About twenty years ago I remember a much liked and respected colleague beginning a characteristically eloquent closing speech with the old rhyme:
My mother said
I never should
Play with gypsies
In the wood.
Nobody batted an eyebrow and the colleague went on to become a distinguished circuit judge.
He would never have dared to incorporate a rhyme about, let’s say Jews stealing children and drinking their blood, and to be fair to him nor would he have been inclined to do so. Belief in the blood libel, or even joking about it, at least in western Europe, is largely a thing of the past.
Yet the belief that gypsies steal non-gypsy children is almost as repugnant, just as absurd and, as the recent story about the appearance of a blonde girl living in a gypsy camp in central Greece reveals, widely accepted.
Anti-semitism is of course still very much alive but at least (except in a somewhat sanitised anti-Israeli variety) it is not respectable.
We have only the roughest idea of how many gypsies, or Roma, were systematically massacred by the Nazis. Estimates range from 200,000 to 600,000. Yet the prejudice against them remains not only alive but as respectable as if the attempts to exterminate them had never happened.
Gypsy couple at Belzec extermination camp www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org
Take one recent example. A story appeared in the Daily Telegraph in 2010 about Romanian gypsies having taken children from children’s homes in Romania before bringing them to Britain where they were made to steal and burgle. Whether or not the story was entirely true – and it involved not the kidnapping of loved but of abandoned children from Romania’s appalling orphanages – even more shocking were many of the readers’ comments.
“I still say they’re thieving pikey leeches, and here’s another example of why,” said Tilmeeth.
“Gives the British public some idea of why Roma are not wanted in other European countries.” Said JohnBarrettRose.
DaveLondon had a witty take on the Roma “problem”: “There are those who say these people should be deported. There are those who say that they should be allowed to remain in the UK. Let us compromise – fly them half way to Romania and then dump them out of the plane. Fair enough?”
One of the commenters, amusingly calling himself “Wanderingone”, had another idea:
“But we musn’t deport them! Their yooman rights might be abused!
As it happens, I agree with the above statement. I believe they should be put in jail until the kids they abused reach adulthood and then, one by one, be put into a hall with all of the now grown-up kids.
What’s left can be chucked in the bin.”
Bossrat just called them “human vermin.”
ThatcheriteEurosceptic said: “These Roma criminals need to be punished much more harshly than the EU will allow us at present. It’s a pity that in the photo above, the police aren’t crushing the man’s head under their jackboots. We need to bring back the death penalty and severely harsh floggings to give these gangsters and organised criminals the kind of punishment they deserve.”
“Human vermin,” “leeches,” “deport them,” “kill them,” “Crush heads under jackboots.” Remind you of anything in particular? These were the readers of the Daily Telegraph commenting, for heaven’s sake, not subscribers to Der Stürmer. Any one of those remarks, had they been made about Jews, would probably never have made it past the moderator’s delete button; and if they had done so they would probably have attracted the attention of the police. But because they were made about gypsies they were acceptable.
So that is the climate into which has been thrown the story of of the green eyed, blonde haired little girl found by Greek police to be living in a Roma camp in central Greece. The suggestion is that because the girl’s DNA did not match that of the man and woman with whom she was living, perhaps she had been kidnapped from northern Europeans.
A moment’s thought should reveal the theory as utter nonsense.
It is hardly as though child snatching is such a mundane affair that no-one notices it. We know exactly what happens when a child is kidnapped. A hue and cry is raised. The local police are informed, Interpol is told. The search for the child is of course not always successful, as the unhappy families of Madeline McCann and Ben Needham, who disappeared in Portugal and Greece respectively, know all too well. Nevertheless in the age of computers it is inconceivable that a kidnapped child could simply be forgotten after a year or two.
In any case, why should a gypsy couple, already it seems looking after quite a number of dark haired children, decide to steal a blonde one? The suggestion – explicitly made on Radio 4’s respectable Today Programme of all places – is that she could be used as a sort of “bait” by beggars.
Really? For a start the child was living in central Greece. Beggars on the London Underground might perhaps earn a little more by having a blonde girl in tow; but in central Greece?
Moreover, whilst I am no expert on these matters I suspect that the takings from begging, even with the advantage of a blonde child are so pitifully small that no rational beggar would want to run the risk of a lengthy gaol sentence by displaying a blonde child that they would know was being sought all over the world.
Maybe a crime has been committed, maybe it has not. But if a blonde girl had been found living with a non-gypsy Greek family would anyone have leapt to the conclusion that she had been snatched from a blond family’s nursery? It would have had no news value whatever, even in Greece, let alone in Britain.
The reason it has run is that it plays into ancient and repulsive prejudices against gypsies that, for some unaccountable reason, remain respectable in Britain, as they do in the rest of Europe.
The story reveals a great many more unpleasant truths about ourselves than it does about the impoverished Roma of central Greece.