your fight against racism has been so inspiring. Open Society is grateful for all your efforts. Together it is our hope that we can make progress.

I subscribe Natasha Gerson's comment and sincerely hope that someone, like the Open Society foundation, may me in help of the Greek couple and the girl so that she is return to them, and that a third state grants them all political asylum on the grounds of racially motivated persecution.

You're right Sara. After the story disappears from the headlines, it is important to see how it plays out.

This sort of non-Roma people's rude and crude shameful – behaviour, toward the innocent Roma people, to blame them as child-lifters, and to snatch their small children, from their parents, for police enquiry and their “dna test” it is a big shame for the whole humanity!

This story is but one incident that happened to gain notoriety. The challenges faced by the Roma in access to education, health care, housing, and employment must be overcome.

It is a witch hunt of the 21st century in the modern west. Is Europe returning mediaval ages? Is the Roma people in the danger for holocaust?

You are right about the shocking hysteria let loose by the Greek police abducting little Maria "the Blond Angel" on no evidence of any crime and the media perpetuating the myth of Gypsies stealing children - the parallel of the myth that Jews murder Christian children to use their blood to make mazas!

But there is a 'silver lining' to this 'black cloud'. The media hype has got people notice and talking about it and even asking questions. Once the bigotry and racism are exposed they can be challenged. Indifference is much harder to challenge and it is indifference that has allowed the injustice and persecution of Roma and Travellers.

Keep writing and protesting!
Best wishes

Thanks Ruth. You're right. It is important to see the opportunity in this crisis and to work to make our voices against racism and discrimination heard.

The same hysteria reached Ireland and is/was not restricted to Greece. I suspect it is European wide...

Chris thanks for your comment. You're so right. Discrimination against the Roma is a problem across Europe.

Positive and negative events re the phenomena in the world. We should use moral laws and conscience. Yesterday (31st October 2013) I was at journey in Nepal coming from Ilam to Biratnagar. It was 9.35 around at Damak bus station of east Nepal, I saw one adult women being beaten by 5 other women by small stick, slab and boxing as if she was defeated enemy. People were looking at. I'm going to undertake search why women did such against women? Where is the women police? Where are the activists? Why did the audience not stop such inhuman activities? Such things happen in the society but we have to control, minimize, mitigate and continue in the society ahead. There may be lacking of the awareness, social cultural or economic cause behind it. Thank you.

Dr Nrishima

Dr Nrishima sounds like it was a terrible experience. When we witness or hear about horrifying incidents such as these we must speak out, regardless of where they take place.

Dear Jim and Laura Silber !

I want to thank you for such voice. May I use Jim voice for Radio Patrin when we talk about similar issues. Would be very good, dear Jim, to meet each other again. Where? Budapest, Den Hag, Helsinki ... many warm regards from Orhan Galjus

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