Myths around ‘Gypsy child stealing’ By Dr Adrian Marsh

Dr Adrian Marsh Researcher in Romani Studies said: “The revival of the mediaeval myths around ‘Gypsy child stealing’ again point to longevity of these stereotypes through periods of historical crisis. Romani history is punctuated by outbreaks of violence and generalised persecution from non-Romani populations, in a cycle of relationships that shifts from fascination to fear and repulsion, romanticism to racism and murderous reaction. The final turn in this Wheel of Fortune is the attempted extermination and mass murder of Romani communities by non-Roma, as has taken place in two genocidal episodes in the 1540’s and the 1940’s. Again, the cumulative impact of anti Gypsy rhetoric has been building steadily over the past decade and as I predicted in a lecture at Södertörns University in Stockholm in 2006, Europe is steadily moving into the conditions where once again, Gypsies and Jews will be ‘scapegoated’ for the economic and social failures of majority elites. George Santayana’s oft quoted maxim about those forgetting their history being condemned to repeat it doesn’t allow for the deliberate erasure of the past in service of the present. Europeans may have the luxury of selective memory but there are murderous consequences for the Gypsies, Roma, Sinti and Travellers (as for the Jews, Native Americans and a host of indigenous peoples) when they choose to do so.

The origins of this particular myth in sixteenth century Europe, when economic conditions were again extremely hard and the emergence of nation states under competing, powerful and centralised dynasties (such as the Tudors, Habsburg and Ottomans) forced often unwelcome exactions and taxes upon increasingly impoverished populations, to the enormous benefit of a wealthy elite, should tell us something about today’s frenzied hysteria around these allegations. The repeat of this pattern in circumstances of economic collapse in 1930’s Europe, should remind us all, non-Roma and Romani alike that we have seen this all before and we know where it leads. Unpopular and unscrupulous elites are once again enforcing economic stringency upon populations and are using varieties of stratagems to conduct sleight of hand whilst they do so, enabling corrupt and authoritarian governments and unaccountable corporate elites to continue raiding the coffers whilst pointing in the other direction.

Greece, the most notorious country in Europe for trafficking and with famously corrupt and complicit law enforcement agencies involved in the trade of women and children into Europe, is going through the worst economic crisis since the 1950’s struggles after the Second World War. Ireland’s economy collapsed utterly after irresponsible banking practises and inflationary investment on a massive scale by a ‘get rich quick’ scramble by the few, left the country in a financial shambles. The ‘austerity’ policies, by which majority populations are increasibgly made to bear the burden of this reckless financial adventurism, are offered small comfort by those from the European Central Bank and their goverments, just a series of scapegoats in the form of old stereotypes: the undeserving poor, indigent beggars, feckless youth and Gypsy child thieves. These are the most obvious examples of the phenomenon and the tried and tested ways of distracting anger, frustration and attention are being rolled out again.

The notion that phenotypically dissimilar family members are an aberration should have been dispelled by modern genetics, but despite the blindingly obvious and commonplace observations about families taking after ‘different sides’, with variations in hair colouring, eyes and skin tones, the racist notion that family members cannot look physically different from each other and from the ethnic ‘norm’ remains to haunt the modern psyche. Taking children away from parents on this basis, if applied widely, would rightly result in outrage and fury with all the damage to children that results from forcibly removing them except, it seems if you are a Romani family. Modern social services child protection is not exactly an unblemished record of success in cases of removal of children from minority ethnic communities and the alternatives in the form of children’s homes and foster care are littered with examples of abuse by carers and custodians. The Church has an equally dubious record of success in removing children from ‘unsuitable’ families to raise them in care, as we have witnessed in recent years with numerous scandals regarding clerical abuse. As for the media as the guardians of children’s welfare, the Saville affair surely puts paid to any claims to a moral high ground on that score.

Adoption, especially across cultures and ethnicities is also apparently something that white majorities can engage in but not if you are parents of colour. Time honoured notions of ‘racial’ barriers are coming into play in these allegations of Gypsy child abduction and stealing. Before we reach the point of no return, we need to remind each other what this is really about; we’ve been here before in living memory, in the middle of the last century, and the story ends badly for us all…

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