Created: Friday, 20 December 2013 20:11
Written by Cat Wiener
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 236 December 2013/January 2014
In November 2013, Labour’s former Home Secretary David Blunkett warned of a potential explosion in his Sheffield constituency if recently arrived Slovakian Roma migrants did not change ‘their behaviour and culture’. Deliberately raising the spectre of the 2001 uprisings in northern cities, by Asian youth who were described as insufficiently assimilated into British life, he accused the Roma of being anti-social, of dropping litter and congregating on the streets, saying: ‘We’ve got to be tough and robust in saying to people you are not in a downtrodden village or woodland, because many of them don’t even live in areas where there are toilets or refuse collection facilities. You are not there any more, you are here – and you’ve got to adhere to our standards.’
His comments were endorsed by LibDem deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, who agreed that many people found the Roma ‘offensive’ and ‘intimidating’. The populist press immediately embellished the story with lurid – and unsubstantiated – accounts of prostitutes, feral children and, tellingly, a completely fictitious account of two Roma teenagers attempting to sell a fish-and-chip shop owner a baby for £250.
It is no coincidence that Blunkett’s comments followed hard on the heels of the ugly tale of the child snatched by police from her home in a Roma settlement in central Greece in October, simply because she was blonde and fair-skinned. When DNA tests did indeed show she was not the biological child of the couple she lived with, a vile, nakedly racist, media storm ensued: ‘Maria, the white angel’, screamed headlines, as wild rumours abounded about abduction, child trafficking and abuse. The Daily Mail described her as being ‘groomed as a child bride’, whose ‘fair skin’ would bring a lucrative dowry. Here was innocent white purity, ran the subtext, exploited by the dirty, criminal, darker-skinned people among whom she had been forced to live. Irish police followed suit, seizing two blonde Roma children (both hastily returned to their families as DNA tests proved positive). When ‘Maria’ turned out not to be an Aryan white angel, but the child of a Bulgarian Roma woman forced by poverty to give up her baby after working as a seasonal labourer in Greece, interest died away. Maria became just another Roma child, like millions of others condemned to poverty, segregation and exclusion. In 2012 Amnesty International described the Roma as ‘the most persecuted and reviled group’ in Europe. 84% of Europe’s 12 million Roma live in poverty, routinely denied housing, health care, education and work. Many live in isolated slums without running water or electricity; they are subjected to forced evictions, racist assaults and police brutality. Average Roma life expectancy is ten years less than that of national populations.
But, in times of crisis the virulent ancient lies are reborn, as they have been since the Middle Ages – that the Roma are by nature criminal and anti-social and, most pernicious of all, that they steal children.
In reality, there are no documented cases of Roma abducting children from another community. However, there are hundreds of examples of Roma children being forcibly removed from their parents, or subjected to trafficking and abuse. For example in Greece – so outraged by the case of Maria, so indifferent to the Roma children living in poverty on the fringes of its cities – between 1998 and 2002, 502 Albanian Roma children, who had been rounded up by Greek police ‘disappeared’ from a state-run children’s home in Athens. A suppressed police report suggests that they were trafficked, for €500 each, into prostitution or human organ sales. Only four were ever found.
As state forces whip up hatred against the Roma, vicious racist attacks, including bombings, shootings and the torching of homes, are on the rise across Europe, especially in Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. Making the Roma scapegoats at a time of economic insecurity and austerity is an age-old tactic, in Britain as in the rest of Europe. Writing in The Guardian (18 November 2013) Gary Younge is right to say the real danger in Sheffield is not a riot but a pogrom.