Anti-gypsy prejudice is as repulsive as any other racism and much more respectable

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.

1389.5 Holocaust B

Gypsy couple at Belzec extermination camp

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 placesis 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.

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Author: Matthew

I have been a barrister for over 25 years, specialising in crime. You may also have come across some of my articles I have written on legal issues for The Times, Standpoint, Daily Telegraph or Criminal Law & Justice Weekly

4 thoughts on “Anti-gypsy prejudice is as repulsive as any other racism and much more respectable”

  1. It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d definitely donate to this excellent blog!

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  2. I think human rights people like you fuel the fear of going in hard on gypsys. They recently stayed at our premises at which they stole thousands of pounds worth of stuff. They left shit filled toilet roll everywhere and blatantly loaded their vans in front of police. The law is wrong in the UK. They have a license to steal. Is this one bad egg? That’s what people like you say and it further fuels the fear of picking on them. This then allows them to cause misery to society. You are worse than them and I hope they shit all over your garden and steal your stuff before paying thousands in costs to get them out. Then id like t hear your view on them

  3. I think the trope about Gypsies kidnapping children is a variant on the blood libel. The version we had in our family is that the adults would threaten to sell us to the Gypsies.

    My Croatian husband began to read the nursery rhyme that begins ‘My mother said…’ to our son. He then noticed how it went on so he did a double take and made up his own words.

    He later said that he had changed the words because they were racist. Although Gypsies are persecuted in Croatia and became victims of genocide under the Ustashe, no one was in any doubt that they were a distinct ethnic group.

    I once had to inform the police about a threat to kill I witnessed, accompanied by the words, ‘you Gypsy z)XX%!’ The police were in no doubt it was a racially aggravated offence but most lay people in Britain do not see Gypsies as a racial category. Matthew Paris specifically denied that they were, in the article in which he called for their way of life to be made impossible.

    These days to be called ‘racist’ is just about the worst accusation next to being called a paedophile. But Britons can express hatred of Gypsies and deny that it is racism. In Eastern Europe, Gypsies will say ‘White people can get these benefits but we can’t.’ They don’t perceive themselves as white.

    Given that Romany is closely related to Hindi and Punjabi, we can be pretty sure they came from the Indian subcontinent in the Middle Ages. This would be news to most British people.

    It’s hard to know how to respond to vitriolic accusations that they have filthy habits other than to say they see outsiders as having unclean and repugnant habits too. About the accusations of child abduction, keep a cool head. Have any children been reported missing in the local area? If not, what are the chances that the Gypsies have stolen the elusive children?

    When these accusations were made about Jews in Spain before the expulsion in 1492, no children had been reported missing, but in the hysteria of the times no one thought of that. During the European witch craze, it was said that witches ate thousands of children at covens. And how many children had been reported missing? Probably none and evidently not thousands.

    When people are high on hatred they don’t need evidence. It’s said to see from the quotations you use that the age of reason has not dawned. I fear it never will.

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